For most people the name Matsumoto brings to mind countless beautiful mountains and one beautiful castle. The mountains are part of Chubu-sangaku National Park. The castle was designated a National Treasure in 1952 – and for over sixty-five years was the only one in town. But in 2019 the Historic Kaichi Elementary School was added to that short list. So after enjoying the famed beauty of the castle, take a walk up the road and check out Matsumoto’s “Other” National Treasure.
Japan’s Ministry of Education was created in 1871 by the new Meiji government, and wasted no time getting to work. In 1872 a series of educational system reforms was introduced. The following year the “Kaichi Gakko” opened as one of Japan’s very first schools. Today the school serves as a walk-in repository of the history of education in Matsumoto, offering a glimpse into the school life of the children who learned to read and write here over a hundred years ago.
The View From Outside
At a glance, the former Kaichi School hardly drips with Japanese tradition. A closer look at the facade of the building shows an ornate mix of architectural styles. The vertical windows come with a distinct western flavor, as does the balcony over the main entrance. The tiled roof, on the other hand, is clearly Japanese. The carvings of clouds drifting across the balcony carry a hint of Buddhism, while the carved dragon below them is unmistakably eastern.
The interior of the school looks like it was transported entirely from the west. In contrast, the school materials on display show that the students’ education was thoroughly Japanese. On the first floor one large classroom remains largely as it was long ago. In other rooms are examples of Japanese writing lessons, along with notebooks and straw shoes you can literally hold in your hand. Photographs give a glimpse into the daily activities of the students and their teachers.
A Couple of Kaichi’s Secrets
Several of the doors inside the school are decorated with intricate wood carvings. There are said to be eight such carvings among the many doors lining the halls of this two-story building. Up on the second floor you’ll find what is referred to as the “Door to Nowhere”. As the story goes, there is actually nothing on the other side – not a room nor a hall, not even janitor’s closet though evidently at one time that door did lead to something. Sadly, we have to take it on faith since no one is allowed to open it.
A Polished Relic From the Past
In noticeable contrast to the first-floor classroom that sits in its rustic original state, much of the interior of the former Kaichi School is so polished it may be difficult to believe it is over a century old. Yet the materials used in the construction of the school were not even new at the time, as a large amount of the wood was salvaged from an old abandoned temple.
Walking the hallways and ducking into the rooms of the old Kaichi Elementary School offers an alluring, perhaps surprising peek back in time. Little is presented in English, however, so if you would like to gain a more detailed, more intimate sense of life here at Matsumoto’s Other National Treasure, call on us. We’d be happy to guide you! Click the links below.
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