From his childhood he showed an aptitude for learning and in 1848 entered the Shoheiko, a school for Chinese studies established by the shogunate in Edo. In time he became an instructor in the Shoheiko and the Kitenkan, a school in Kofu for the children of retainers of the shogunate.
An outstanding scholar of Chinese, he at the same time took up Dutch and English studies in private and supported those who advocated the opening of the country. In 1866 he volunteered to go to England for study, but returned to Japan in 1868 because of the overthrow of the shogunate.
In 1888 he received the degree of Doctor of Literature.
In 1862, at the unusually young age of thirty, he became a jushd (professor) in the Shoheikd.
He accompanied the last shogun to the domain in Shizuoka that had been assigned to the Tokugawa family and there worked to set up a school. With the founding of the school, he took up the position of professor of Chinese studies. At the same time he produced and published translations of Samuel Smiles’ Self-Help and John Stuart Mills’ On Liberty and worked to introduce modern Western thought to Japan. His translations exercised a strong influence upon the society of early Meiji times.
In 1875 he became a teacher at the Tokyo Girls’ Normal School and later at Tokyo Imperial University. He was also a member of the Genroin and of the Upper House of the Diet.
In addition to his other activities, he played an important role in the spread of Christianity in the early Meiji period. He was among the first Japanese of the Meiji period to receive baptism and produced a Japanese translation of a Chinese work on Christian doctrine entitled T’ien-tao su- yuan his translation exercised an important influence upon the missionary movement in Japan.