Teaching Module

Educational Reform in Japan (19th c.)

Explanation of School Matters [Official Document]


This document was written one year after the "Imperial Rescript on Education" by Education Minister Oki Takato. In it he affirms some of the basic principles in the Imperial Rescript–morality, reverence for emperor, patriotism–and articulates more concretely the shifting emphasis within the educational system. For example, he discusses how schooling should not focus on practical skills alone, but also on cultivating a moral foundation among children that is "based on Japan's distinctive way." It also reveals anxieties about the potential of universal education for undermining traditional gender roles and social hierarchies–which was, in fact, a concern shared by elites throughout the world at this time. This document therefore reveals an important aspect of Japan's modern transformation. On one hand, the issues faced by the modernizing government were very similar to those faced by governments in Europe and the U.S. On the other hand, the threat of imperialism produced in Japan--and in other societies that faced this threat–a desire to establish a path to modernity that was somehow distinct from, and stood in opposition to, the experience of the West.


Japanese Ministry of Education. Meiji Iko^ Kyo^iku Seido Hattatsu-shi. Vol. 3. Tokyo, 1938, 131–32. Reprinted and translated in Herbert Passin, ed. Society and Education in Japan. New York: Columbia University, Teachers College Press, 1965, 233–36.

Primary Source Text

If the aim of regular education is to make known the proper relations between man and man, to make the Japanese people understand their proper role, and to raise the quality and the welfare of Society and Nation, every person who lives in this in this country must receive a regular education. The country has the responsibility for achieving this end; but it is also the responsibility of each individual to dedicate himself completely, and every city, town, and village must–as they have been ordered–provide school facilities out of public funds, supervise all people involved, and see to it that children attend school.

The materials for regular education are provided by our national spirit, customs, prosperity, and strength, and all those who desire the strengthening of the eternal foundation of the nation must be careful to understand correctly our hundred-year national plan.

In the elementary schools, the first objective–namely the spirit of reverence for the Emperor and patriotism–will be achieved through cultivating morality and practicing the way of Humanity. Children must be encouraged in practical work, disciplined in simplicity, and developed into good and loyal subjects.

The body is the source of the hundred things that have to be done [the root of everything]; therefore physical education and development must be cultivated during youth with due regard for the pupils' maturity and strength, and the schools must be particularly careful in this.

The elementary school morals course must be based on the Imperial Rescript on Education. It is also expected that it will be based on Japan's distinctive way and on full knowledge of the rest of the world, and that it will endeavor to put these into practice and will never outrage public morality.

Reading, writing, composition, and arithmetic in the elementary schools will strive to use morals, Japanese geography, Japanese history, and the needs of daily life as the source materials and will be taught by well-prepared methods.

All these subjects require the selection of good suitable textbooks. It is especially important that many teachers pool their thoughts in selecting the morals text or else the objective will not be achieved.

Since educational and economic considerations are of extreme importance, the editing and selection of textbooks require very profound study.

Educational errors bring about harm–they may cause children to hate their family's occupation, despise their parents, acquire an appetite for luxury, seek to escape, and avoid work. Moreover, even poor people must attend school during their best years and if they fail to husband their resources and waste their time, they stir up unhappiness not only for themselves and their families but bring harm to the country as well. Therefore we must be careful that education not bring harmful effects, that girls, for example, do not lose their chastity and feminine ways (literally, beautiful manners), that children do not grow up incapable of doing proper work, or deficient in the ability to look after their households.

Since teachers are the heart of education, we must be very careful in selecting elementary school teachers, we must give them generous treatment, make them feel secure in their jobs, and encourage them to develop their sincerity (literally, devote themselves to the ways of sincerity).

Of the 60,000-odd elementary school teachers at the present time less than one-half are properly qualified. Therefore in order to secure better results, we must concern ourselves to improve their qualifications by achievement tests and we must reduce the number of older people, rich though they may be in experience, and increase the number of younger people. We must revise the qualifications law, amend the appointments law, make the best use of the experience of older teachers, and increase the number of good, regular teachers.

Rather than provide perfect facilities for a limited number of children, our policy must be to provide compulsory education for the largest number. . . . At the present time less than one-half of the school-age children are attending school. Most of the remainder are from poor families, and it is our urgent task to find ways to make them come to school. . . .

If our aim is, as it has been from the start, to have all children, rich or poor, in school, facilities must be improved as quickly as the national economic condition and the economic situation of the people permit. . . .

Ordinary administration of local school affairs should, as much as possible, be left to the local authorities. However, matters requiring special consideration, such as educational objectives, methods, teaching regulations, textbooks, teachers, and pupils, are fully under the guidance of the Ministry of Education. . . .

How to Cite This Source

Brian Platt, "Educational Reform in Japan (19th c.)," in Children and Youth in History, Item #125, https://cyh.rrchnm.org/items/show/125 (accessed August 10, 2021).