Educational Reform in Japan (19th c.)
"The Imperial Rescript on Education" [Official Document]
During the first two decades of the Meiji era, the new government invested a great deal of effort into building the institutions of the modern Japanese state. By the 1880s, officials and other commentators had begun in earnest to articulate the moral foundations that should undergird those institutions and unify the Japanese people. The following document is one of the most famous and influential attempts to accomplish this goal. The document represents a compromise among competing ideological camps, and as such it defines Japanese tradition broadly and inclusively. In particular, typical Confucian statements about harmony and filial piety are combined with expressions of loyalty to the imperial throne. Furthermore, by calling upon the Japanese people to "offer [themselves] courageously to the State," the rescript also expressed an ethos distinctive to the modern nation state: the idea that all members of a nation should identify actively with the state and be willing to sacrifice individual interests to it. In a ceremony performed at schools beginning in the 1890s, students recited the rescript while kneeling in front of a picture of the emperor.
[Reprint of original available online.]
Dairoku, Kikuchi. "The Imperial Rescript on Education (1890)." 2-3 in Japanese Education. London: John Murray, 1909.
Primary Source Text
Know ye, Our Subjects:
Our Imperial Ancestors have founded Our Empire on a basis broad and everlasting, and have deeply and firmly implanted virtue; Our subjects ever united in loyalty and filial piety have from generation to generation illustrated the beauty thereof. This is the glory of the fundamental character of Our Empire, and herein also lies the source of Our education. Ye, Our subjects, be filial to your parents, affectionate to your brothers and sisters; as husbands and wives be harmonious, as friends true; bear yourselves in modesty and moderation; extend your benevolence to all; pursue learning and cultivate arts, and thereby develop intellectual faculties and perfect moral powers; furthermore, advance public good and promote common interests; always respect the Constitution and observe the laws; should emergency arise, offer yourselves courageously to the State; and thus guard and maintain the prosperity of Our Imperial state; and tus guard and maintain the prosperity of Our Imperial Throne coeval with heaven and earth. So shall ye not only be Our good and faithful subjects, but render illustrious the best traditions of your forefathers.
The way here set forth is indeed the teaching bequeathed by Our Imperial Ancestors, to be observed alike by Their Descendants and the subjects, infallible for all ages and true in all places. It is Our wish to lay it to heart in all reverence, in common with you, Our subjects, that we may all attain to the same virtue.
October 30, 1890
How to Cite This Source
Brian Platt, "Educational Reform in Japan (19th c.)," in Children and Youth in History, Item #125, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/teaching-modules/125 (accessed April 18, 2015).
- Primary Sources
- Emperor Meiji to President Grant on Iwakura Mission, 1871 [Letter]
- Preamble to the Fundamental Code of Education, 1872 [Government Document]
- An Encouragement of Learning, 1872 [Literary Source]
- Terakoya vs. Meiji School [Images]
- Meiji Era School Attendence [Tables]
- Kaichi and Mitsuke Schools [Architecture]
- Imperial Rescript: The Great Principles of Education, 1879 [Official Document]
- On Education [Essay]
- "The Imperial Rescript on Education" [Official Document]
- Two Girls Carrying Children [Photograph]
- Explanation of School Matters [Official Document]