An Abstract on Japanese Art Education History

Kingo Masuda
Professor, Art Education
Doctoral Course, United Graduate School of Education
Tokyo Gakugei University


The history of Japanese art education originated from imported ideas from mainly Western countries. Heavily influenced by historical developments, Japanese art education has undergone numerous transitions over the years.
1. The Birth of Art Education: 1872-1910

Although Japanese art education was first introduced in schools in 1872 with the promulgation of the gGakuseih*, its origins can be traced to the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate and early Meiji Period.

The first art course, Keiga was introduced as a compulsory subject in upper elementary grades (students 10 to 13 years of age) at public elementary schools. Keiga comprised the copying of pictures from a book of sample drawings using graph paper _ a method that was extremely restrictive and emphasized practicality. The subject was renamed Zuga from 1881.

By 1887, under the new governmentfs direction, westernization was being promoted in all aspects of society, including politics and culture. Art education was no exception and reflecting this, there was a new to focus on pencil drawings. During this period, a liberal system for issuing and selecting textbooks was in place, and a consequently a large number of art-related texts were published. The first drawing textbook in Japan was Seiga Shinan [Guide to Western Pictures] (1871) (figure 1), a translation of The Illustrated Drawing- Book (1856) by English author Robert Scott Burn (figure 2). These textbooks adopted a pragmatic approach, using a progressive method in which students were taught to draw easy subjects and gradually moved to more difficult ones.

The next significant change came in the form of a wave of nationalism in reaction to the influx of western culture early in the Meiji Period. Educational circles underwent a shift toward national Japanese art led by the American Ernest Fenollosa, a fervent admirer of Japanfs culture, and Tenshin Okakura among others. Reflecting this trend, a large number of brush painting textbooks were printed and adopted for use.

Figure 1. Seiga Shinan

Figure 2. The Illustrated Drawing- Book

In 1903, the elementary school system was revised and government-designated textbooks were issued. This system remained in place from 1904 until 1947. Incidentally, drawing was still an optional subject in public elementary schools in 1904; in 1907 drawing became a compulsory subject.

Education of industrial crafts was far slower to develop than drawing education. gIndustrial Craftsh was first established as a part of general education in 1886. First appearing as an optional subject in secondary-level elementary schools, in 1890 it became an optional subject at public elementary schools. In 1904, the Ministry of Education published an industrial crafts textbook for elementary school teachers, edited by Rokushiro Uehara and Hidekichi Okayama. This text book was used until 1941.

* Gakusei : Regulations related to a nationwide, uniform school system, patterned after the system used in France which emphasized individualism and practical learning.

2. A Prelude to Modern Art Education: 1910-1918

The Shintei Gacho [New Textbook of Drawing] published in 1910 was also a government-designated textbook, written and issued by the Ministry of Education. Text books of Art Education (1904), an American art textbook co-authored by H.B. Froelich and B.E. Snow, was used as a reference in the editing of the Shintei Gacho.

This textbook opened the door to a new approach to art education which, unlike gcopy-method educationh based on a progressive method, considered the psychological development of children. Until that time, textbooks had been created with a focus on the hand-eye coordination skills of children. In contrast, the Shintei Gacho was designed firstly as a teacher's text, based on an overall education plan.

3. The Foundations of Modern Art Education History: 1918-1937

In reaction to early art education which emphasized copying of samples, the artist Kanae Yamamoto argued that children should be encouraged to draw what they wished, based on what they saw and felt. This was the basis of the Jiyuga Kyoiku Undo [Free Art Education Movement] a major people's movement in art education (figure 3).

Figure 3. Jiyuga [Free Art](4th grade)

Yamamoto visited a children's creative art exhibit in Moscow and it left a strong impression on him. After returning to Japan, he presented a lecture that created something of a sensation at a school in Nagano Prefecture in 1918. This is recognized as the start of the movement.

The free art education movement appealed to many people, and eventually brought about a departure from traditional copy-method education. Given that this movement served to hand over the initiative of creative expression to children, Yamamoto can be credited with building the foundation of art education in its modern form. Other influential art educators in this era were artist Ryusei Kishida and the educators Jitsusaburo Aoki and Katsuo Takei.

4. Art Education during Wartime: 1937-1945

A war between Japan and China erupted in 1937. Later, when fascism gained strength in 1941, the Kokumin Gakko [National School] was born.

At this time, gIndustrial Craftsh, was replaced with gHandicraftsh. The art related textbook used during this period was Enohon [Picture Book], which covered the areas of elementary drawing and elementary handicrafts. This was the first time drawing and handicrafts were combined into a single text, and it was used in the first and second grades of national schools. From grade 3 and up, these subjects were taught separately.

The text, Elementary Drawing was issued in 1942 and 1943, and focused on sketches from nature, imaginative drawing and design, with a particular emphasis on teaching fundamental knowledge of shapes and colors.

The text, Elementary Handicrafts was also issued in 1942 and 1943. An emphasis on technical skills is clearly apparent throughout this text.

5. The Modern Era: 1945-Present

In 1945, Japan was defeated leading to an extended period of occupation by U.S. forces. Introductions and directives from the occupation forces came to affect in every conceivable aspect of life. Regarding education in particular, this period saw the birth of Japanese education as it stands today.

In 1946, the American Army's Civil Information and Education Section (CIE) handed down a directive to the Ministry of Education for school curriculums to be revised. These revisions were made over an extremely short period of time. The guideline for gZuga-kosaku [Arts and Handicrafts]h was issued in 1947. The guidelines were based on a democratic perspective, with teacher's being responsible for developing creative innovations based on the guidelines. Since then, the guidelines have been revised about every ten years, with each new version reflecting trends of the period, particularly with respect to politics and economics.

The use of all previously used textbooks for drawing and handicrafts was forbidden starting from 1946. Zuga-kosaku [Art and Handicrafts] were the certified textbooks used from 1952 in lower secondary schools and from 1955 in elementary schools. Up until that time, teaching materials were created based on textbooks from the private sector. In other words, previously textbooks served a fundamental role in school education, but after the war, there was a shift towards simply making references to these textbooks. Today, textbooks undergo an authorization process based on curriculum guidelines created by the national government.

Curriculum guidelines, which continue to be issued from the Ministry of Education (now the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology), play a dominant role in education in Japan, but at the same time, activities undertaken in the private sector are also influential. A wide range of private art education organizations were established after the war. The main organizations were set up during the 1950s, and their activities are critical elements in any discussion of modern art education in Japan.

Some of the main organizations are the Sozo Biiku Kyokai [Society for Creative Art Education], The Atarashii Eno Kai [Association of Innovation in Childrenfs Painting], and The Zokei Kyoiku Center [Plastic Art Education Center].

The International Society for Education through Art (INSEA) held its 17th International Conference in Tokyo in 1965, the first time this conference was held in Japan. The Japanese Art Education Association _ a powerful alliance of eight education organizations _ was formed and represented the most significant event in the history of art education at that time. In 1998, the InSEA Asia Regional Meeting was held in Tokyo. This meeting dramatically accelerated interaction among teachers of art education in Japan and the rest of the world. This continues today at an even greater pace.