Keio founder Fukuzawa’s perspective on display

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The permanent exhibition room with a high ceiling and chandelier.

Last year marked 150 years since the founder of Keio University Yukichi Fukuzawa (1835-1901) published the first edition of his masterpiece, “An Encouragement of Learning.”

The philosopher’s contributions to the modernization of Japan can be seen at the Fukuzawa Yukichi Memorial Keio History Museum, which is located on the second floor of the Old University Library, an archaic, red-brick building, on its Mita campus.

You can feel the history of the museum upon stepping into it, and as I walked up the stairs leading to the permanent exhibition room — which used to be the main reading room of the old library — I gazed up at the stained glass windows depicting a goddess and samurai symbolizing the saying “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A personal seal reading Sanju Ikkoku Jin, which reflects Fukuzawa’s stance against prestige and authority.

What drew my interest in particular among the more than 100 items on display in the 280-square-meter exhibition room was a 3.7-centimeter-square personal seal that Fukuzawa used to use. The seal is inscribed with Fukuzawa’s pen name, “ Sanju Ikkoku Jin,” which originates from the two kanji characters that make up the word “sezoku,” meaning common or ordinary, and it conveys his emphasis on being a common person.

A photo of Fukuzawa, which was taken with a local girl in 1860 when he traveled to the United States on the Kanrin Maru ship, shows him looking relaxed. It appears to reflect a personality trait of enjoying interacting with people from different cultures without getting nervous.

The museum also has extensive exhibitions on the history of Keio University, including a 1.2-meter-square diorama of the Mita campus at one-285th scale, replicating how it was shortly before being damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. Looking at it made me envious of the students who studied in such stately buildings 100 years ago.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A diorama of Keio University Mita Campus circa 1923

Two alumni of the university — actor Takanori Iwata and kabuki star Ichikawa Ennosuke — contributed to a video on the university’s history; the former as a narrator and the latter voice acting Fukuzawa.

In the adjacent 61-square-meter special exhibition room, the first edition of the first volume of “An Encouragement of Learning” was on display until Dec. 17.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The first edition of the first volume of “An Encouragement of Learning” is on display with a desk that Fukuzawa loved to use.

The university has now become a prestigious brand school, but Fukuzawa did not like self-importance and said that teachers and students were equal on campus.

“We have tried to present an exhibition that conveys the true nature of Keio University,” said 42-year-old deputy curator Takeyuki Tokura.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Fukuzawa Yukichi Memorial Keio History Museum

Opened in 2021. The Old University Library, which houses the museum, is a 110-year-old building designated as an Important Cultural Property.

Address: Old University Library 2F on Keio University Mita Campus, 2-15-45 Mita, Minato Ward, Tokyo

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed on Sundays, national holidays, year-end and New Year holidays, the university’s summer break and examination periods.