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  • 科学 Kagaku, 究理 Kyūri/Science
  • Tsukahara Togo (bio)
    Translated by Matthew Fargo (bio) and Jordan Sand (bio)

What sort of intellectual apparatus was necessary to incorporate and develop science and technology from the Meiji era onward, both as a national policy and as something inherently foreign? The ideology accompanying the introduction of science and technology was one of consummate Enlightenment faith (keimōshugi). This trait is evident in the case of the “Kyūri Fever” that arose in early Meiji Japan.

In the narrowest terms, kyūri was the word for physics in the Dutch Studies tradition. In Japan, the study of physics or kyūri had always been an inquiry into the concept of “reason” (or order) conceived on the basis of the Neo-Confucian notion of the unity of reason (ri) and spirit (ki). The word kyūri was used in Dutch Studies as the translated term for Dutch words related to the study of nature (natuurkunde) or natural philosophy. Incidentally, in Dutch Studies the word for chemistry was seimi (舎密)—a transliteration of the Dutch chemie—and the biological disciplines became the “natural sciences” (博物学, hakubutsugaku), replacing the traditional pharmacology (本草学, honzōgaku). Along these disciplinary lines, kyūri was the general term for the study of nature, and loosely corresponds to our contemporary concept of “science” (科学, kagaku).

The word that came to be used for “science” in the early Meiji period—kagaku (科学)—is actually short for bunka no gaku (分科の学), or “taxonomical studies.” Both the “ka” (科) of kagaku and the “ri” (理) of rigaku originally come from Taoist concepts, and are thought to have referred to ceremonial lattices and wooden frames. “Ri” and “ka” subsequently came to mean to separate and categorize things, to arrange and classify things—basically thinking about things in terms of taxonomies of differences and similarities. The use of these words to describe the sciences is intimately related to the specialization of the sciences in Europe.

A large-scale campaign to promote the sciences had to be pursued before the word kagaku could find currency in Japan. This happened in the form of a series of [End Page 109] publications on kyūri begun in 1872. Masses of “scientific enlightenment” books were published in order to spread scientific education. The person behind this campaign was none other than Fukuzawa Yukichi. All of his allies at Keiō University worked hard to make the campaign effective.

Fukuzawa’s brainchild was a huge success. The campaign set off a boom for kyūri tracts. This boom went down in history as the Kyūri Fever (kyūrinetsu). It spread like a contagion, as the name suggests. It is ironic to think that science, which should be dispassionate, objective, and universal, would spread like a fever. That it would become a “fad” infecting the masses, seems a social phenomenon in complete opposition to the certainty and solidity presumed to be characteristic of scientific knowledge. Focusing on this phenomenon, I would like to take a look at the characteristics of the Japanese Enlightenment that developed at this time.

Kyūri Fever was spread by books known as kyūri tracts (kyūrisho), which were published with the aim of promoting European scientific ideas. Examples of these tracts include Fukuzawa’s Illustrated Kyūri (Kyūri zukai, 1872), Nagasawa Katsuhisa’s New Kyūri (Kyūri shinpen, 1872), and Mochizuki Makoto’s Elementary Kyūri Explained (Kunmō kyūri benkai, 1872). These all became classic science primers. Basic science primers from America, England, and France were also prolifically translated. With the promulgation of the new Meiji education system in 1872, Fukuzawa’s translation and publication efforts led to a series of textbooks of similar levels and styles to those adopted as school texts. Fukuzawa’s famous An Encouragement of Learning was serialized during the years 1872-76, and his Outline of a Theory of Civilization was published in 1875.

Yet it is important to note that the Fukuzawa group’s kyūri tracts are not found in the line-up of textbooks adopted under the new school system. The textbooks approved by the Ministry of Education were almost all translations of American and British materials—for example, Elementary Chemistry (Shōgaku kagakusho) and Elementary...


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pp. 109-115
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