Education in the Empire of Japan

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Ministry of Education of Japan, circa 1890 Ministry of Education of Japan.jpg
Ministry of Education of Japan, circa 1890

Education in the Empire of Japan was a high priority for the government, as the leadership of the early Meiji government realized the critical need for universal public education in its drive to modernize and westernize Japan. Overseas missions such as the Iwakura Mission were sent abroad to study the education systems of leading Western countries.

Education Learning in which knowledge and skills is transferred through teaching

Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits. Educational methods include storytelling, discussion, teaching, training, and directed research. Education frequently takes place under the guidance of educators and also learners may also educate themselves. Education can take place in formal or informal settings and any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts may be considered educational. The methodology of teaching is called pedagogy.

Empire of Japan Empire in the Asia-Pacific region between 1868–1947

The Empire of Japan was the historical nation-state and great power that existed from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 to the enactment of the 1947 constitution of modern Japan.

Government of Japan constitutional monarchy

The government of Japan is a constitutional monarchy in which the power of the Emperor is limited and is relegated primarily to ceremonial duties. As in many other states, the Government is divided into three branches: the Legislative branch, the Executive branch, and the Judicial branch.


Educational Changes From the Edo Period to the Meiji Era

Military training courses at Keio University in 1937 or 1938 Military training courses at Keio University.jpg
Military training courses at Keio University in 1937 or 1938

During the Edo period the common citizens of Japan were given limited means of education. What these low-class citizens did learn was generally geared towards the basic and practical subjects such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. [1] The change came forth during the Meiji period. After sending several learned Japanese representatives to travel abroad, the government was able to learn many aspects of the West, and then from that developed a new process of education for the country. [2] By the late 1860s, the Meiji leaders had established a system that declared equality in education for all as a means by which to help in the process of Japan entering into a more modernized nation. It was required by law that everyone had an obligation to a public education. This was done for the purpose of not only instilling the values of what it meant to be a Japanese citizen, but to also bring about the knowledge necessary for the people to understand how the new nation would work under Western methods. With the change in education there was brought about more opportunities to prosper in the newly evolving and modernizing Japanese nation. Individuals and families moved up in society in ways beyond the freedoms or abilities of their ancestors. As education changed, so too did the range of talents and efforts applied by the Japanese people to enhance their society. [3]

Edo period period of Japanese history

The Edo period or Tokugawa period (徳川時代) is the period between 1603 and 1868 in the history of Japan, when Japanese society was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate and the country's 300 regional daimyō. The period was characterized by economic growth, strict social order, isolationist foreign policies, a stable population, "no more wars", and popular enjoyment of arts and culture. The shogunate was officially established in Edo on March 24, 1603, by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The period came to an end with the Meiji Restoration on May 3, 1868, after the fall of Edo.

Education policy during Meiji era

In 1871, the Ministry of Education was established, with a school system based closely on the American model, which promoted a utilitarian curriculum, but with the centrally-controlled school administration system copied from France. With the aid of foreign advisors, such as David Murray and Marion McCarrell Scott, Normal Schools for teacher education were also created in each prefecture. Other advisors, such as George Adams Leland, were recruited to create specific types of curriculum.

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology ministry of Japan

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, also known as MEXT, Monka-shō, is one of the ministries of the Japanese government.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

France Republic with mainland in Europe and numerous oversea territories

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.3 million. France, a sovereign state, is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

Private schools run by Buddhist temples ( terakoya ) and neighborhood associations were nationalized as elementary schools; feudal domain schools run by daimyōs became middle schools, and the Tokugawa shogunal Academy became the foundation of Tokyo Imperial University (present day the University of Tokyo).

Buddhism in Japan has been practiced since its official introduction in 552 CE according to the Nihon Shoki from Baekje, Korea, by Buddhist monks. Buddhism has had a major influence on the development of Japanese society and remains an influential aspect of the culture to this day.

Terakoya were private educational institutions that taught writing and reading to the children of Japanese commoners during the Edo period.

<i>Daimyō</i> powerful territorial lord in pre-modern Japan

The daimyō were powerful Japanese feudal lords who, until their decline in the early Meiji period, ruled most of Japan from their vast, hereditary land holdings. In the term, dai (大) means "large", and myō stands for myōden(名田), meaning private land.

However, they added a new curriculum which emphasized conservative, traditional ideals more reflective of Japanese values. Confucian precepts were stressed, especially those concerning the hierarchical nature of human relations, service to the new Meiji state, the pursuit of learning, and morality. These ideals, embodied in the 1890 Imperial Rescript on Education, along with highly centralized government control over education, largely guided Japanese education until the end of World War II.

Curriculum educational plan

In education, a curriculum is broadly defined as the totality of student experiences that occur in the educational process. The term often refers specifically to a planned sequence of instruction, or to a view of the student's experiences in terms of the educator's or school's instructional goals. In a 2003 study, Reys, Reys, Lapan, Holliday, and Wasman refer to curriculum as a set of learning goals articulated across grades that outline the intended mathematics content and process goals at particular points in time throughout the K–12 school program. Curriculum may incorporate the planned interaction of pupils with instructional content, materials, resources, and processes for evaluating the attainment of educational objectives. Curriculum is split into several categories: the explicit, the implicit, the excluded, and the extracurricular.

Japanese values are cultural assumptions and ideals particular to Japanese culture. The honne/tatemae divide between public expression and private thoughts/feelings is considered to be of paramount importance in Japanese culture. In Japanese mythology, the gods display human emotions, such as love and anger. In these stories, behaviour that results in positive relations with others is rewarded, and empathy, identifying oneself with another, is highly valued. By contrast, those actions that are individualistic or antisocial are condemned. Hurtful behaviour is punished in the myths by ostracizing the offender.

Confucianism Chinese ethical and philosophical system

Confucianism, also known as Ruism, is described as tradition, a philosophy, a religion, a humanistic or rationalistic religion, a way of governing, or simply a way of life. Confucianism developed from what was later called the Hundred Schools of Thought from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, who considered himself a recodifier and retransmitter of the theology and values inherited from the Shang and Zhou dynasties. In the Han dynasty, Confucian approaches edged out the "proto-Taoist" Huang–Lao as the official ideology, while the emperors mixed both with the realist techniques of Legalism.

In December, 1885, the cabinet system of government was established, and Mori Arinori became the first Minister of Education of Japan. Mori, together with Inoue Kowashi created the foundation of the Empire of Japan's educational system by issuing a series of orders from 1886. These laws established an elementary school system, middle school system, normal school system and an imperial university system.

The Cabinet of Japan is the executive branch of the government of Japan. It consists of the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the Emperor after being designated by the National Diet, and up to nineteen other members, called Ministers of State. The Prime Minister is designated by the Diet, and the remaining ministers are appointed and dismissed by the Prime Minister. The Cabinet is collectively responsible to the Diet and must resign if a motion of no confidence is adopted by the Diet.

Mori Arinori Japanese noble

Viscount Mori Arinori was a Meiji period Japanese statesman, diplomat, and founder of Japan's modern educational system.

Inoue Kowashi Japanese noble

ViscountInoue Kowashi was a Japanese statesman in Meiji period Japan.

Elementary school was made compulsory from 1872, [4] and was intended to create loyal subjects of the Emperor. Middle Schools were preparatory schools for students destined to enter one of the Imperial Universities, and the Imperial Universities were intended to create westernized leaders who would be able to direct the modernization of Japan.

With the increasing industrialization of Japan, demand increased for higher education and vocational training. Inoue Kowashi, who followed Mori as Minister of Education established a state vocational school system, and also promoted women's education through a separate girls' school system.

Compulsory education was extended to six years in 1907. According to the new laws, textbooks could only be issued upon the approval of the Ministry of Education. The curriculum was centered on moral education (mostly aimed at instilling patriotism), mathematics, design, reading and writing, composition, Japanese calligraphy, Japanese history, geography, science, drawing, singing, and physical education. All children of the same age learned each subject from the same series of textbook.


During the Taishō and early Shōwa periods, from 1912-1937, the education system in Japan became increasingly centralized. From 1917-1919, the government created the Extraordinary Council on Education(臨時教育会議,Rinji Kyōiku Kaigi), which issued numerous reports and recommendations on educational reform. One of the main emphases of the Council was in higher education. Prior to 1918, "university" was synonymous with "imperial university", but as a result of the Council, many private universities obtained officially recognized status. The Council also introduced subsidies for families too poor to afford the tuitions for compulsory education, and also pushed for more emphasis on moral education.

During this period, new social currents, including socialism, communism, anarchism, and liberalism exerted influences on teachers and teaching methods. The New Educational Movement(新教育運動,Shin Kyōiku Undō) led to teachers unions and student protest movements against the nationalist educational curriculum. The government responded with increased repression, and adding some influences from the German system in an attempt to increase the patriotic spirit and step up the militarization of Japan. The Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors became compulsory reading for students during this period.

Specialized schools for the blind and for the deaf were established as early as 1878, and were regulated and standardized by the government in the Blind, Deaf and Dumb Schools Order of 1926. Blind people were encouraged toward vocations such as massage, acupuncture, physical therapy and piano tuning.


Military training courses at Osaka Municipal Commercial College in October 1925 Military training courses at Osaka Municipal Commercial College.JPG
Military training courses at Osaka Municipal Commercial College in October 1925

After the Manchurian Incident of 1931, the curriculum of the national educational system became increasingly nationalistic and after the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the curriculum became increasingly militaristic and was influenced by ultranationalist Education Minister Sadao Araki.

In 1941, elementary schools were renamed National People's Schools(國民學校,Kokumin Gakkō)(Translation of German word Volksschule) and students were required to attend Youth Schools(青年学校,Seinen Gakkō) vocational training schools on graduation, which mixed vocational and basic military training (for boys) and home economics (for girls). The Seinen Gakkō also conducted classes at night for working boys and girls.

Normal schools were renamed Specialized Schools(専門学校,Senmon Gakkō), and were often affiliated with a university. The Senmon Gakkō taught medicine, law, economics, commerce, agricultural science, engineering or business management. The aim of the Senmon Gakkō was to produce a professional class, rather than intellectual elite. In the pre-war period, all higher school for women were Senmon Gakkō.

After the start of the Pacific War in 1941, nationalistic and militaristic indoctrination were further strengthened. Textbooks such as the Kokutai no Hongi became required reading. The principal educational objective was teaching the traditional national political values, religion and morality. This had prevailed from the Meiji period. The Japanese state modernized organizationally, but preserved its national idiosyncrasies. Emphasis was laid on the Emperor worship cult, and loyalty to the most important values of the nation, and the importance of ancient military virtues.

After the surrender of Japan in 1945, the United States Education Missions to Japan in 1946 and again in 1950 under the direction of the American occupation authorities abolished the old educational framework and established the foundation of Japan's post-war educational system.

See also

Related Research Articles

Education in Japan is compulsory at the elementary and lower secondary levels. Most students attend public schools through the lower secondary level, but private education is popular at the upper secondary and university levels. Education prior to elementary school is provided at kindergartens and day-care centers. Public and private day-care centers take children from under age 1 on up to 5 years old. The programmes for those children aged 3–5 resemble those at kindergartens. The educational approach at kindergartens varies greatly from unstructured environments that emphasize play to highly structured environments that are focused on having the child pass the entrance exam at a private elementary school. The academic year starts from April and ends in March, having summer vacation in August and winter vacation in the end of December to the beginning of January. Also, there are few days of holidays between academic years. The period of academic year is the same all through elementary level to higher educations nationwide.

Imperial Rescript on Education

The Imperial Rescript on Education was signed by Emperor Meiji of Japan on 30 October 1890 to articulate government policy on the guiding principles of education on the Empire of Japan. The 315 character document was read aloud at all important school events, and students were required to study and memorize the text.

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  1. Hopper, Helen (2005). Fukuzaw Yukichi: From Samurai to Capitalist. New York: Person/Longman.
  2. Hopper, Helen (2005). Fukuzawa Yukichi: From Samurai to Capitalist. New York: Pearson/Longman.
  3. Gordon, Andrew (2003). A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press.