Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Explore the Old Schools in Matsumoto, Japan’s Education Prefecture

While not existing anymore, Matsumoto City once belonged to a prefecture called Chikuma (筑摩県) between 1871 to 1876. Although the prefecture lasted less than five years, Chikuma Prefecture is known for its passion for education. In a short period of time, many schools were established with a high enrolment rate. Even after Chikuma Prefecture was consolidated into Nagano and Gifu Prefecture in mid-1876, especially in Matsumoto, the citizens still dedicated many resources to educating their offspring. And the below two attractions are the best examples of their effort!

Former Kaichi School (旧開智学校)

Important: The Former Kaichi School is temporarily closed for earthquake-resistant work and is scheduled to be re-opened in autumn 2024.

Just a 10-minute walk north of Matsumoto Castle, the Former Kaichi School is one of the oldest elementary schools in Japan. The western-style building that was completed in 1877 was used as a school facility until 1963, before it was relocated to its current location and re-opened as a museum of the progression of Japan’s educational programs.

When the school was constructed, Japan was in the middle of Westernization. This was greatly reflected in the many newly built architectures.

However, in Matsumoto, very few people had a chance to see a Western-style building. Thus, carpenters had to travel to big cities such as Tokyo to obtain the skills and knowledge to construct a building in such a style.

Combining the experience they had accumulated by building Japanese-style buildings and the newly gained knowledge, the Gi-Yōfū architecture (imitative Western-style architecture) was born.

Ⓒ 松本市

The Interesting Characteristics of the Gi-Yōfū Architecture

While most of the building resembles Western-style architecture, the school’s front gate contains many Japanese elements, including the roof, the dragon carving, and the cloud. But somehow, they blend in nicely with the carvings of angels and the veranda (´▽`*).

The Japanese elements can also be seen inside the building. Parts of the building used materials from the dismantled temples nearby to speed up the construction period.

At the time, approximately 1,000 students were learning at Kaichi School. The building cost was a little more than 200 million yen, with 70% coming from local donations. Compared to elsewhere in Japan, the enrolment rate was a lot higher at 70% (the national average was around 30 – 35%). This was why the prefecture was referred to as Education Prefecture.

In the late 19th century, as the number of Japanese architects who had properly learned Western architecture increased, the Gi-yōfū architecture slowly disappeared from Japan. This included removing the dragons and angel carvings, and the entire building became rather simple.

Fortunately, because donations were received from the school’s graduates, the school building was preserved and designated as an Important National Cultural Property in 1961. In 1963, when the building was relocated, the dragons and angels were put back where they were previously.

In 2019, the Former Kaichi School was proudly awarded a National Treasure title.

Important: The attraction has limited English explanations.

The Former Kaichi School’s Opening Hours, Admission Fee, and Access Information

Tip: The “current” Kaichi School is at the Former Kaichi School’s south end. Although you can’t enter either facility, it can be fun to identify the similarity of the architectures.

  • It is a 25-minute walk from JR Matsumoto Station (松本駅).
  • You can also take the Town Sneaker and get off at Former Kaichi School (Kyū Kaichi Gakkō, 旧開智学校).

The Memorial Hall of Former Senior High School System (旧制高等学校記念館)

If you are interested in the student life of the Japanese elites back in the Meiji period (1868 -1912), stop by the Memorial Hall of the Former Senior High School System when you visit Matsumoto. While all in Japanese, you can see the textbooks, notebooks, and even the student dormitories from a century ago!

Japan’s First High School System

In the Meiji period, Japan was rapidly adopting Western civilization. The highest educational facility where many types of research and lectures took place was the Imperial Unversity (帝国大学). As the knowledge taught at the Imperial University was steep, 38 high schools were established in Japan since 1886 to prepare the students for the university curriculums.

Back then, the high schools in Japan accepted male students aged 6 to 20. It might sound like an enormous range. However, only 1% of the entire population received an academic education. In today’s education system, the former high schools had an atmosphere similar to the universities. The students were free to explore the knowledge of the field they were interested in. Many of them loved studies that the senior students would have mastered so many textbooks that when the books were piled up, the height of the pile was around the same as their height!

Under the former high school system, pupils mastered foreign languages, philosophy, literature, and Western thinking. They were also allowed to develop their characteristics and discover their possibilities. Many famous Japanese leaders were graduates of the high schools under the old system who played significant roles in transforming Japan into the country we know today.

However, the old system was abolished after World War Two, and the new and more standardized system replaced the old but more liberal system in 1950 completely.

Inside the Memorial Hall of the Former Senior High School System

The memorial hall in Matsumoto utilized the school building of the Former Matsumoto Senior High School after the school was closed down in 1950. So many of the exhibits are relatively local. However, it also has information about the former senior high schools scattered across the country.

If you take a stroll in the memorial hall and understand Japanese, you will realize that the elites back then didn’t just study day in and day out. They had their ways of enjoying life.

One of the interesting exhibits is the graffiti from the students. Although it is graffiti, what was written was Chinese poetry!

Another surprising fact about the Former Matsumoto Senior High School is the faint line between students and teachers. While nowadays, it is common for high school teachers to be advisers of various student clubs, back then, some teachers were captains!

Regarding the English explanation in the memorial hall, the caption of each exhibit has English attached (but not the description). The English introductory pamphlet is rather simple. However, it can be fun to find out whether the students were studying your language back then!

The Memorial Hall of Former Senior High School System’s Opening Hours, Admission Fee, and Access Information

  • The museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm except on Mondays.
    • The last admission is at 4:30 pm.
    • If Monday is a public holiday, it will close the next business day.
    • The museum is also closed from the 29th of December to the 3rd of January.
  • The admission fee is
    • 310 yen for senior high school students and above
    • Free otherwise
  • The museum is around a 20-minute walk from JR Matsumoto Station (松本駅).
  • If you are taking local bus route 120 or Town Sneakers’s East Course (東コース), get off at Kyū Matsumoto Kōkō (旧松本高校).

Explore Other Fascinating Attractions in Matsumoto City

Click the photo to find out more about this gorgeous attraction!

Wonder what else in Matsumoto is worth your time? Check out our list of selected attractions in Matsumoto that you won’t want to miss out on.

There are a couple of places where you can source delicious natural water from in the city center, an art museum filled with Kusama Yayoi’s eye-opening contemporary artworks, places perfect for cherry blossom and fall foliage hunting, and a lot more!

For more information, please refer to our article on Matsumoto!

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