Stacy Lee
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

When the Great-Great-Granddaughter of Yukichi Fukuzawa Explores Life in Hawai‘i

“Honto ni? Really? Oh. My. Gosh.” I stared wide-eyed at the fourth-grade Japanese exchange student standing in my living room. In March 2019, ten-year-old Maki Fukuzawa had come to Hawai‘i from Tökyö through an exchange program with Punahou School.

Each spring, 16 fourth-grade students from Keio Yochisha Elementary School participate in Punahou School’s education and cultural program and stay with host families to experience life in Hawai‘i and build lasting friendships.

Fourth- and fifth-grade Punahou School and Keio Yochisha Elementary School students flash shakas for the camera before the Keio students return to their home country of Japan. (Photo courtesy of Joanne Chang)

Then the following fall, Punahou fifth graders travel to Tökyö to attend Keio Yochisha Elementary School to immerse themselves in the daily life and culture of Japan with their host buddy’s family. My 10-year-old daughter, Alexis, and I agreed to sign up as a host family anticipating a wonderful experience.

As soon as we arrived home with our jet-lagged student, I was eager to get her a bite to eat and a good rest. Alexis and I did our best to break the ice with Maki. Between nodding heads, uncomfortable silences and shy smiles, the two children seemed to understand practically nothing of what the other was saying, so I used my Japanese to bail them out.

A geeky history-buff question burned in my mind. It was a long shot, but I asked it anyway, since her last name was Fukuzawa, and she attended Keio Yochisha Elementary School.

Alexis and Maki in front of the Wo International Center at Punahou School. (Photos by Stacy Lee)

A First Discovery

“Are you related to Yukichi Fukuzawa?” Maki nodded yes. Electricity pulsed through my veins. Did she actually understand me, or was she just being stereotypically Japanese, polite and agreeable? I asked again, and once again she nodded. As a Japa-

nese history teacher, Japanese literature major and ultimate Japanophile, I couldn’t believe it! I dashed to a drawer where I kept a stash of leftover yen from my Japan travels and pulled out a 10,000-yen note.

“You are related to him?” I repeated my question to the 11-year-old exchange student, Maki, and excitedly pointed to the image on the note of Yukichi Fukuzawa (1835-1901). Shyly she nodded again. Unbelievable.

Maki Fukuzawa’s great-great grandfather, Yukichi Fukuzawa, appears on the 10,000-yen note.

On that spring day in March, standing next to my sofa was the great-great-granddaughter of the famed author, translator, publisher, educator, entrepreneur and theorist of the Meiji Period (1868-1912).

I spent years studying Meiji Japan in graduate school as part of my focus on modern Japanese literature and history. Fukuzawa’s name, theories and works appeared in my undergraduate and graduate theses countless times. I spent hours scrutinizing his essays, and reading and analyzing his autobiography for graduate seminars. Even today, I periodically use some of his writings in class during our Meiji Period unit when I teach Asian History at Punahou Summer School.

Awe and excitement gripped me as I realized that I would be hosting Fukuzawa’s relative for a week while she participated in a Keio Yochisha Elementary School exchange program with Punahou School. Suddenly, taking Maki to California Pizza Kitchen for lunch didn’t seem good enough.

Full of apprehension at the prospect of having to cook, wash clothes and be responsible for the great-great-granddaughter of the father of modern Japan, I told other members of my household why I felt so nervous. “It’s like hosting a relative of George Washington in your home!” I tried to explain the significance of Fukuzawa and his impact on Japan. My family still couldn’t comprehend the enormity and privilege of having his relative in our home.

“He even had a hand in inventing those Japanese mosquito ‘punks,’” I added, supplying my family with added trivia to which they might relate.

Adventures With Maki

Thankfully Maki’s week went smoothly. We took dinner to Kaimana beach and watched the sunset, swam at Lanikai in Kailua and played basketball with cousins in their driveway.

At Target she found unicorn squishies and Hawai‘i-themed pens to add to her collection and a pair of navy blue Nike shoes at Nordstrom.

During her week at Punahou, Maki learned about Hawaiian and American culture and sustainability. Of course, she also studied English as her great-great-grandfather did over 160 years ago. Maki indeed was fulfilling the directives of her legendary ancestor who was the first to introduce and promote Western thought in Japan during the Meiji Period.

A History Lesson – The Meiji Restoration

Following the arrival of the fleet of Commodore Matthew Perry in Edo Bay in 1853, modern-day Tökyö began to look toward the West. The country officially opened itself up to westernization in order to modernize and be respected by powerful nations such as Britain, France and the United States and to avoid European and American colonization, a fate that befell other Asian nations.

Samurai scholars, like Fukuzawa, advised the Meiji government to usher in western reforms that altered many areas of Japanese society including government, military, education, art and even cuisine.

During the late Edo Period when Tokugawa Japan continued to close itself off from the rest of the world, samurai scholars made their way to Nagasaki to engage in rangaku or Dutch studies. Like many of these scholars, Fukuzawa began studying Dutch language and gunnery in Nagasaki. However, after traveling to Yokohama in 1859, he realized that English was the dominant international language of diplomacy, and thus began studying English instead of Dutch. He recognized the importance of education and its values of independence and strength in moving Japan towards modernization. He also stressed the importance of science or what he called jitsugaku, empirical science, over traditional Confucianism.

To promote the education of the Japanese people, Fukuzawa founded a Dutch language school in 1858 which was later renamed Keio Gijuku in 1868, and eventually evolved into present-day, prestigious Keio University.

In 1860, to further his knowledge of the West, Fukuzawa volunteered to assist Commodore Yoshitake Kimura aboard the Japanese ship, the Kanrin Maru. Other historical figures who joined the journey included Capt. Katsu Kaishü and John Manjiro. This ship, along with another, the Powhatan, set sail to San Francisco and Washington as part of Japan’s first official embassy to the United States.

In Washington, the Japanese hoped to ratify the Treaty of Amity and Commerce that Japan had signed with the United States in 1858. On its return trip to Japan, the Kanrin Maru made a brief visit to the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. This stop in Honolulu suggested another possible link for Maki and her great-great-grandfather which I learned about on Maki’s subsequent summer visit to Honolulu.

A Second Possible Link

When Maki’s family came for a visit to Honolulu during the summer after her Punahou exchange, I decided they might enjoy a visit to the Wo International Center at Punahou where Maki spent a week at school.

As we wandered around the lobby, we came upon a poster board with an article written by retired Punahou Japanese-language teacher Hiromi Peterson with the help of Naomi Omizo, also a retired Japanese-language teacher.

The article suggested a link between Punahou and Japanese members of the Kanrin Maru. In 1860, during the stop in Honolulu, three of the Kanrin Maru’s crew members, including Capt. Katsu Kaishü, probably attended the Annual Student Rhetorical Exercises of Oahu College (the former name of Punahou School). The performance was the precursor to Punahou School’s present-day commencement exercises.

This historical hypothesis resulted from a series of events starting in 2015, when the director of the Sakamoto Ryoma Museum in Shikoku contacted Peterson. The director shared a page of Capt. Kaishü’s diary with the retired Japanese-language teacher and asked Peterson for help finding out which school Kaishü and two other members of the Kanrin Maru had visited. The page had mentioned a visit by three members of the Kanrin Maru to a Honolulu school’s rhetorical presentation. In her translation of this page from Kaishü’s diary, Peterson details a portion of the Kanrin Maru captain’s serendipitous visit to Honolulu.

Through Peterson’s translation, research and the assistance of the those at the Punahou School Archives, she came up with an interesting hypothesis: When comparing the date that Kaishü noted about attending a school’s speech presentations with date of Oahu College’s Rhetorical Exercises, the dates matched!

To add to this evidence, Punahou archivists found a letter in the Central Union Church Archives written by representatives of the Punahou Board of Trustees to Dr. Gerrit P. Judd, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Fort Street Church (now Central Union Church). The Oahu College letter requested the use of Fort Street Church for the date, May 24, 1860. Thus, the school that Katsu Kaishü had written about was most likely Punahou, suggesting the possibility of a significant historical and auspicious link between Japan and Punahou.

According to Peterson’s research and the Punahou School Archives, on the night of May 24, 1860, the Rev. Samuel C. Damon — editor of the The Friend (a monthly newspaper published in Hawai‘i) and Oahu College Trustee — invited his acquaintance John Manjiro and Katsu Kaishü to an Oahu College speech presentation held at Fort Street Church. Although there is no documented evidence at this time, there is a chance that Fukuzawa was the third Japanese person who had attended the Oahu College ceremony.

Kaishü’s diary mentions a “temple” where the Japanese attended rhetorical exercises. Based on the descriptions in the diary, that “temple” was more than likely Fort Street Church where Oahu College held their Rhetorical exercises that year. Part of Kaishü’s entry, as translated by Peterson, documents the event as follows:

May 25th, 1860 (Friday)

One evening, we saw some student[s] (speech presentations) at a school in this (same) location. That ceremony (presentation) was quite unusual. There were no big schools in the city, so they temporarily used a temple as a venue. The audience was composed of young and old, men and women, and rich and poor, with no discrimination (among them). The queen already attended the night before, but wished to come again (this evening).

As I continued reading the fascinating information on the poster board and translating it for the Fukuzawas, we definitely had a tori hada ga tatsu (chicken skin) moment. Might it be possible that Fukuzawa was also in attendance? Fortuitous and coincidental.

For more than 50 years Punahou has enjoyed an exchange-school partnership with Keio University through the Pan Pacific Program and the Student Global Leadership Institute. More recently Punahou and Keio Yochisha Elementary School established the exchange program between Keio Yochisha/Punahou fourth and fifth graders. Discovering the possibility of a link between Punahou and Fukuzawa, while his progeny stood next to me, proved quite poignant. Maki’s mother, Mrs. Fukuzawa, too, expressed her surprise and excitement. Meanwhile, Maki and my daughter were just waiting for some shave ice. For me, however, whenever I see a 10,000-yen note or Japanese mosquito “punk,” I will always wonder about Yukichi Fukuzawa’s time in Hawai‘i.

Note: Names of students are changed because students are younger than 12.

Fukuzawa was an acquaintance of the inventor of mosquito coils, Eiichiro Ueyama. Before inventing the mosquito coil, Ueyama exported mandarin oranges. Then, at one point, Fukuzawa introduced him to an American seed exporter who then showed him a plant, Tancacitum Cinerarlifolium, that supposedly got rid of insects. Ueyama went on to combine the flower powder of this plant with starch bases to make incense sticks which were later coiled.

Stacy Lee is a writing tutor and an Asian history teacher at Punahou Summer School. She is a lifelong Japanophile and devotee of author Natsume Soseki. Her years of living, studying and working in Japan have taken her from urban Tökyö to a traditional onsen inn in Kanazawa and made her an avowed fan of all types of Japanese cuisine.


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