He studied Chinese in the domain school and Western studies under Hosokawa Junjiro. He was chosen by his domain to go to Nagasaki, where he studied French. In 1867 he went to Edo and continued the study of French in a school headed by Murakami Hidetoshi, but was expelled because of his dissipated habits. He managed to continue studying French under a Catholic priest in Yokohama and in time was employed as an interpreter for the French minister, being sent to the Kobe-Osaka area. He returned to Edo in 1868 and enrolled in a school headed by Mitsukuri Rinsho, where he once more studied French.
In 1869 he became headmaster of a private school established by Fukuchi Gen’ichiro. In 1870 he took a position as assistant professor of French in the Daigaku Nanko, which later became Tokyo University. He became acquainted with the statesman Okubo Toshimichi and expressed a desire to study abroad, whereupon he was allowed to accompany Okubo and the others in the government mission headed by Iwakura Tomomi, which left Japan in 1871. Once in America, he separated himself from the mission and went to France for study. On his return to Japan in 1874, he opened a school for French studies called Futsu- gaku-juku at Bancho in Tokyo. In 1875 he became head of the Gaikokugo Gakko, or School of Foreign Languages, but soon resigned and took a position in the Genroin (Senate). This ended the following year when a quarrel w'ith the statesman Mutsu Munemitsu led to his resignation. He thereafter devoted full attention to the operation of his school for French studies.
In 1881 he founded a daily newspaper called Toy Jiyu Shimbun with Saion- ji Kimmochi, whom he had known from his days in France, as president and himself as chief editor. He used the paper to publicize French style views on popular rights and to attack the domain cliques that dominated the government, but he W'as obliged to suspend publication the following year. In 1882 he published a translation of Rousseau’s Contrat social into classical Chinese and in time became known as the “Oriental Rousseau” because of his views on popular rights.
The following year he started publication of a daily newspaper called Shinonome Mum bun in Osaka. Around this time, Kotoku Denjiro, later prominent in Socialist circles, became his disciple, and Nakae turned over the use of the literary name Shusui to Kotoku. In 1889, with the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution, the ban forbidding Nakae to be present in Tokyo was lifted. In 1890 he was a candidate in the first general election and was elected to the Lower House of the Diet, but he resigned the following year in disgust at the corrupt behavior of his fellow Diet members. For a year or so he served as chief editor of a daily newspaper, Hokumon Shimpo, published in Otaru in Hokkaido. For several years following, he tried his hand at forestry and various other activities in Hokkaido, but failed in all his ventures.
He was told by his doctors that, because of cancer of the throat, he had only a year or so left to live. He spent the time remaining by writing essays and critical articles, which he published in two works entitled Ichinen yuhan (“One Year and a Half’’) and Zoku Ichinen yuhan (“One Year and a Half, Continued).
In 1887 he published a work entitled Sansuijin keirin monilb, in which he discussed the relationship between popular rights thinking and nationalism and emphasized the need for government reforms in Japan. He supported Goto Shojiro in the latter’s efforts to bring about a fusion of the parties opposing the government and at the end of the year was banished from the capital along with a number of other persons from Kochi.
In 1898, through his own efforts alone, he formed a political party called Kokuminto, but it failed to attract a following. In 1900 he participated in the Kokumin Domei of Konoe Atsumaro and in other ways showed himself increasingly attracted by nationalistic thinking.