In the wake of the Meiji Restoration and the subsequent drive to modernise the country, the newly founded Japanese Ministry of Education introduced a revised school system based strictly on the American model. Private Buddhist schools (寺子屋 terakoya, “temple schools”) were nationalised and schools run by the former domains converted into middle schools, fostering education for all children with no distinction between samurai and commoners. While school administration was modelled on foreign educational systems, the curriculum emphasised conservative, traditional ideals based on Confucianism that served the ideals of the new Meiji state.

In 1872, compulsory elementary education was introduced. The Kaichi School in Matsumoto (旧開智学校) was one of the first modern elementary schools in Japan, founded in May 1873 and housed in a temporary building, until the new main building, constructed by Tateishi Seijyū (立石清重), was completed in 1876. The school is an exciting blending of Western and Japanese architecture.

Tateishi Seijyū (立石清重)
Japanese carpentry

Tateishi Seijyū (立石清重, 1829-1894), was a miyadaiku (宮大工), a carpenter specialised in the construction of shrines and temples. Miyadaiku were famous for their elaborate techniques of joining wood without using nails, employing over three hundred different kinds of tools. Their wooden constructions would often last for centuries. In the bakumatsu period, there were still a few hundred of them, while nowadays their numbers have dwindled to less than one hundred. Their skills and knowledge, not restricted to carpentry, were passed on from master to apprentice.

Tateishi Seijyū was also the head of the Matsumoto carpenters’ association. The construction fees of the Kaichi Elementary School reached the enormous sum of almost eleven thousand yen (over 130 million yen in modern currency), seventy per cent of which was covered through donations of Matsumoto residents.

The Kaichi School was not only used as an elementary school, but also as a junior high school, a women’s school, and as a technical college for teachers and a facility in social education, serving its purpose as an educational institution for almost ninety years. In March 1961, it was designated an Important Cultural Property (重要文化財 jūyō bunkazai) and from January 1962 to August 1964 moved from its original location close to the Metoba River to its current position, and renovated. In April 1965 it reopened its gates to the public as a museum of education.

Visiting hours and admission:

Admission 300 JPY, 150 JPY for elementary and junior high school students.


2-4-12 Kaichi, Matsumoto City, 390-0876 Nagano – 〒390-0876 長野県松本市開智 2-4-12; Phone: 0263-32-5725, Fax: 0263-32-5729.

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