Nishi Amane

;, 7 March 182930 January 1897) was a Japanese philosopher in the Meiji period who helped bring Western philosophy to Japan.

Early life

Nishi was born in Tsuwano domain of Iwami Province (present day Shimane prefecture) as the son of a samurai physician who practiced Chinese medicine during the Tokugawa Shogunate when Japan remained isolated from the rest of the world for over two hundred years, except for a small group of Dutch traders at Dejima near Nagasaki. In 1853, Nishi was sent to Edo to become a rangakusha, an interpreter for conducting business with the outside world via Dejima who also translated European books. In 1854 Nishi relinquished his samurai status (a rather bold move in those days) and received an appointment by the Tokugawa bakufu to be a Yogakusha or scholar of Western learning.

In 1862 the Shogunate decided to send Nishi and Tsuda Mamichi to the Netherlands to learn western political science, constitutional law, and economics. They departed in 1863 with a Dutch physician Dr. Pompe van Meedervort, who had set up the first teaching hospital for western medicine in Nagasaki.

The two Japanese students were put in the care of Professor Simon Vissering, who taught Political Economy, Statistics and Diplomatic History at the University of Leyden. They developed a genuine friendship with Vissering who was conscious of the long-standing friendship between Japan and the Netherlands through Dejima. He felt that the students' desire for knowledge would make them likely future participation in Japan's modernization. Vissering, a member of La Vertu Lodge No, 7, Leyden introduced them to Freemasonry, of which they became the first Japanese adherents on 20 October 1864.

Meiji philosopher

Nishi returned to Japan in 1865, and was an active participant in the Meiji Restoration. He brought back to Japan the philosophies of utilitarianism and empiricism, which he transmitted through his writing, lectures and participation in Mori Arinori's Meirokusha. Nishi became a leading figure in the Meiji Enlightenment (bummei kaika). He also published an encyclopedia, The Hyakugaku Renkan, patterned after the French encyclopedia of Auguste Comte, and promoted the teachings of John Stuart Mill. He rejected the deductive method traditionally used by Confucian scholars in favor of inductive logic as a more scientific way of learning. In the Hyakuichi-Shinron, published in 1874, he went to far as to reject Confucian ethics altogether as no longer appropriate for Japan, but was careful not to reject Japanese heritage. In Jinsei Sampo Setsu (1875) he urged all Japanese to seek the goals of health, knowledge and wealth, in place of Confucian subservience and frugality

Meiji bureaucrat

While working at the Ministry of Military Affairs, he drafted the Conscription Ordinance of 1873, which introduced universal conscription and laid the foundation for the Imperial Japanese Army. In his lectures to the military, he emphasized discipline and obedience over seniority and hierarchy. These ideals found their way into the subsequent Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors in 1882. In 1879 he was made the head of the Tokyo Academy, and by 1882 was part of the Genrōin. He became a member of the House of Peers in 1890. He was ennobled with the title of danshaku (baron) in the kazoku peerage system. His grave is at Aoyama Cemetery in Tokyo.


Nishi was a tireless advocate of Western civilization as a role model for Japan's modernization, stressing the need to evolve without losing the ‘Japanese character’. He was responsible for most of the philosophical words currently used in the Japanese language, and is considered the father of Western philosophy in Japan.

He was honored on a 10-yen postage stamp in Japan in 1952.

See also


  • Gluck, Carol. Japan's Modern Myths. Princeton University Press (1987). ISBN 0-691-00812-4
  • Havens, Thomas R.H. Nishi Amane and modern Japanese thought. Princeton University Press (1970). ISBN 0-691-03080-4
  • Jansen, Marius B. The Making of Modern Japan. Belknap Press; New Ed edition (October 15, 2002). ISBN 0-674-00991-6

External links

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