Scholar’s passion honors history of education

Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

An exhibition reproducing a terakoya school in the Edo period. The museum director Ruriko Karasawa, right, said that shisho masters implemented individualized teaching together with joshu assistants.

By Hiroshi Hiramatsu / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer The Western-style building housing the Karasawa Museum stands in a quiet residential area in Nerima Ward, Tokyo. The museum was converted from a storehouse that was part of the residence of Tomitaro Karasawa (1911-2004), a Japanese education scholar. He was a professor emeritus at the Tokyo University of Education, a predecessor of the University of Tsukuba.

The museum exhibits more than 7,000 items that he collected. The items, dating from the Edo period (1603-1867) to the years after the end of World War II, include learning materials and toys. All of them were actually used in those years.

Soon after the start of Japan’s modern school education, sheets with pictures called “tango-zu” were used in elementary school Japanese-language classes. On the sheets, words indicating flutes and houses are printed with colorful pictures.

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  • Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Tango-zu sheets were used to teach words in Japanese language classes at elementary schools in the early years of the Meiji era.

  • Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

    One of the textbooks used at terakoya private schools

  • Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

    The exterior of the museum, housed in a Western-style building

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

Another eye-catching item is a copy of nishiki-e — traditional multicolored woodblock printing — which explained to preschool children the principle of leverage using illustrations.

The items make visitors understand how enthusiastically the government in the Meiji era exercised wisdom so children could learn in schools.

Report cards from the Meiji era (1868-1912) to the Taisho era (1912-1926) are also exhibited. Bright red stamps put on the cards, which indicate each child’s achievement grades with kanji characters, such as “excellent” and “good,” make visitors imagine how children more than 100 years ago also alternated between joy and grief over their grades.

Rewards given to children with excellent achievements are also exhibited. They include award certificates, postal stamps as extra prizes, seedlings of mulberry trees, and bonds issued in 1945. The face value of the bonds is ¥5, equivalent to about ¥1,000 today.

Furthermore, the interior of an Edo period “terakoya,” which were small private schools, is reproduced. Desks and washi paper on display show scratches, hand and sumi ink stains here and there.

Textbooks called “oraimono” and “fubako” — boxes to store stationery — let visitors imagine how children in the Edo period studied.

The terakoya schools were places where children gained knowledge that later became useful to them. What was learned was different between children of merchants and those of carpenters.

The educational method in those years was individualized teaching in which a pair of “shisho” (master) and “joshu” (assistant) shared roles in the teaching. That method contrasts with the school teaching style prevalent since the Meiji era, by which a single teacher teaches all children in a class.

Ruriko Karasawa, 64, director of the museum and third daughter of Tomitaro, said: “In 1962, my father saw artwork that had been brought out of Japan in an art museum in the United States. He got angry and said, ‘We must treat our own country’s culture more carefully.’ It became the starting point of his collection.”

Tomitaro visited secondhand shops and storehouses nationwide for about six years from 1962 and collected items that had been covered in dust.

The huge number of collected materials dating back even to the age of terakoya shows how enthusiastically he dedicated his life to the study of the history of public education in Japan.

■ Karasawa Museum

The museum opened in 1993. Items dating from the Meiji era are exhibited on the first floor, and those from the Edo period are on the second floor.

On the third floor, household goods and work tools from the Edo period to the years after the end of World War II are exhibited so that visitors can appreciate the wisdom of living and dexterity of the Japanese people.

Address: 3-5-5 Toyotamakita, Nerima Ward, Tokyo

Opening: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (reservation needed)

Admission: ¥700 (¥300 for junior high and high school students, ¥200 for elementary school students)

Information: (03) 3991-3065


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