The Official Tourism Site of Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan
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The Former Kaichi School

Kyu Kaichi Gakko 旧開智学校

The former Kaichi School is a beautiful school built in 1876. You may be wondering why would I want to visit an old school. I wondered the same thing. I had visited this school when I was I was six on a visit to Matsumoto. I was very confused at the time, thinking that all schools in Japan looked like this. I thought that such beautiful schools were part of Japan's reputation of a superior education. I wanted to attend a school that beautiful, until I learned about school on Saturday, which has since changed.

Eighteen years later I returned to Matsumoto to work for the public education system. Nearly everyday I pass by the school on my way to and from the schools where I teach English. Although students do not currently attend the Former Kaichi School, the present Kaichi School is right in front of it. In the afternoon, as I am coming home, I can see dozens of adorable little ones in front of this beautiful building, wearing bright colors and boxy book bags. But admittedly I was not drawn to visit. I already spend four days a week in a school and didn’t see the draw of spending a holiday in another one. So I decided to ask some friends what the story of the school was before writing about it. Suddenly I found myself scheduled to visit and given a well-written background and the history of education in Japan. So on a rainy Friday, I went there with my camera and friend to guide me. This is what I found…

Kaichi School was the first community school in the region. The kanji used in Kaichi means, "opening people's intelligence." Before this school was opened, only the children of Samurai where given the opportunity of higher education. During the Edo era, ordinary citizens studied only at primary schools associated with Buddhist temples, where the Buddhist monks were the educators. In 1854, Japan opened its door to the rest of the world and in 1872, the national education system was reformed. The new system intended to create community education modeled after western education systems. The building of this school, which was one of the first of its kind in the country, extended education opportunities to everyone.

The people of Matsumoto, mostly farmers, wanted to give the opportunity of education to their children even if that meant eating only one meal a day. Members of the community were very excited by this prospect and donated 70% of the cost of the building, which is estimated to have cost about 134,400,000 yen at that time. The ceilings of the old school are made of paper, its pillars are from an abandoned temple and its walls are made of mud and bamboo. Equipment and material costs were kept as low as possible although plate glass for the front window was imported from France. Building of the school started in 1873 and finished three years later in 1876.

Today the Former Kaichi School holds the countries best collection of education documents and historical materials, as well as plenty of nostalgia in a beautiful place. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed visiting this school and how interesting I found the story behind it. I hope you like what you find there.

Access A 25-minute walk or 5-minute bus ride from JR Matsumoto train station
A 10-minute walk from Matsumoto Castle
(Google Map)
Admission Y300 for adults, Y150 for ES/JHS
Hours 8:30am - 4:30pm (doors close 5pm)
Closed Mondays (but open on National Holiday-Mondays, closed next day instead), Dec 29 - Jan 3
Tel 0263-32-5725

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