In England a vast amount was last year heard respecting education. Speakers on platforms and writers in newspapers and other periodical literature day by day and week by week for many months kept pouring forth words, words, words on this matter. It is not my intention to refer at all beyond what I have said to the somewhat lively education controversy in England which even as I write is by no means ended. Any such reference would be out of place in a book of this kind, and even were it not I confess I have no inclination whatever to rush into this particular fray. But it seems to me a curious fact that other countries, Japan amongst the number, have long since settled, and apparently settled satisfactorily, a problem which here in England is still under discussion, acrid discussion, and is yet quite evidently far from being permanently solved. The provisions and arrangements a nation has made for the education of its youth are, to my mind, an excellent test of the precise standard to which its civilisation has attained; because the future of a nation is with its youth, and that future must largely depend on the extent to and the manner in which its youth have been taught not only all those subjects which are commonly classified as knowledge but their duties and responsibilities as citizens. Judged by this test, Japan has every right to rank high among the nations of the world. And it can also be said of her in this matter that the education of her people is no new thing. It is not one among the many things she has learned from the West. Education was in vogue in Japan when that country was isolated from the rest of the world. Certainly Japan's contact with Europe and America has vastly improved her educational system, enabling her, as it has done, to utilise to the full the great advance there has been in scientific knowledge of every description during the last half-century or so. But, as far back as the seventh century, if history or tradition be correct, an educational code was promulgated in Japan. Certainly this code was limited in its application to certain classes, but education was gradually extended throughout the country, and even in days somewhat remote from the present time every member of the Samurai class was expected to include the three R's, or the Japanese equivalent of them, in his curriculum. The ordinary Samurai was, in fact, as regards reading and writing an educated man at a time when British Generals and even British Sovereigns were somewhat hazy in regard to their orthography and caligraphy.
Soon after the Revolution of 1868 a Board of Education was instituted in Japan, and the whole educational system of the country--because one had existed under the rule of a Tycoon--was taken in hand and reorganised. Three years later a separate Department of Education was formed at a time almost synonymous with the setting up of School Boards in England. As soon as it got itself into working order the Education Department despatched a number of specially selected Japanese to various European countries as well as to the United States of America to inquire into and report upon the system of education in existence and its suitability for adaptation or adoption in Japan. When these representatives returned from their mission and sent in their reports a code was compiled and the Mikado, in promulgating it, declared the aims of his Government to be that education should be so diffused throughout the country that eventually there might not be a village with an ignorant family nor a family with an ignorant member. It was a noble ideal, and I may remark that, though of course it has not been realised in all its fulness and probably will not be for very many years to come, it has been to a larger extent attained than a somewhat similar ideal which the late Mr. Forster is supposed to have entertained in reference to the effect of the Education Act which established a system of compulsory education for England and Wales.
In succeeding years various changes were made in the system of national education, and in 1883 that which now exists was brought into force. This is in effect compulsory education. Since education was first organised on any plan in Japan the number under instruction has steadily risen, and at present more than 90 per cent. of the children regularly attend school. In 1873 the number was 1,180,000; it is now over 5,000,000. There are about 29,000 primary schools, of which about 6,500 are higher primary schools with a million pupils. The total cost of the primary schools is somewhere about £3,000,000.
The question will no doubt be asked, What kind of education do these 5,000,000 pupils receive, and to what extent is it adapted to make them good citizens of a great Empire? The subjects taught in the ordinary primary schools embrace morals, the Japanese language, arithmetic and gymnastics. One or more subjects, such as drawing, singing, or manual work may be added, and, in schools for females, sewing. In the higher primary schools the subjects of instruction include morals, the Japanese language, arithmetic, Japanese history, geography, science, drawing, singing, and gymnastics, and, in schools for females, sewing. Besides these agriculture, commerce, and manual work, as well as the English language, are optional subjects. The moral lessons taught in these schools, I may remark, are not based upon any particular religious doctrines or dogmas, but are entirely and absolutely secular.
Children have to be 6 years of age before commencing their scholastic education, and have to remain at school until they have attained 14 years. The parents or guardians of children are compelled to send them to school to complete, as a minimum of education, the ordinary primary school course. Education in the higher primary schools is not compulsory, and it is, accordingly, a pleasing fact that 60 per cent. of those children who have passed through the ordinary schools voluntarily go to the higher primary schools.
Every municipal or rural community is compelled to maintain one or more primary schools sufficient, as regards size and the number of the staff, to educate all the children in the district. The establishment of higher primary schools is voluntary, and that so many of them are in existence is ample proof that the benefit of higher education is fully appreciated in Japan. Instruction in all the schools is practically free. No fee may be charged save with the consent of the local governor, and when one is imposed it must not exceed the equivalent of 5d. per month in a town school and half that sum in a rural school.
As regards secondary education, it is compulsory for one school to be established in each of the forty-seven prefectures into which Japan is divided. The course of study at the secondary schools extends over five years, with an optional supplementary course limited to twelve months. The curriculum of the secondary school embraces morals, the Japanese and Chinese languages, one foreign language, history and geography, mathematics, natural history, physics and chemistry, the elements of law and political economy, drawing, singing, gymnastics, and drills. The course of study is uniform in all Japanese schools. Candidates for admission to the secondary schools must be over 12 years of age, and have completed the second year's course of the higher primary school. There are about three hundred of the secondary schools in existence--a number, as will be seen, six times as large as that obliged to be established by law. The pupils number over a hundred thousand and the cost approximates £500,000.
There are also 170 high schools for girls besides normal schools in each prefecture designed to train teachers for the primary and secondary schools. The course of study in these schools is for men four years, for women three years. The whole of the pupils' expenses, including the cost of their board and lodging, is paid out of local funds. There are also higher normal schools designed to train teachers for the ordinary normal schools. It will thus be seen that there is a systematic course of education for what I may term the common people in Japan, extending from the higher normal to the ordinary primary school.
There are besides in Japan higher schools, the object of which is to prepare young men for a University education. The expense of these schools is entirely borne by the State. Japan prides herself, and justly, in being unique in the possession of such schools. The course of study in them extends over three years and is split up into three departments. The pupils select the particular department into which they desire to enter, and their selection, of course, depends on the precise course of study they intend to take up on entering the University. The first department is for those who propose to study law or literature, the second for those who mean to go in for engineering, science, or agriculture, and the third for aspirants as medical men. Candidates for admission to these schools must be over 17 years of age and have completed the secondary school course.
A reference to these higher schools naturally leads up to the Imperial University of Tokio, as well as the kindred University at Kyoto. There are six colleges in the former, viz., law, medicine, engineering, literature, science, and agriculture, while Kyoto University possesses four colleges, viz., law, medicine, literature and science, and engineering. When the Imperial University was established almost all the Professors therein were Europeans or Americans, but there has been a material alteration in this respect, and now the foreign Professors are few. Most of the Japanese instructors have, however, been educated abroad. The course of study extends over four years in the case of students of law and medicine, and three years in the case of students of other subjects. There is not the same freedom in regard to study as exists at Oxford, Cambridge, and some other more or less leisurely seats of learning. In the Japanese Universities the students have to enter upon a regular prescribed course of study with some few optional subjects. The Universities confer degrees in law, medicine, engineering, literature, science, and agriculture. The examinations leading up to and for the degrees are much more severe than those in any University in this country, with the possible exception of that of London. It may interest my readers to learn that the largest number of degrees are taken in law, the smallest in science. We have heard a great deal of recent years respecting technical education in Great Britain, which many persons suggest is at a very low ebb. For what is in one sense a new country, Japan seems to have taken steps to provide an excellent system of technical education. There are a small number of State higher technical schools, agricultural, commercial, and industrious. Technical schools of lower grades are maintained by prefectures and urban bodies, and they receive grants in aid from national funds. There are in all about four hundred technical schools in the country. The few facts respecting education in Japan which I have put as tersely as possible before my readers, should, I think, convince them of the fact that in regard to this all-important question Japan has made and is making vigorous efforts--and efforts all of which are in the right direction. It must be remembered that in the education of her youth she has to face difficulties which are altogether unknown in this as in other European countries. One of these difficulties is the fact that Japanese literature is more or less mixed up with Chinese literature, and, accordingly, it is necessary for the Japanese to learn Chinese as well as Japanese characters, and also to study the Chinese classics. Another difficulty is the one I touched on in my remarks on the Japanese language, viz., the difference between the written and spoken languages of Japan. In old times the written and spoken languages were no doubt identical, but Chinese literature influenced the country to so great an extent that the written language in time became more and more Chinese, while the spoken dialect remained Japanese. The consequence is that the written language is more or less a hotch-potch of Chinese characters and the Japanese alphabet. Whether it will be possible to overcome these obvious difficulties remains to be seen. Several remedies have been proposed but none has so far been adopted. One remedy was the use of the Japanese alphabet alone for the written language, another the introduction and adoption of the European alphabet. Manifestly the difficulty of effecting such a change as the adoption of either of these plans would involve would be enormous. Still the retention of the present complicated system is without doubt the great obstacle in the way of educational progress in Japan, and it speaks eloquently for the patience and pertinacity of the youth of that country that they have effected so much in so short a time in view of the difficulties that have had to be encountered.
The strong points of the youth of Japan in the matter of education are, in my opinion, their great powers of concentration and their indomitable application to study and perseverance in whatever they undertake. Of their powers of absorption of any subject there can be no question. It has been urged, as against this, that the Japanese possess the defect not uncommon among people of any race, viz., that the capacity for rapidly assimilating knowledge is to some extent counteracted or rendered abortive by an incapacity to practically apply that knowledge. I may say for myself that though I have often heard this objection urged I have not seen any indications of this lack of ability to practically apply knowledge on the part of the Japanese. I should have thought that the Russo-Japanese war would have afforded ample demonstration of the ability of the Japanese to put to good account the knowledge they had acquired and assimilated in their seminaries.
I certainly think that the system of education, as it exists in Japan to-day, is one not only admirably adapted for the people of that country, but one from which some Western nations might learn a few things. Japan has, in her education system, settled the religious question simply by ignoring it. Her morality as inculcated in every school in the country, is a purely secular morality. I know that there are some persons who will deem secular morality a contradiction in terms. Indeed there are many eminent Japanese who do not approve of the present system. Count Okuma, for example, one of the ablest men in the country, bewails the lack of a moral standard. The upper classes have, he remarks, Chinese philosophy, the great mass of the people have nothing. In the Western world, he points out, Christianity supplies the moral standard, while in Japan some desire to return to old forms, others prefer Christianity; some lean on Kant, others on other philosophers. Christianity may supply the moral standard in the Western world, as Count Okuma asserts, but if he has studied recent politics in a particular part of the Western world, he must have seen that Christianity in that part is by no means in accord as to the teaching of religion in its schools, or what moral code, if any, should be substituted for dogmatic instruction. Perhaps, after all, Japan has not decided amiss in for the present at any rate deciding that secular morality shall be the only ethical instruction given in her schools. That code which she teaches, so far as I have had an opportunity of studying it, is one which contains nothing that could be in the slightest degree objected to by the votaries of any religious system either in the East or in the West.
[Illustration: AMATEUR CONCHOLOGISTS FROM A PRINT BY HIROSHIGE]
Although it has no direct connection with morality, secular or otherwise, it may be of interest if I give here a synopsis of the teaching given in Japanese schools in reference to the behaviour of the pupils towards foreigners. These rules have been collected by an English newspaper in Japan, and they certainly serve to show that the youth of Japan are in this matter receiving instruction which, whether regarded from an ethical standpoint or merely that of good manners, cannot be too highly commended.
"Never call after foreigners passing along the streets or roads.
"When foreigners make inquiries, answer them politely. If unable to make them understand, inform the police of the fact.
"Never accept a present from a foreigner when there is no reason for his giving it, and never charge him anything above what is proper.
"Do not crowd around a shop when a foreigner is making purchases, thereby causing him much annoyance. The continuance of this practice disgraces us as a nation.
"Since all human beings are brothers and sisters, there is no reason for fearing foreigners. Treat them as equals and act uprightly in all your dealings with them. Be neither servile nor arrogant.
"Beware of combining against the foreigner and disliking him because he is a foreigner; men are to be judged by their conduct and not by their nationality.
"As intercourse with foreigners becomes closer and extends over a series of years, there is danger that many Japanese may become enamoured of their ways and customs and forsake the good old customs of their forefathers. Against this danger you must be on your guard.
"Taking off your hat is the proper way to salute a foreigner. The bending of the body low is not to be commended.
"When you see a foreigner be sure and cover up naked parts of the body.
"Hold in high regard the worship of ancestors and treat your relations with warm cordiality, but do not regard a person as your enemy because he or she is a Christian.
"In going through the world you will often find a knowledge of a foreign tongue absolutely essential.
"Beware of selling your souls to foreigners and becoming their slaves. Sell them no houses or lands.
"Aim at not being beaten in your competition with foreigners. Remember that loyalty and filial piety are our most precious national treasures and do nothing to violate them."
It seems to me a pity that education on somewhat similar lines to that embodied in these interesting rules cannot be imparted to the youth of this and other European countries. It would certainly tend, I think, in the direction of good manners which are, I fear, sadly lacking in many of the pupils who have undergone a course of School Board instruction in England.
A question that may arise in regard to the details of Japanese education is how far and in what degree do the pertinacity and zeal of the youth of Japan for knowledge affect their physique. We know that mens sana in corpore sano is the ideal at which every one concerned with the education of young people of both sexes ought to strive. There is no doubt whatever that too close an attention to study of any kind, too constant an exercise of the mental faculties, unless it is accompanied by a corresponding exercise of the body, very often has an injurious effect upon the human frame. Count Okuma, in referring to this matter, has pointed out that the great difficulty of the difference between the written and spoken languages is a very serious tax upon the pupils in all the schools, necessitating, as it does, the duplicating of their work. So much time, he considers, has to be spent by them in study on account of this duplicating that it is quite impossible for students to have sufficient physical exercise, while if it were decided to devote more time to exercise, the years allotted to education would have to be lengthened--a fact which must involve a serious loss in regard to the work of the nation. I do not take quite such a pessimistic view of the lack of physical education of the youth of Japan. In the first place, gymnastics form part, an important part, of the course of instruction in all schools throughout the country, and in the next place the young people of Japan, so far as I have been able to arrive at an opinion in the matter, are almost if not quite as enthusiastic in regard to various forms of outdoor sport as are those of this country. The buoyancy and enthusiasm of youth are, indeed, very much the same all over the world. It is only when youth comes to what are very often erroneously described as years of discretion that artificiality begins to assert itself. Base-ball, lawn-tennis, bicycling, and rowing are all extensively patronised by the young men of Japan, and cricket has of recent years come considerably into vogue. The students of the Imperial University have not only shown no disinclination, but, on the contrary, an avidity to combine athletics with their studies, and in base-ball especially they have more than held their own against the foreigner. I confess I have no desire to see the craze for outdoor sports which is so much in evidence in this country extending to Japan. Some of the public schools in England are much more famous for their cricket, football, and other teams than for the education imparted in them. Many a young man leaves those schools an excellent cricketer or football player, but, from an educational point of view, very badly equipped for the battle of life. The happy mean is surely the best in this as in other matters, and I venture to think that the youth of Japan in regarding education as the essential matter and outdoor sport as merely a subsidiary one have shown sound judgment.
In my remarks on education in Japan I have dealt principally with the schools for boys. I may, however, remark that in the arrangements she has made for the education of the other sex she has shown the same thoroughness. In the primary schools the boys and girls are taken in without any distinction, though separate classes are usually formed. There are subsequently higher schools for girls. The percentage of the female sex attending these schools is less than that of the other. There are in all about seventy-five of these schools in Japan with some twenty thousand pupils. The course of instruction in them is moral precepts, Japanese language, a foreign language, history, geography, mathematics, science, drawing, training for domestic affairs, cutting-out and sewing, music and gymnastics. I think in regard to these schools the Japanese authorities have shown sound judgment in decreeing that music shall not necessarily form part of the education of every young girl, but may be omitted for those pupils for whom the art may be deemed difficult. Were a similar rule to be adopted in this country quite a number of people would be saved a large amount of unnecessary torture. There is also a higher normal school for women at Tokio, as likewise an Academy of Music. The Tokio Jiogakkwan is an institution established by some foreign philanthropists for the purpose of educating Japanese girls of a respectable class in Anglo-Saxon attainments. This institution has between two and three hundred pupils, but I am not in a position to state what measure of success, if any, it has achieved, nor indeed do I know what "Anglo-Saxon attainments" are supposed to be. Many of them I should have thought were quite unsuitable for the ordinary Japanese girl, tending, as they must, to destroy her national individuality. There is also a girls' college in Tokio called the Women's University. It does not confer degrees, but it gives a very high education, and it is largely patronised.
I stated at the commencement of this chapter that I was of opinion the provisions and arrangements a nation had made for the education of its youth were an excellent test of the standard to which its civilisation has attained. I hope the slight sketch I have given my readers of the system of education in existence in Japan will enable them to form an estimate as to the place Japan should occupy if judged by the standard referred to. In my opinion, seeing that it is less than forty years since the country passed through a drastic revolution--a revolution which destroyed all these social forces which had been in existence and had exercised a tremendous influence on the life of the people for many centuries--it is, I think, not only extraordinary but highly creditable to her rulers that Japan should have in that short interval organised and perfected such a system of education as exists in the country to-day. Under that system every boy and girl in the land receives an admirable course of instruction, and is afforded facilities for still further extending and enlarging that course, and, if his or her abilities, ambitions, and opportunities incline them that way, to proceed steadily onward in the acquisition of knowledge, until they obtain as a coping stone, that final course, in the capital either at the Imperial University or the Women's University where the sum of all the knowledge of the world is at the disposal of those who have the capacity and the aspiration to acquire it.