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Burning and Building

Burning and Building

Schooling and State Formation in Japan, 1750-1890

Brian Platt

ISBN 9780674013964

Publication date: 07/30/2004

Soon after overthrowing the Tokugawa government in 1868, the new Meiji leaders devised ambitious plans to build a modern nation-state. Among the earliest and most radical of the Meiji reforms was a plan for a centralized, compulsory educational system modeled after those in Europe and America. Meiji leaders hoped that schools would curb mounting social disorder and mobilize the Japanese people against the threat of Western imperialism.

The sweeping tone of this revolutionary plan obscured the fact that the Japanese were already quite literate and had clear ideas about what a school should be. In the century preceding the Meiji restoration, commoners throughout Japan had established 50,000 schools with almost no guidance or support from the government. Consequently, the Ministry of Education's new code of 1872 met with resistance, as local officials, teachers, and citizens sought compromises and pursued alternative educational visions. Their efforts ultimately led to the growth and consolidation of a new educational system, one with the imprint of local demands and expectations. This book traces the unfolding of this process in Nagano prefecture and explores how local people negotiated the formation of the new order in their own communities.


  • This fascinating chronicle of the development of mass education in Japan before and after the watershed Meiji restoration of 1868 brings to life the complexity of educational development there. Japan was one of the first countries to develop a mass education system in the latter 18th-century, mostly as the result of local initiatives...This volume provides an excellent analysis of a central period of Japan's educational change and development, focusing on both policy shifts and local initiatives and reactions.

    —P. G. Altbach, Choice


  • Brian Platt is Assistant Professor of History at George Mason University.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • Harvard University Asia Center