Free «Meiji Era Education Reform in Late 1800s and Early 1900s» Essay Sample

As a result of political changes, the Meiji Restoration embarked upon a new course of modernization. In the sphere of education, it implied that both boys and girls were supposed to attend elementary school. At first, the enrollment of girls was rather low because relatives did not think that school education was important for girls. Although primary and secondary education was freely available for girls, not all could get it due to the lack of motivation on the part of their relatives who had power to send to school, or the lack of money. Inasmuch as the generally accepted image of a Japanese woman complied with the doctrine “good wives and good mothers,” the educator chose for girls a more restricted “domestic arts” (cooking, sewing, child care, teaching, etc.) or secretarial (typing, shorthand, etc.) curriculum, rather than an education available to men.

Before the Meiji era, the Japanese society was ruled by the samurai class and their lords who received formal learning. Other groups of the society such as peasants, merchants, and artisans did not have access to education. Consequently, women were also deprived of the possibility to learn. With the changes on the political scene, the new Meiji government realized that the lack of education hampered the development of the country and thus decided to follow the example of the Western states that had adopted educational practices for all classes and both sexes. Counting on the strengthening of Japan due to educating people at large, the new authorities established the Ministry of Education in 1872. The Ministry composed a Fundamental Code of Education, which says, “Learning is the key to success in life, and no man can afford to neglect it. It is ignorance that leads man astray, makes him destitute, disrupts his family, and in the end destroys his life” (Jansen 403). The Department of Education promised to educate every person in every family and instituted an obligatory four-year elementary education for children of both sexes since 1872 (Gordon 67).

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For this purpose, a model of American education system was adopted. Inasmuch as in Japan, a large mass of people was uneducated, the issue of primary school was topmost. Therefore, public elementary schools invited both boys and girls. Enrollment rates grew steadily, with remote places demonstrating higher rates than central ones. In the beginning, female students were in the minority, but eventually, the attendance rates almost straightened (Jansen 404; Gordon 68). In a common Japanese family, all females were involved into a family business, household chores, or taking care of youngsters, so parents might find it inconvenient and actually unnecessary to send their daughters to elementary schools. In addition, education was not free of charge and not every family could find financial resources to send their children to school, especially girls. Therefore, not everyone was satisfied with compulsory education that disrupted a traditional way of life. In such a way, about 25 to 50 percent of the population attended school in the 1870s. Eventually, people got accustomed to the idea of compulsory school attending as a duty of the emperor’s subject. By the early 1900s, 98 percent of boys and 93 percent of girls attended elementary schools (Gordon 68).

In 1885, the minister of education was Mori Arinori, a forward-minded person who held progressive views. He believed that women should have equal rights in marriage and receive formal education (Jansen 402). Mori got educated in England and focused on the West; he wanted to modernize the Japanese educational system and make it centralized and devoid of outdated rigid concepts. His initiatives were supported by the educator Fukuzawa Yukichi who wrote school books (Jansen 404). At that period, the education system of Japan faced numerous contradictions trying to incorporate English and Christian principles and reconcile them with Confucianism. The modernizing educators collided with conservatives who insisted that Western values harmed their men. In 1879, the Emperor Meiji issued a rescript to the principles of education; Motoda Eifu, a Conservative and Confucian teacher provided the beginning to the imperial rescript: “In recent days, people have been going to extremes. They take unto themselves a foreign civilization whose only values are fact-gathering and techniques, thus violating the rules of good manners and bringing harm to our customary ways” (Jansen 405).

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Indeed, the new Meiji government encountered conflicting goals in attempting to educate broad layers of population and “make the nation’s industrialization possible” (Tamanoi 46). In the battle for the soul and mind of a Japanese person, Western and Eastern values clashed. Progressive educators, such as Mori Arinori and Fukuzawa Yukichi, believed that nativism and Confucianism contribute to the weakness of the state and disseminate “the impractical and uneconomic moralities” (Jansen 406). Meanwhile, conservatives, such as Motoda Eifu, wanted to place ethics and morality at the head of the curriculum. However, Mori’s westernized vision did not exclude traditional and nationalistic overtones. For him, education of wider population was necessary not only to make each person literate but also to improve the state of affairs in the country (Jansen 407). Mori was not in a direct opposition to Confucian values; he still believed that loyalty and obedience were crucial for any person and integrated these values into school textbooks (Gordon 105). In this regard, the formal education for women was one of the steps for the growing potency of Japan. However, equality in education usually results in equality in legal rights for men and women but not in the case of Meiji’s Japan. The country needed women’s cheap labor in factories and in the fields to promote industrialization (Tamanoi 46).

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These conflicting aims affected the curriculum that girls had in schools. From the beginning, school girls had a set of subjects different from the boys’ one. As it was customary for the traditional Japan following the Confucian values, women had to take care of homes and families. Therefore, at elementary schools, girls were taught domestic subjects such as cooking, sewing, taking care of younger siblings, and teaching (Gordon 67). It signals the presence of the ryōsai kenbo concept, “good wives and wise mothers” (Tamanoi 47). According to the Confucian ethics, the emperor’s subjects had to exhibit obedience and virtues. Confucian ethics did not refer to women, and it was done by a female historian in the Han dynasty, Ban Zhao, who extended Confucius’s teaching to women’s education, and her book Nu jie, “Lessons for Women,” was popular in all Asian countries. Ban Zhao singled out “three obediences and four virtues” for women, among which the most important ones were obedience, sacrifice, and modesty (Kramarae 491).

However, the principle of “good wives and wise mothers” could largely be applied to upper-class women rather than to working women. In rural areas, women had to work on equal terms with men and produce almost the same amount of products to help the nation in hard economic times. Therefore, rural women could not fulfill the “duties of womanhood” in the same way as it was demanded by the tradition. Here, the Japanese women were divided by class, and consequently, the expectations in their regard were divided. Thus, the upper-class women had only the obligations to bear children and follow the “good wives and wise mothers” doctrine while the working class women had to both work and procreate (Tamanoi 47). In general, neither working class women’s hard labor nor upper class women’s desire to work resulted in any changes in the school curriculum.

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This kind of attitude toward women’s needs and abilities reflected the prevailing notion of that time and of the previous periods that women were different from men. Similar to the infamous dictum “separate but equal,” the notion “different but equal” in regard to the rights of men and women also had little sense and largely demonstrated the implied women’s inferiority. Both in Europe and America, as well as in Asian countries, women were expected to follow the standardized pattern of biological functions intensified by the notions of their class. The Victorian upper- and middle class women had to be “the perfect lady” and strictly adhere to “the Cult of the True Womanhood” while their Asian sisters were supposed to be “good wives and wise mothers” (Kramarae 484). Therefore, the curriculum was divided according to the social class of female students. Upper- and middle-class ladies were taught household management and embroidery while working class women learned laundry, sewing, and cooking (Kramarae 484).

Child-bearing was considered the major women’s activity. Therefore, a large part of the curriculum was centered on the knowledge of child rearing. Mariko Tamanoi tells about nursemaids, komori, who were taught “scientific method of child rearing” in order to improve health and hygienic practices in rural areas (72). Komori were hired to take care of infants, and the new authorities believed that primary care influences the character of children. Komori often carried their charges with a child on their backs, and, therefore, they were advised how properly fasten a child on their back and how to take care of their hair so children would not play with them. The instructions covered all areas ranging from how to hold, feed, and clean babies to how to interpret a baby’s cries. According to Tamanoi, even school-aged komori were seen as “surrogate mothers” rather than teenagers who simply helped in child care (74).

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Inasmuch as both educators and common people considered education from the viewpoint of benefits to the society, secondary education was largely seen as a waste of time. As a rule, girls got married right after secondary school; thus, people believed there was no point in wasting time, efforts, and money for it. However, by 1905, around 10 percent of the general population attended secondary schools. Girls were usually trained for a career of a teacher. In 1899, each prefecture was required to have at least one higher school for girls. Western missionaries also provided higher education for young women. Additionally, some private and public higher institutions could enroll young women as their students (Gordon 106). Therefore, it can be seen that secondary education was available to women but in a limited way.

In the early 1900s, “perceptions of the importance of the framework of the learner started to displace previous conceptualizations of the curriculum based exclusively on realms of knowledge” and the educators began to focus on the developing nature of children in making their curricula (Kramarae 484). The educators came to the understanding that the education should correspond to the job opportunities that became available to women in the new reality. Thus, new subjects were added to the curriculum of school girls, such as typewriting, and clerical and telephone operator’s duties (Kramarae 484). However, it was still not a marker on equal opportunities and equal rights for men and women.

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One of the reasons why the government did not intend to grant equal education to women was the fact that it would trigger the desire to have equal rights. As soon as women realized themselves equal to men, they would demand equal jobs, equal pay, and equal rights. If the working class women often labored more than men, they did not have equal payment. For example, in machine manufacturing men worked twelve hours per day while women worked twelve to fourteen hours per day (Gordon 100). Women were cheap labor both in the West and in the East, but in Japan, women constituted up to 60 percent of the industrial labor force in the late nineteenth century up to the early twentieth century (Tamanoi 46). According to the statistical data, by 1911, female workers of consumer goods industry received 50 to 70 percent of the wages paid to male workers while in heavy industries, women received 30 to 50 percent of what men were paid (Gordon 100).

In essence, education became possible for girls and young women due to the desire of the officials to instill patriotism in their citizens. Mori viewed education from its ability to form a nation rather than gain any personal interests for a single person (Jansen 407). In this regard and in many other aspects, the course of Japan’s educational system corresponds to the one of America. In the post-Revolutionary America, the necessity to rise new patriots lead to the question of proper education for their mothers. Lawmakers realized that families could benefit from the development of intellectual abilities of their women in a number of ways (Rosser 213). Apart from domestic subjects, career choices were limited to teaching as the profession of teacher was seen as a continuation of the position of mother. Primary schools were not compulsory for girls, and attendance rates varied among regions depending on class and race (Rosser 215). Therefore, at the end of the eighteen’s century, a small percentage of girls graduated from high school.

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In contrast to Japan, the US had opportunities to provide higher education for women earlier. Public universities in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan transitioned to coeducation as early in the 1860s and 1870s (Rosser 215). The logic behind this decision was the following. The wives of farmers and mechanics should understand the jobs of their husbands and fulfill their obligations that were necessary to help them if they wanted to run their businesses successfully. Iowa State College combines the manual labor of domestic skills with the theory of scientific subjects. For example, all female students had “two years of chemistry, one year of physics, and one of math,” which resulted in career options such as “institutional cooking experts, administrators or sales agents with food companies, specialists in development of household technology, household-column journalists, and extension teachers” (Rosser 216). Thus, under the brand of “domestic science”, women’s colleges managed to offer solid education that provided three years of teaching humanities and science. By 1891, over 10,000 female students were receiving higher education. By the end of the nineteenth century, American women constituted one third of all college students. In the 1900s, the scope of professions available for women widened, and they could study to get degrees of medical, legal, and other professionals.

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In Japan, the progress in educational equality was reached only after the Second World War (Kramarae 492). The compulsory elementary education was extended to six years, and eventually, women were permitted to receive higher education. However, generally, the Japanese educational system for women relied on the traditional concepts of how to be “good wives and wise mothers.” Jinzo Naruse, a Japanese educator, wrote, “a three-pronged approach to instruction for females, first, as human beings, second, as women, and, third, as citizens” (Kramarae 492). Thus, equal opportunities were still a goal to reach for the Japanese women of the late 1800s and the early 1900s.

In conclusion, it can be said that although the Meiji government saw the necessity to educate wider population, there were issues with female education. First, working class families did not realize the need for it; second, not every family could afford tuition. Eventually, the enrollment and attendance rates between school-aged boys and girls leveled, but still, girls had access mostly to elementary education. Secondary education was available in some places, but not all families saw any point in it as right after graduating, girls usually got married and stayed at home. As for the career choices, teaching was the most acceptable and available option. In general, higher education was a crucial component of equal rights for men and women, and in Japan of the late 1800s and the early 1900s, it was largely not available for Japanese women.

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