One of the many interesting things to see in Matsumoto is the Kyuu Kaichi school （旧開智学校）. Opened in 1873, this school building is one of the oldest elementary school buildings in Japan and was in use for 90 years. A short (10 minutes) walk north of Matsumoto Castle, the existing building was restored as close as possible to the original structure. The meaning of the word “Kaichi” is to develop intellect, and this school was named after a passage in the text of “The introduction of the Education system” during the Meiji period.
Kaichi school was planned by then governor Nagayama Moriteru, who positioned learning at the center of administration and strongly enhanced civilization policy. The building was designed by a local master carpenter/architect Seiju Tateishi. More than 70% of its construction cost was funded by the donations from the people of Matsumoto City.
When looked back from the modern era, this is a cradle of Japan’s modern education system. The Kaichi served as the base of modern education not only in Matsumoto but also the whole of southern Nagano (Shinshu district). There are some 90,000 educational materials from the late Edo period to the present day currently stored, and many of them are on exhibit. The exhibits are constantly rotated, so it is worth more than one visit.
The building is important. Partly due to history, but also to the role it played in developing a new education system, but also the fact that this building looks architectural western (until you really look closely). This was at a time when a structure that looks like this, designed and built by a Japanese architect was very unusual. In 1961, the building was designated as an Imperial Cultural Property, the very first ICP of school buildings in Japan.
It did not originally stand on the present site. There was a transfer and repair during the Showa Period. The former location was vulnerable to the regular flooding of the Metoba river (on the banks of which it stood for 90 years). After the transfer it was turned into a museum and opened to the public in 1965. The new school (a modern construction) is located next door, but borrows certain architectural characteristics. It is interesting to wander around a little and compare and contrast.
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