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Education and Democracy in Japan

            Fukuzawa Yukichi, the foremost proponent of modern education in Japan, expressed an essential truth of civilization when he said "schools, industries, armies and navies are the mere external forms of civilization. They are not difficult to produce. All that is needed is the money to pay for them. Yet there remains something immaterial, something that cannot be seen or heard, bought or sold, lent or borrowed. It pervades the whole nation and its influence is so strong that without it none of the schools or the other external forms would be of the slightest use. This supremely important thing we must call the spirit of civilization."1 That spirit of civilization must be cultivated through an effective educational system. Education provided the framework for a successful Japanese democracy, and its absence in Cambodia precipitated its demise in the 1970s.
             The 1870s ushered an era of bunmei kaika, or "Civilization and Enlightenment," into Japan.2 During this decade the works of great philosophers such as the de Tocqueville and Rousseau found their way into Japanese translation to the profound interest of the Japanese population, especially the youth.3 Students in Japan learned of the theories regarding civil liberties and natural rights, and began to claim that such rights were not only fundamental to Western societies, but to Japan as well. No book was more influential than Nakamura Masanao's translation and occasional alteration of Samuel Smiles' Self-Help. An entire generation grew up on Smiles and Masanao's key theme: every person has the duty to work hard to cultivate his or her talents for the benefit of Japan and the world.4 By the 1880s, a so-called "People's Rights Movement" enthusiastically challenged the divinity of the emperor and invoked natural rights, theories learned from the translated works of European philosophers. This direct challenge foreshadowed the official end of the emperor's divinity sixty years later and began to pave the path for democracy.

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