The introduction of a modern education system into Japan, taking several Western countries as models, began in a real sense in the latter part of the 19th century. The arrival of modernization in Japan was therefore comparatively late, but since Japan was fortunate enough to be blessed with socio-cultural environmental factors (initial conditions) as listed below, education underwent very rapid development within a short space of time.
For the preceding 260 years, during which time Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1968) followed a policy of keeping the country closed the outside world, the country enjoyed peace and stability. During this period of time, the people of Japan were able to attain a high level of cultural maturity, and the literacy rate, even among the common people, was high by world standards at this time. This situation can be seen to be due, at least in part, to the relatively wide diffusion of distinctively Japanese educational institutions. For the samurai warrior class, these were public education institutions (fief schools) for study of the Chinese classics (Confucian doctrine, Chinese literature and Chinese history). For the common people, on the other hand, there were a large number of institutions called \u201cterakoya\u201d (popular places of learning or \u201ccommunity learning centers\u201d), which concentrated on teaching reading, writing and practical skills. Quite separates from the fief schools and the
homes of the instructor, developed and they were open to all regardless of class. And among merchants and the professional classes an apprenticeship system developed. Finally, mention must also be made of the popularity of learning aspects of Japanese culture such as the tea ceremony, flower arrangement,
classical musical instruments and other traditional arts. In ways such as these, a foundation was laid for the national enthusiasm for education.
Education had a strongly secular character, and the traditional religions such as Buddhism and Shinto did not have their own distinctive educational institutions. Moreover, thanks to comparatively homogeneous cultural and linguistic traditions, there was no problem about making Japanese the sole medium of instruction from the start.
As a result of the feudal Shogunate system and the system of social classes, the formation of a common national consciousness was held back. However, in the atmosphere of crisis in the face of external pressure at the end of the Edo era, there was a strong awareness that national unity and national consciousness could be formed through education. In the process of groping for the best way to modernize the Japanese nation, a consensus was formed with the aim of abolishing the traditional class system and offering equal educational opportunity to all the people of Japan.
[The emergence of a system of appointing people on the basis of educational attainments]
In the final years of the Edo era, a system of recruiting people on the basis of individual knowledge and ability was introduced in place of the traditional class system. Through this process, the elite members of the population came to be selected on the basis of academic attainment. And in this way, the preparatory conditions were laid down for the
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