The Kanō Chronicles® – Kanō and the Kōbun Gakuin

One episode of Kanō shihan’s life not generally appreciated by jūdōka is his extended effort to educate Chinese students. This effort saw him undertake a Meiji government sponsored months’ long, thousands of kilometers official trip through Q’ing dynasty China in which he met mandarins, had secret conversations with overlords, visited the tomb of the founder of orthodox neo-Confucianism, contacted future revolutionaries, and dodged pirates.

Beginning with a small private juku in a rented facility Kanō developed a purpose built school that inducted almost 8,000 Chinese over years, hundreds enrolled at any given time. He changed its name after inadvertently violating an obscure ancient naming taboo that enraged traditional Chinese; today we know it as the Kōbun Gakuin, in Chinese history it is known as the Hongwen Academy.

The school was essentially a preparatory school, primarily intended to bring the diverse group of polyglot Chinese students to an acceptable level of comprehension and communications in spoken and written Japanese so the students could later enroll in regular advanced education in a number of Japanese education institutes, including Kanō’s own Tōkyō Kōtō Shihan Gakkō Tokyo Higher Normal School, where they would study to become the new teaching cadre that backwards China so desperately needed to modernize its education system.

In doing so, almost inadvertently the school became one of the foremost working laboratories of teaching Japanese. In mid-Meiji, the school developed a Japanese language training program which it published; the book and its training program was so well regarded that it stayed in print for over thirty years.

The school remained in operation for years until political propaganda fostered by Europeans and Americans fueled anti-Japanese sentiment to the point that enrollment fell off sharply. Kanō, who lived on the school compound in a large house built with Chinese government funds, acquired the huge plot of land after the school closed and lived there until his death in 1938, when his eldest surviving son and future Kodokan president Kanō Risei inherited it.

In the years of the Kōbun Gakuin, Kanō met key Chinese political figures, future actors including men who became founders of all three rival Chinese governments vying for power in World War II and the subsequent Civil War, and contributing to the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese.

Kanō provided a forward to the book, which he wrote in kanbun, the ancient Sino-Japanese writing style that would be understandable by most educated Chinese despite their different spoken dialect of Chinese.



Recently there is a Chinese cultural movement.


These new scholars.


Skilled in our Japanese language and grammar.


And Japanese is actually getting more and more important every day for Chinese scholars。


However, educational books.


I have not seen good ones.


I regard that as regrettable.


The study of speech and writing.


As easily as possible.


But what else?


Our Kōbun Gakuin.


Educated Chinese students for many years.


Our national language professors.


Studied how for a long time.


Men of considerable achievements.


As a result, Professor Matsumoto* compiled this Japanese language book.


Various professors supported it.


Its colloquial use cases are established first.


And is published with.


Grammar and a reader, etc.


It is complete.


Finally the day of its release!


We welcome this book!


And its teaching material for Japanese and Japanese literature.


It is almost ready.


This book.


Is thus made for Chinese.


Teaching of our Japanese to typical foreigners.


Nor is it for this reason.


The benefit of this book.


is not small, after all.


April Meiji 39 (1906)


Kōbun Gakuin head Kanō Jigorô

– translation copyright 2020 by Lance Gatling


* Matsumoto was Kanō’s vice principal

** The first name of the school was 弘文学院 Kōbun Gakuin later changed to 宏文学院 which is also pronounced Kōbun Gakuin in Japanese; not accidentally both are pronounced Hongwen Xuéyuàn in Mandarin, usually rendered as Hongwen Academy in English. We will explore the naming taboo that the original name violated.

Hat tip to Geoff Newman for his translation suggestions! 谢谢!

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