It is known that Japanese elementary school examination was developed in the early Meiji era, around the 1870–80s, under the influences of the American school examination. But little has been known about the similarities or the differences of those examinations in both countries hitherto.
Close investigation uncovered that early Meiji examination inherits many tools from the samurais’ examination of the feudal ages, e.g. the examination hall’s layout, preparation procedure, and the format for questioning, scoring, marking, and reporting. And those Japanese examinations were mainly given to encourage prudent learners as opposed to making selections, promotions, accreditations, or any other high-stakes decisions.
Even Japanese, following the Meiji era, had imported “the purpose of testing” to make such significant decisions, the Japanese had not changed their manners of handling examinations in a true sense. This could lead to examinations in Japanese schools functioning differently from the “intended” purpose of the examination.
Previous studies have shown that “Examination Hell” in Japanese schools and the “Testing Wars” in American schools were both rooted in the latter part of the 19th century (Saito 1995; Reese 2013). The aim of this paper is to explain how the Japanese elementary school examination had been developed during the very short years of the early Meiji Era (1868–1886). However, the possibility of the American influences on the formation of Japanese elementary school examination has been argued. So in the last section, I will consider the comparison or relationship between situations in both countries when the influential examination systems were given births, to make sure of the peculiarity of the Japanese elementary school examination.
The so-called “Examination Hell” in Japan became a social problem in the 1920s. It was the time when middle school graduates was required to progress through a series of examinations and the accompanying stress to be admitted into a university track. The phrase “shiken jigoku” or literally “examination hell” is known in an English publication by Herbert Passin (1965). Its earliest use was in the early 20th century (Takeuchi 1991).1
However, I would like to start from the beginning and will focus on the earlier ages as described above. For this paper, I take Toshihiko Saito’s viewpoint (1995: 21) focusing on the “elementary school examination” in the 1870s or 1880s as the earliest “major examination to be exposed to the broad public.” That is, I agree with his principle of retracing the examination’s history to understand the real feature and meaning of “examination hell” (Saito 1995).
The “elementary school examination” was the general name for tests administered to elementary school students. They especially went by this name in the 1870s or 1880s – the early days of the Japanese modern school system. The “elementary school examination” would include various tests from weekly, graduation, review, or high-stakes tests for promotion or certification. They were the first such major examinations to be exposed to the broader public; in other words, they were the first “big tests” in Japanese history of education.
By mentioning the first “big tests” in Japanese history of education, it is inevitable for me to consider William Reese’s recent work. I would like to compare the Japanese “elementary school examination” with “America’s first big test,” the written exam introduced to public schools in Boston in 1845 (Reese 2013: 71, 130). According to Nicholas Lemann’s book (2000), the “big test” seems to be such an important test for the society that it may “set up a new social order” (Lemann 2000: Foreword to the Paperback Edition). Even though “big test” may be a metaphorical expression given for such tests like iq test or sat, I will follow Reese to use this expression in talking about the important examination system that could have set up a social order in Japan.
I will start by explaining the origin of the American “big tests”; that is the “testing wars” in the 19th century. The purpose here is to compare it with the Japanese “examination hell.” Therefore, only an outline of the “testing wars” shall be provided here.2
In 1845, the method of school assessment in the United States changed dramatically (Reese 2013: 130). Prior to that year, school assessment did not look like any testing of now. Reese says:
No one thought it feasible or necessary to ask every child a question, or the same question. Frequently only the most talented pupils were called upon, which presumably showed how well the school as a whole was doing. Since answers were not usually written down, or on common questions, no one could judge precisely which children knew more than others (Reese 2014: 12).
Thus, the school achievement was assessed through school exhibitions. Members of the community would come to view various kinds of exhibitions prepared by the teachers and students. The word “examination” was often treated as a synonym of “exhibition,” and “examination (which were mostly oral) and exhibition often happened at the same time” (Reese 2013: 35).
As time passed, this method of school or student assessment became open to complaints of not being objective and accurate. On the basis of British information on the practical use of an examination, some educational reformers like Horace Mann and Samuel Howe of Boston aspired to administer written tests for school examinations.
In Boston, the influential educational leaders Horace Mann and Samuel Howe strongly promoted implementing a written test in public schools. Mann was a state officer of Massachusetts and Howe led a school for the blind. Both men were close friends and were original members of the Boston Statistical Society, America’s oldest statistical society. They had faith that numbers would provide “an ‘authentic,’ ‘real,’ and ‘factual’ basis for comprehending reality.” (Reese 2013: 56)
These individuals had also been to Europe together to learn that people there were utilizing the written examination and the new science of statistics. They were sure the written examination would enable them to test all of their candidates simultaneously, rendering the results comparable between students, schools, and beyond. To implement such an examination, they had to fight against school masters who were accustomed to the traditional school assessment, in addition to the ways in which people including school examiners would appraise masters or teachers in traditional settings.
After returning from Europe, they submitted a report in 1842 praising the European educational system, including England and Prussia. Although it did not mention Boston, masters were furious about this report and attacked Mann and Howe. In 1844, Howe was elected as a member of an examining committee for Boston’s 19 grammar schools. The conditions for changing the examination were now ideal. Here are Reese’s words:
The examiners surprised the masters and the pupils when they arrived at the annual exam with tests in a new format: written questions. They arrived at each school with printed questions and blank answer sheets. The examiners gave one-hour written tests, for several days in a row, on the various school subjects. There were 530 pupils, the most that had ever taken a common written test. (Reese 2014: 14)
The written examination comprising many questions yielded multiple answer sheets and an enormous quantity of data for measuring students’ performance. Regardless of the quality of data, they nevertheless provided results.
Howe’s examining committee issued a report in the fall of 1845. The report included the main facts and results, including such tables “showing how well each school did on every question” (Reese 2013: 130). The report was published openly so that students, teachers, and the public would understand what the examination intended to measure, and it presented information on the why and how of the testing procedure (Reese 2013: 127–136).
Some of the “results” sounded reasonable for novices. For instance, students of certain famous masters performed poorly and the dull lesson presentation was revealed. Female students and those living in the suburbs performed better than male students or those living in the city center. Data produced many explanations on the reality of students’ learning, and printed reports, newspapers, and magazines conveyed the facts and findings countrywide.
The testing reform in Boston was a groundbreaking issue in the history of education in America. Subsequently, Americans became aware of the power of the written test supported by statistics. There were some evident outcomes after Boston’s reform:
Many cities and states followed in adopting a similar system.
Teachers were sometimes evaluated on the basis of their students’ achievement.
Textbook companies began to include more pages of questions concerning the text.
Many variations of testing had now emerged.
Testing companies providing data analysis had increased.
Many types of effects were introduced in Reese’s work. Although not all effects are favorable, many teachers or schools began to teach on the basis of the test or present meaningless or pointless questions and dull lessons requiring rote memorization.
Learning general lessons from American history is not this paper’s objective, despite its interest to readers. Before evaluating the Japanese elementary school examination, we must confirm that the starting point of written testing in American public schools had the following three special traits regarding their purpose and method:
The purpose of testing is clearly established to evaluate how well students are learning, or to comprehend the reality of the school.
The method of testing is firmly tied with statistics. Questions are designed to be measured and results are formulated to be statistically analyzed.
To utilize the testing results and their analysis, reporting and explanations are prepared by the examiners.
These special features provide the basis for comparison with the Japanese examination.
In this section, we will evaluate the extent to which the American testing culture influenced the Japanese “elementary school examination” that spread across Japan after the 1870s.
As mentioned above, the “elementary school examination” is the general name for examinations administered to elementary school students. The exam would include the following types (reorganized after Saito 1995):
Weekly test (for review, game, or check)
Monthly test (for competition, check or grade)
Terminal test (for competition or grade)
Annual test (for promotion or certification)
Graduation test (for graduation or certification)
I agree with the arguments (1995) that these were the earliest major examinations presented to people regardless of their status or origin, that we could deem these examinations as the forerunner introducing most students to the world of examination and that these examinations might have paved the way to form the “examination hell” in Japan later. Therefore, they were clearly the first “big tests” in Japanese education.
Before the influence of American testing was felt, we see that the Western examination information was imported prior to the early Meiji era. In other words, we understand the preconceived ideas that we acquired from Western civilization.
Besides seeking information on ancient Chinese or Korean higher civil service examinations, Japanese politicians or scholars had been collecting books or information about Western education. Some of this data included information on examinations, including the following examples.
The first example involves material from the mid-Yedo Era (1603–1868. An Italian Jesuit named Father Giulio Aleni (1582–1649) was an active missionary in China. In his Xixue fan (Summary of Western Learning, 1623), written in Chinese, he described the situation of European universities. The book includes a line mentioning the examination:
Young students would first take the written examination in a hall, and later take the official oral examination.
According to Vande Walle and Kasaya (2001: 133), the series that included the book “was brought to Japan in 1771 and in view of it being blacklisted, it was investigated by the censor.” Thus, information about the examination could not have spread to the public in feudal Japan. Nevertheless, the information could possibly have been seen by censor officials of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the central government of the feudal administration.
Uchida was a vassal of the shogunate, studied well at each school he attended, became a naval officer, and became a professional teacher after the Meiji restoration. He was sent to the Netherlands to lead a group of the shogunate’s international students, and to take the shogunate’s newly constructed naval ship Kaiyo-maru from Dordrecht to Japan.
His Oranda Gakusei was written after his investigation in the Netherlands. The two volumes are full of sample regulations or procedures for school organization. Volume Two contains some provisions of the examination:
Student of public folk school, upper folk school (five years course) and agricultural or other specialty school would take annual examination once a year, and could receive the certificate or a license of academic achievement.
Even a non-student of the said schools would be permitted to take the examination.
The examination would be held publically.
Final examination of the folks-school would be held under the responsibility of an assigned officer, and by the administration of school master and teachers selected.
Village school would have examinations for all subjects except physical education. Schools that teach both agriculture and manufacture would allow students to take the examination of either subject at their will. (Uchida 1869: 23–24)
Other provisions existed on the examination at secondary or vocational schools and the examination for teaching qualification. However, all provisions for elementary or general secondary education are quoted above. It is clear that what is written here regards the final or graduation examination, whereas some kinds of certificates are granted after the result.
The last example involves material written just after the Meiji restoration by Yukichi Fukuzawa (1835–1901), an active Western scholar of the time who became an important educator and philosopher of Meiji Japan. Although Fukuzawa was a local clansman from Nakatsu, a small clan of Kyushu, he had many international experiences through his travel and relocations as a specialist. He was adopted by the shogunate to be a member of a mission to the West. By the last year of the Tokugawa administration (1868), he had been abroad three times, and made good observations of different civilizations.
His Seiyo Jijo Nihen is the third series of the Seiyojijo literally “Conditions in the West”. Its volume one includes Fukuzawa’s suggestions about students’ selection and promotion through the school system. It says: “Choose an industrious student in the lower school, and as a prize, promote the student to the upper school.”
Although it does not directly relate to the examination, the idea of selection through school is clearly expressed. We notice that the promotion is described as a “prize,” but this is solely an invisible element or explanation. It could not be the original idea for selection in Western countries, but may be an expression familiar to the mentality of feudalism.
There are more examples of information on Western school examinations, but this paper summarizes this section by evaluating how information could have been utilized in the Education System Order of 1872.
The Education System Order was promulgated on September 4, 1872 (or August 2nd of the 5th year of the Meiji era) as the first national educational system law to take effect. Among its 109 chapters, we can see four related to the examination:
The Education System Order
Students will take examination for every grade.
An examination proof should be issued to those who pass one grade.
Earning an examination proof would be the sole means of promotion from one grade to the next.
Chapter 49 (extract)
# Students will take the final examination leading to graduation from each level.
# At the final examination, other government officers besides the local educational authorities could attend when necessary.
Private school or academy students will be the same as the preceding two chapters.
A student attaining a good score at the examination could be awarded.
More chapters refer to the examination, but are related to selections of international or scholarship students.
To summarize this section, see Figure 1 for key elements in the Western examination information in 1872. All keywords come from the original Western materials presented above. Each is connected with certain viewpoints such as “Form,” “Timing,” “Place,” “Purpose,” and “Document.” Block letter elements with a surrounding frame show that they were seen in the Japanese law, the Education System Order of 1872. Except for the forms of “written and/or oral,” all others seen in the Western information book are here in the Education System Order and we see nothing beyond these written in the Law.
We may say that the Meiji school examination absorbed Western elements or had an affinity to them, at least on the national law level. However, we currently have no evidence that the elements are from America. In the next section, we evaluate the particular case of the “elementary school examination” arguments in the Normal School, where a new American teacher named Marion M. Scott arrived.
Based on previous studies, it is believed that the Japanese elementary school examinations are strongly influenced by the American educational system, as well as the elementary school system itself (Amano 1990; Saito 1995). The specific reason for this belief comes from the understanding that Marion McCarrel Scott had overhauled Japanese elementary school education by guiding people at the new Normal School.
Scott came to Tokyo from San Francisco, California in September, 1871. He was employed to Daigaku Nanko of the Japanese government as an English language teacher. He was transferred the following year to the newly opening normal school where he worked until August, 1874. (Hirata 1978; Koga 1999).
Scott’s recollecting words were “Yet the manner and matter were all changed. Text books were either made, or translated by competent men into Japanese. These books were made into a graded series, as with us; also charts and forms of all kinds for primary schools. They have substituted our system of figures for theirs in all their schools” (Scott 1884: 256; introduced in Koga 1991: 55). These words prove that Scott believed in the overwhelming American influence on the Japanese modern school system.
The guidebook for new teachers, Shogaku Kyoshi Hikkei (Elementary Teacher’s Companion), was written by the Normal School’s Japanese head teacher, Nobuzumi Morokuzu (Morokuzu 1873). This book refers to two kinds of examination rules. One is a strict rule for implementing the examination for grade promotion in the Normal School. Morokuzu wrote: “To be promoted from one grade level to the next, students must take examinations for completed subjects and meet the required criteria” (Morozuku 1873: 4b).
Another rule was to rearrange the students’ seating order according to marks of the “Monthly examination” in the class. Morokuzu wrote: “Examinations would be given monthly, and seating arrangements in the class shall be decided according to the students’ marks. Thus, would the students enjoy their academic progress, compete for better rank of seating, and finally study harder at will” (Morozuku 1873: 5f).
Therefore, what evidence would the previous research present to prove Marion Scott’s contribution to these examination provisions? Hirata (1978) shows that the Tokyo Normal School strongly influenced other regions’ normal schools through providing model school regulations and a model curriculum, as well as graduates spread across the country. However, it is taken for granted that this guidebook generally reflects lessons from Scott despite a lack of proof (Hirata 1978: 5–6).
The examination provisions quoted above were also explained in Amano (1990). His explanation is that those provisions were made under a “comprehensive outline for the Meiji educational system” provided in the Education System Order of 1872. He speculates about the examination provisions in his book that “Morokuzu, probably following what he had been taught by Scott, established this principle” (Amano 1990: 62).
However, we saw no Western testing provisions accompanying “seating arrangements in the class” according to “the students’ marks.” Such a visual and simple competitive motivation rather came from the Yedo Era domestic tradition. One famous example is the habit of “Dasseki (seat seize),” referring to scrambling for higher ranked seating after scores of group readings and discussions (Rubinger 1982; Kassel 1996: 125–127). Moreover, there were no provisions of competing by results in the Western information quoted here. Unless we see different evidence, we should not conclude that Morokuzu’s idea of examination came from Scott.
Thus, the partial conclusion for this section is that the understanding based upon previous studies must be questioned. Even if the elementary school system, curriculum, textbooks, and teaching methods may have come from America, the examination system does not look like it was initiated under American influence.
In summary, the Japanese elementary school examination was influenced in regard to some elements, such as “annual/final,” or “public” tests administered for the purpose of “promotion” from Western education. However, it did not necessarily come from America.
In the final part of this paper, I focus on one curious characteristic of the Japanese elementary school examination. I should mention the examination type that could be called an “education promoting examination.” Only one Japanese article mentions (Hashimoto 2005: 18, 24) this new category, but it was originally proposed in Hashimoto’s work (1993).
The “education promoting examination” is a category not appearing in the Japanese law at a national level. As shown above, the Education System Order of 1872 had provisions of a grade promotion test and a graduation examination. At the local level, many other kinds of examinations were stipulated in the regulations. Among them were examinations resembling a “testing contest” or “testing exhibition.” They had no relationship with a learning review, grade promotion, or graduation certification. Talented students in particular were collected, often from different schools, and put in a room to take the test. Students performing well would be honored with testimonial praise. The examination would be held publicly and results announced.
Since Buichi Horimatsu’s pioneering work (1983), it is well known among Japanese researchers of history of testing that each prefecture had their own rule or regulation for elementary school examination. Regularly, they were named “Shogaku shiken ho (Elementary examination procedure)”.
These regulations varied both in quantity and type. Four types of examination are noticeable in one example of the Nara Prefecture’s “Shogaku shiken ho” as quoted in Saito’s work: “There are four types of examination; ‘normal examination’, ‘semester terminal examination’, ‘level graduation examination’ and ‘comparative examination’” (Saito 1995: 51–52). Among the four types, Saito recognizes that: “The ‘semester terminal examination’ and the ‘level graduation examination’ are what the Education System Order of 1872 provides as ‘promotion examination’ and ‘final examination’ respectively, but besides them were ‘normal examination’ and ‘comparative examination’ provided afresh” (Saito 1995: 52). As Saito continues the explanations for both examinations anew, a “normal examination” was a test given at the end of every month to decide seating arrangements in the class according to the students’ marks. The “comparative examination” was to test the talented students collected in a scholarship contest.
Saito (1995) pointed out that most prefectures had such “new types” of examination not provided in the national law. He proposed six types of elementary examination overall, and grouped them into two based on their purpose. The two groups are the “grade promotion/graduation certifying test” and “selection and competition test” (Saito 1995: 57–64). I disagree with this method of grouping. The former is grouped based on the specific practical “function” in the school, while the latter’s criterion is not “function” but “results” or “effects” that could occur in any kind of examination. In other words, a grade promotion test could be selective or competitive. However, Saito’s contribution was presenting an overview of the great variety shown in Japanese elementary school examinations, and pointing out that the local situation was much more diverse than the central law.
Nevertheless, Saito’s work lacked proper reasoning for the diversity or the grouping of examinations. He was “surprised” that the examination’s variety was “greater than expected” (Saito 1995: 54) and guessed the reason was that “the prefectures had attempted to systemize the examination by reinforcing or going ahead of the intentions of the Ministry of Education” (Saito 1995: 57).
While Saito took the view that the “comparative examination” or those scholarship contests were “new species,” my position is that they should be called “retailored coats.”
This idea was not new, but we could not find a way to argue this in a scientific manner. This paper should be a test of this argument.
It was known that almost all of the slightly fewer than 300 clans possessed their own system or method of testing their men in the Yedo era. Takeda (1969) investigated the Nihon Kyoikushi Shiryo (Materials on the history of Japanese education) and introduced many aspects of the examination that were in operation. Hashimoto (2005) published supplements and explanations showing that the Yedo era had almost as many kinds of examination as in the Meiji era, but such a “grade promotion examination” and “final examination” as provided in the Education System Order of 1872 were very rare or exceptional. Instead, Hashimoto argued that examinations in the samurai’s society were used as devices to “promote and control samurais’ learning” rather than being used for other purposes (2005: 16).
There were many clans or local governments that had an “education promoting examination” for their men. Some researchers have pointed out the similarities between examinations of the Yedo and Meiji eras. Konno and Yamamoto (1973) mentioned some resemblances, but only in a general manner. Hashimoto (1993) merely mentioned that Konno and Yamamoto’s suggestion could be true (1993: 308). Hashimoto (2005) joined the discussion by comparing logical situations; namely, similar arguments were made around examinations like “rote learning,” “cheating,” “irrelevancy with daily learning”, “too much competition under relative estimation”, “excessive tutoring,” and even “mal selection.”
In the last section of this paper, I will compare the examinations from the different Yedo and Meiji eras by presenting some visual evidence. Such a comparison will provide clues for arguing about the influence of the Yedo examination on the Meiji test.3
In the next section, six sets of figures are presented. These are grouped into three categories:
Size, shape, style, and form of the instruments or test documents
Individuals that personally experienced the examiner or examinee in the Yedo era and who had taken the responsibility to carry out the Meiji examination should be listed
Not all of the six figures are relevant but every set provides new ideas for our argument.
The first document is a record from the late 19th century relating to the Kitenkan, a public secondary school in Kofu (Yamanashi Prefecture).4 This school was formerly a vassals’ school of the shogunate. The facility and some teachers were succeeded to the new Meiji government after the Meiji restoration of 1868.
Figure 2 shows one page of this document from September and October 1868 announcing the administering of the annual examination. We can see the subjects’ names and the interval of dates remains the same as in the examination from the Yedo era. The dates and subjects for examination are October 2nd, “Bensho” (弁書 writing test on Confucian learning), 4th, “Sodoku” (素読 plain reading) and “Shisaku” (詩作 poetry), and the 7th, “Hinpyo” (品評 scoring).
The second material comprises illustrations of a test site. Shown on the left of Figure 3 is Sodoku Ginmi Zu (Illustrated plain reading test), a picture of a hall at the shogunate school in Yedo, and a scene of young examinees taking the “plain reading” examination.5 The right half shows one leaf from the Kato Shogaku shiken ho (Lower elementary examination procedure) published by the Nagano Prefecture in 1876.6 The figure also depicts a seating plan from the annual examination site. The back part of both rooms is occupied by teachers and officers. The main difference is that seats for observers are in the right room. Both images may be irrelevant because they are too simple and monotonous instead of irregular.
The third example involves pictures of gradebooks that were used at one time. The left example is now named Jin-shi Shunju-shi Hinpyobo (Gradebook of spring and autumn examination for the year of Jin-shi), made at Shoheizaka School in 1853.7 This was used in a shogunate school in the Yedo era. The right image is from Kanagawaken Shihangakko Shogaku Shiken Teiyo (Elementary examination gradebook manual of Kanagawa Prefectural Normal School) made at Kanagawa Prefectural Normal School in 18758 and should have been used in a public elementary schools in Kanagawa Prefecture.
We see that both gradebooks have the same form never seen in Western materials. Both have the subjects’ names on the second or third rows from the right end. The left one has six subjects as “詩 (poetry),” “弁 (interpretation),” “文 (prose),” “和 (Chinese translation into Japanese),” “問 (short Q&A),” and “講 (oral interpretation).” The right one has six subjects as “読物摘書 (reading and extration),” “講義 (interpretation),” “書取作文 (dictation and composition),” “問答 (short Q&A),” “算術 (arithmetic),” and “習字 (calligraphy)” that will make a scale of one hundred. They both have the students’ name at the bottom. This style is often seen in name lists or directories in the Yedo era. This pair will explain the relevancy of examinations from both eras.
The fourth set consists of two examples from gradebooks as seen in Case 3. The left example is a partial close-up of a similar gradebook seen in Case 3, which is renamed Shin-yu Shunju-shi Hinpyo (Gradebook of spring and autumn examination for the year of Shin-yu) made at Shoheizaka School in 1861.11
The red insertions written in the margins are total scores for each examinee. Scores are expressed in numbers with some characters representing units. From the right, the scores are ‘5.75’, ‘5.00’, ‘5.5’, ‘3.5’, ‘3.25’, ‘4.25’, ‘3.00’, and ‘3.5’. How to calculate is irrelevant here, but it uses a conversion from the twenty-five-grade evaluation expressed by two or three characters in each column to the numerical score. If the answers were to earn full marks, each column would be a maximum of 8.25, and six subjects could theoretically make a maximum of “49.5.” Thus, the scores here are very “low” or the examiners would appear too harsh.
The right example was originally a gradebook from an elementary school in Gunma Prefecture made in 1876 but we present here a reproduced version in the Gumma-ken Kyoikushi.12 The explanation is same as for the left picture, but we may notice that the upper digits are used here. From the right, the scores are ‘27.0’, ‘25.75’, ‘22.0’, ‘23.0’ and ‘22.25’. They are far from perfect (49.5) but the scores are relatively “high,” indicating that the teacher should be easy or encouraging.
The left image comes from a record of the examination in the Shogunate’s Chinese Medical School, which was an ex-private academy of the medical officer of the Shogunate at that time.14 The right image was originally a report about the elementary school examination written in 1875 by the officer in Nagano Prefecture to submit to the central government of Ministry of Education. This figure is a reproduction in the Nagano-ken Kyoikushi.15
The topic here involves the “symbol” for expressing certain marks (achievement). Both used a circle; a white one stands for “good,” black for “bad,” and a half white-half black circle means “medium.” As a circle appears universal, this example may not be so relevant, but nonetheless worth noticing. It is especially notable that the latter example shows the officer in Nagano Prefecture reporting to Tokyo, as opposed to Tokyo reporting to the local authority. This indicates that local people already knew something about testing.
The last case does not involve concrete data. Instead, it includes a proposal that individuals who personally experienced the examiner or examinee in the Yedo era and who had taken the responsibility to carry out the examination in the Meiji era school system should be investigated.
The Japanese elementary school examination system was constructed within the first two decades of the Meiji era which starts in 1868. It is true that we can see the influence of Western information on those school examinations. Particularly, the idea of testing “every” student in class, “every” subject or class they have, and for “every” year or grade students pass through, all of which should have been revolutionary changes. But we can see that the accepted information was rather superficial. It hardly included the prerequisites or conditions for the examinations as seen in the tests in Boston. The purpose of Japanese testing was to promote students’ study, not to evaluate or to comprehend the reality of the students or the schools. Methods were not tied with statistical analysis. Reports of the results were scarcely made for the public analysis or the improvement of learning.
Close investigation shows that those examinations were in some aspects very similar to the samurai society’s examination system that was administered to encourage prudent learners.16 The Meiji era examination inherits many examination methods from the feudal ages, such as the examination hall’s layout, examination procedure, and the outline of the format for questioning, scoring, marking, and reporting.
Therefore, there is enough evidence to state that the Japanese elementary school examination was not built in one decade or two. It incorporated so many factors from the previous era that it is already beyond the scope in which a “late development effect” could be expected. People should know that the Japanese elementary school examination did not start from tabula rasa in the first years of the Meiji era.
To clarify our point, we finally compare examinations in Japan and the United States. As stated above, we saw that the starting point of written testing in American public schools was characterized by three special traits regarding testing purpose and method. In summary:
Purpose: to evaluate how well students are learning and to comprehend the reality of the school.
Method: firmly tied with statistics, with measurable questions and results.
Utilizing the results: analysis, reporting, and explanation are included.
Looking at these traits, it is clear that at the beginning of the “testing wars,” American education reformers were trying to implement good evaluations of schools’ activity and kids’ learning.
These traits serve as indices to judge if the Japanese elementary school examination was similar to early written examinations in America. A closer analysis of this issue is beyond the scope of this paper. However, even without closer scrutiny, we can assume that Japanese examinations were quite far from these examples. Did we not see examples full of examiners neglecting important purposes or test results that were abandoned without analysis or sharing? Even the Japanese would say that their school examinations had imported “the purpose of testing” by making high-stakes decisions from the Western systems after the Meiji era, the Japanese had not adjusted their methods to handle examinations and their results. That could have led to situations in which examinations in Japanese schools functioned differently from the original intention of making “good use” of the examination.
In summary, even if one may claim that modern Japan had introduced educational systems from Western countries, Japan was fostering school examinations that were very different in character from their “models”. Therefore, much more should be discovered about the history of Japanese school examinations in order to evaluate the Japanese situation more accurately.
This article has also shown some directions for further investigations of the Japanese elementary school examination system of the Meiji era. For examples, accurate research for the procedures of carrying out examinations or deep understanding of the scoring system would even uncover the underlying motives of Japanese examiners, examinees and the supporters of the testing system. Thus, it would be able to understand upon what kind of soil Japanese had been struggling to build educational systems and educational practices including examination as an important part. Otherwise, Japanese would not be able to become masters of their testing systems.
This article may also provide a clue for judging transfer of examination system between different civilizations. Even if “big tests” involving a wide range of people alike, we should compare the prerequisites and conditions of the examination to understand the real nature of an examination system.
This study was supported by Dr. Fumiya Onaka in composing the presentation in a sociological form. Dr. Nobuhiro Miyoshi gave the author the initial guidance and general idea of international comparison of the examination systems. The author would like to thank many other colleagues who supported continuance of the study, and also would thank Enago for the encouraging English language review.
1 It is important to notice that there is an argument not to over-esteem the weight of the so called “Examination hell” on the ground that it did not involve majority of the contemporary youth population (see Sugimoto 2003). However, I esteem the influence of the examination hell was not only upon those population directly involved in it, but also affected the attitude against scholarship or learning.
2 Stories from Boston introduced here reflect W. Reese’s work, even if not indicated.
3 Although I am not yet sure how to present or explain this, I wish to know whether or not this method of explanation works.
4 This manuscript is owned by the Yamanashi Prefectural Library in Kofu city.
5 Taken from Koji Ruien, 1901.
6 This is included in Nagano-ken Kyōikushi Kankōkai (1972).
7 Owned by the Historiographical Institute The University of Tokyo.
8 Owned by Library of National Institute for Educational Policy Research.
9 (L) The International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto offers internet image service that includes the material: Retrieved June 27, 2014 (http://shinku.nichibun.ac.jp/kojiruien/pdf/bung_3/bung_3_0164.pdf, http://shinku.nichibun.ac.jp/kojiruien/pdf/bung_3/bung_3_0165.pdf).
10 (L) The Historiographical Institute of The University of Tokyo offers internet image service that includes the material. Retrieved June 27, 2014 (http://wwwap.hi.u-tokyo.ac.jp/ships/db-e.html).
11 Owned by the Historiographical Institute of The University of Tokyo.
12 Gumma Prefecture 1972.
13 (L) The Historiographical Institute of The University of Tokyo offers internet image service that includes the material. Retrieved June 27, 2014 (http://wwwap.hi.u-tokyo.ac.jp/ships/db-e.html).
14 This is included in the Gentoku Taki (1794).
15 This is included in Nagano-ken Kyōikushi Kankōkai (1972).
16 Even they were confined within the samurai class, which was merely 5% of the entire Japanese population, I assume it is significant or influential to the rest of the population.
FukuzawaYukichi Seiyo Jijo: Nihen (Conditions in the West: Nihen) 1. 1870 (Nihen is literally “part 2” but known as part 3 as Gaihen exists as the part 2.) Waseda University Library’s collection of Japanese and Chinese classics Retrieved June 27 2014. http://www.wul.waseda.ac.jp/kotenseki/index.html
HashimotoAkihiko “Edo Jidai no Hyoka ni okeru Tosei-ron to Kaihatsu-ron no Sohkoku – Bushi Kaikyu no Shiken Seido wo Chushin ni- (To Control or To Develope? – The Dilemma in Operating Evaluation in Education of Yedo Japan)” Kokuritsu Kyoiku Seisaku Kenkyusho Kiyo (NIER Research Bulletin) 2005 134 11 30 Retrieved June 27 2014 https://www.nier.go.jp/kankou_kiyou/kiyou134-011.pdf
HorimatsuBuichi “Meiji Zenki ni okeru Shogaku Shiken Ho no Jittai (The Reality of the Elementary Examination Procedure in the Early Meiji Period)” Kyoikugaku Kenkyu (Educational Studies in Japan) 1971 38 2 Tokyo Japanese Educational Research Association 106 114 Retrieved June 27 2014 https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/kyoiku1932/38/2/38_2_106/_pdf
Ministry of Education Japan’s modern educational system: a history of the first hundred years. 1972 Ministry of Education. The Web version can be seen at the website of the Ministry of Education Culture Sports Science and Technology (MEXT) of Japan:Retrieved June 27 2014 http://www.mext.go.jp/b_menu/hakusho/html/others/detail/1317220.htm
ReeseWilliam “Learning across national borders: The Origins of School Assessment in America.” 2013 International Symposium for the Promotion of World Heritage Listing for “School Heritage of Early Modern Japan” Conference Report. 2014 Ashikaga Executive Committee on International Symposium for the Promotion of World Heritage Listing for “School Heritage of Early Modern Japan”
Gumma Prefecture 1972.
This is included in the Gentoku Taki (1794).