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Japan’s early modern educational facilities were incredibly diverse. There were the kangaku schools set up by the Tokugawa shogunate, the hanko schools established in each domain to train the sons of samurai families, and goko schools that were either privately financed and organized by volunteers for the common people, or established as branches of the domain schools. There were also private academies and terakoya, which were schools set up to teach local children.
This section will present some of Japan’s most important educational heritage sites: those that the Japanese government has designated as National Treasures.
The Yubikan was a goko school of the Sendai Domain originally established in 1691 by the Iwadeyama branch of the Date clan. Its strolling daimyo gardens were added in 1715. The building provides us with an outstanding example of thatched-roof, shoin-zukuri style architecture, while the gardens offer a lovely experience of the changing seasons with greenery, flowers, and groves that are more than 300 years old. The Yubikan, along with its gardens, was nationally designated as a Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty in 1933.
The Chidokan was a hanko domain school established in 1805 by Sakai Tadaari, the seventh daimyo of the Shonai Domain. It was moved to its present location in 1816. The Chidokan primarily focused on the Confucian teachings of Ogyu Sorai. It is the only surviving domain school structure in the Tohoku region. The entire grounds, which include a shrine to Confucius, a kodo auditorium, oirima reception area, and the omotegomon gate used for the daimyo’s visits, were nationally designated as a Historic Site in 1951.
Bunbu Gakko was a hanko domain school designed by Sanada Yukitsura, lord of the Matsushiro Domain, in 1853. It was created in the style of the Kodokan in Mito. The school was later completed under Sanada Yukinori, the ninth daimyo of Matsushiro, and opened in 1855. It is particularly prized for the number of structures that survive in their original form. Bunbu Gakko was nationally designated as a Historic Site in 1953.
The Shintokukan was a hanko domain school established in 1860 by Naito Yorinao, the last daimyo of the Takato Domain. Financial difficulties forced Yorinao to repurpose the residence of his chief retainer Naito Kurahito, located in the third bailey around Takato Castle, for the school. It had two departments, one for literary studies and the other for military arts. The name Shintokukan, meaning “hall for the promotion of virtue”, was given by Daigaku-no-kami Hayashi Gakusai in an effort to cultivate students who were accomplished in both the literary and military arts—including the study of Japanese, Chinese classics, horsemanship, swordsmanship, and artillery. The school was nationally designated as a Historic Site in 1973.
Yushima Seido was constructed by the shogun Tsunayoshi as a shrine to Confucius in lieu of the Shinobugaoka Seido “Senseiden” constructed by Hayashi Razan in 1690. Tsunayoshi renamed it Taiseiden. The Taiseiden along with its auxiliary facilities were then modified and collectively referred to as seido. The structure’s role as a temple reconsidered when the Kansei Edict established Neo-Confucianism as the official Confucian philosophy of Japan, and the government took over the private school from the Hayashi clan in 1797, turning it into the Shoheizaka Gakumonjo. The academic facilities were completed in 1799. The school was nationally designated as a Historic Site in 1922.
The Sukodo was a hanko domain school established in 1821 by Todo Takasawa, the tenth daimyo of the Tsu Domain. It was originally constructed as an auxiliary school to the Yuzokan domain school. The name Sukodo comes from a passage stressing the importance of setting ambitious goals and going after them in the Book of Documents, one of the Five Classics of ancient Chinese Literature. The school was nationally designated as a Historic Site in 1930.
Suzunoya was originally constructed in 1691 as a retreat by the grandfather of Motoori Norinaga before being moved to its current location. Norinaga turned the second floor into a study, giving it the name Suzunoya. There, he practiced medicine while conducting research on the ancient Japanese classics. His Kojikiden is particularly well known. He also served as a mentor to up-and-coming scholars. The Suzunoya was moved to its current location, the site of the former Matsusaka Castle, in 1909 with the intention of preserving it. The building, along with its original site, were nationally designated as Historic Sites in 1953.
Toju Shoin was a private school established in 1648 by Nakae Toju, said to be the father of Yomeigaku, one of the major philosophical schools of Neo-Confucianism in Japan. The original structure was destroyed in 1880 by a great fire that also claimed 34 nearby farmhouses, but it was reconstructed two years later. The school was nationally designated as a Historic Site in 1922.
Kogido was a private academy that Ito Jinsai opened in his parents’ home in 1662. It was alternately known as the Horikawa School. It is said that Jinsai alone instructed some three thousand students there. The school was nationally designated as a Historic Site in 1922.
Tekijuku was a private academy for Dutch studies that Ogata Koan, a renowned physician and Dutch scholar, opened in the Kawaramachi district of Osaka in 1838. Its official name was the Tekitekisaijuku, but was also known as Tekijuku or Tekitekijuku. The school turned out several of the key players active during the last years of the Tokugawa shogunate and into the Meiji Restoration, among them Omura Masujiro and Fukuzawa Yukichi. It is also one of the precursors to today’s Osaka University. Tekijuku was nationally designated as a Historic Site in 1941, and the building was designated as an Important Cultural Property in 1964.
The former Okayama Domain School, also known as Kokugaku or Okayama Gakko, was established by Okayama daimyo Ikeda Mitsumasa in 1669. It is Japan’s oldest hanko domain school, opening its doors twenty-one years before the Yushima Seido run by the Tokugawa shogunate. The school primarily focused on the Chen Zhu line of Neo-Confucianism, and continued until the abolishment of feudal domains in 1871. The school was nationally designated as a Historic Site in 1922.
Renjuku was a goko school started by Kan Chazan, a Confucian scholar and composer of Chinese poetry, in 1781. It initially went by the name Koyo Sekiyo Sonsha, but it was changed to Renjuku later when Chazan became an official Confucian teacher of the Fukuyama Domain and it became a goko school. Renjuku was nationally designated as a Special Historic Site in 1953.
The Meirinkan was a hanko domain school constructed in 1718 by Mori Yoshimoto, sixth daimyo of the Hagi Domain. It was located in an area called Oimawashi-suji within the third bailey Hagi Castle. In 1849, it was moved to the Emukai area adjacent to Hagi Castle by the fourteenth daimyo of Hagi, Mori Takachika, in line with domain reforms. Today, it stands on the site of Meirin Elementary School, which is run by the city of Hagi. Its remaining structures include the Yubikan, the Suiren-ike pond, and the Seikendo hall. The school was nationally designated as a Historic Site in 1929.
Shoka Sonjuku was a private academy that Tamaki Bunnoshin, uncle to the famed intellectual Yoshida Shoin, opened in his home in 1842. Shoin, who had served as headmaster of the Meirinkan domain school, took over Shoka Sonjuku in 1857, but the school was abolished the next year when Shoin was re-imprisoned in Noyamagoku jail for the second time. The academy is located on the grounds of Shoin Shrine in Hagi City, its original buildings restored. The school was nationally designated as a Historic Site in 1922.
Taku Seibyo was completed in 1708 as a temple of Togen Shosha (Tsuruyama Shoin), a goko school for the Saga Domain, established in 1699 by the fourth head of the Taku clan and chief retainer to the daimyo of the Saga Domain, Taku Shigefumi. The grounds were nationally designated as a Historic Site in 1921, and the building was designated as an Important Cultural Property in 1950.
Narutaki Juku was a private academy established in 1824 in the outskirts of Nagasaki City by the German doctor Philipp Franz von Siebold. It also functioned as a medical clinic. The wooden two-story structure had a library as well as a garden where Dr. Siebold grew medicinal plants that he had collected from all over Japan. Students studied a broad scientific curriculum that focused on Western medicine and the natural sciences. The school was nationally designated as a Historic Site in 1922.
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