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Written by: Sjaak Mintjens
Date: 2013/05/12

Back to school!

I have lived in Matsumoto now for quite a while, visited the castle, went to Kamikochi on a few occasions, and also went to the ukiyo-e museum and a few other places. However, I had not yet been to a place that might have had its impact on all of Japan, the first school of Japan founded in 1873 and happens to be located in Matsumoto. Since 1965 it has become a museum of education. Seeing as I hadn’t been here yet, I decided to go back to school.

 

School in sight

 When riding up to it on my bike, after all I am Dutch, and noticed this out of place American/North European building in the distance, and I knew I had almost arrived at the Kaichi School Museum. It was only from closer up where I noticed some interesting quirks. But before that, first a little bit of a history lesson.

 

 

 

 

A history with a twist

 Kaichi School was the first school in Japan, founded in 1873 and was built in a peculiar manner. In the first few years of the Meji period (1868-1912) there was a movement called ‘haibutsu kishaku’, which set out to abolish Buddhism, and having Shintoism as the sole religion in Japan, and ended up destroying thousands of temples. However, the wood that was used to make these temples was eventually also used in the building of the Kaichi School. Now whether this was simply a material way of thinking or a very bad pun towards Buddhist practitioners saying “This will teach you!” or some other reason, I do not know. But, what is sure is that it led to very beautifully carved wood works within the school. The school had been used for about 90 years up to 1963, after which the Japanese government decided that with its history it is an important cultural asset and decided to keep the school for preservation and not anymore for its original purpose. During the 90 years, the school had taken a lot of damage through time and weather and therefore had to be restored for preservation, but with its importance it should also receive a better location, which is the location where you can find it today, to the north of Matsumoto castle. Now when moving and rebuilding the school for preservations, they apparently added/change a few things to show that it is indeed a building in Japan. Good or bad, you decide.

 

 

 

 

A confused building

 When closing in on the school in its present form you might first notice that the roof is mainly styled in a Western fashion, but then your eye falls to the roof front where there used to be something that completely coincided with the building, but nowadays you will find a Japanese temple-like shape in the roof front. Which is a very interesting mix to say the least, but strangely it works. However, when you are looking at the roof front, your eyes will most-likely drop down right below the roof front and see two angels holding the name Kaichi School, which is probably the last thing anyone would ever expect in Japan, and especially not on a building that was originally founded right after the Edo period (in which Christianity was banned from Japan).

 

 

 

 

Excellent craftsmanship

 The other parts of the school are however pretty interesting to see. You see Japan, the land that always goes for perfection, having chairs and tables for children in none of the same size. But also he level of detail used in making school material and humongous sized a bamboo woven carpet showing the amazing craftsmanship of the Japanese as well as amazingly carved wooden sculptures in doors and ceilings. Also the directional characters, to point out the north, east, south and west which are placed on top of the building have retained their former positioning relative to the placement of the building. This leads to the current characters pointing at incorrect directions as the south points to the east, the east to the north etc. Not only did those characters change position, eventually the elementary school in front of Kaichi School Museum was also repositioned so that now when you to the top of Matsumoto Castle you will be able to see the Kaichi School Museum.

 

A short but worthwhile trip

 The Kaichi School Museum has a lot of interesting quirks and also quite an interesting history. The location is great and it feels nice to see a school again with a wooden floor. It may turn up to be a short visit, but it is still worth a visit to see the first school of Japan. And maybe, if you go you may also uncover some interesting quirks that make you think when you go there yourself.

 

There is no official website for the Kaichi School but there is a lot of information on the site below:
http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp