Keio University is one of the oldest universities in Japan, with its origin tracing back to 1858 when Keio Gijuku, a school devoted to the study of Western technology (which at that time, entered Japan through the Dutch trade enclave of Dejima), was founded by Yukichi Fukuzawa. It was founded under the protocols of Nakatsu han (roughly, a fiefdom), of which Yukichi Fukuzawa was a samurai. The original schoolhouse was constructed within the premises of Nakatsu han’s secondary administrative building, located in Tsukiji Teppozu, Edo, or today’s Akashicho Chuo-ku, Tokyo. Since its foundation, the University has contributed to various aspects of society in accordance with the words of Fukuzawa: “The University aims to be a social leader.”
The University’s founder had a keen interest in environmental issues. In 1894, Fukuzawa visited his home province of Nakatsu (today, a northern area of the Oita Prefecture) and learnt that a piece of land near Kyoshuho, a place of scenic beauty well known for the Ao-no-Domon (Blue Tunnel), was up for sale. Fearing that “the landscape might deteriorate if the land fell into the hands of heartless people,” he bought the land himself. This is said to be a very early example of the practice underlying the spirit of the National Trust, a movement that aims to preserve natural landscapes with private funds.
Another episode that illustrates Fukuzawa’s awareness of environmental issues is that of the Lake Biwa Canal in Kyoto, which nowadays is appreciated as a valuable water supply and a tourist attraction. When the construction began in 1885, Fukuzawa was against the project. His intention was not to deny the importance of the canal project itself, but to advocate the necessity of prioritizing the preservation of natural and cultural landscapes when developing ancient cities such as Kyoto. Fukuzawa’s ideals regarding the conservation of nature, landscapes, and traditional culture amid economic development have been passed down unbroken throughout the process of modernization in Japan.
Many of these experiences, regardless of their success or failure, will be instructive to today’s developing countries as they make rapid progress toward becoming economically developed.