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.

********

近時中華文運方興。

Recently there is a Chinese cultural movement.

斯講新学者。

These new scholars.

多資於我日本語日文。

Skilled in our Japanese language and grammar.

而日語文實為中華士子今日必須之学者日増月盛。

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

而教科之書。

However, educational books.

未見其善者。

I have not seen good ones.

定為憾耳。

I regard that as regrettable.

顧言語文字之為学。

The study of speech and writing.

如容易其然。

As easily as possible.

而其實不然者存焉。

But what else?

我宏文学院。**

Our Kōbun Gakuin.

教養中華学生有年。

Educated Chinese students for many years.

我邦語文教授之方。

Our national language professors.

講究已久。

Studied how for a long time.

其成績頗有可觀者。

Men of considerable achievements.

因使教授松本氏編纂日本語科書。

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

諸教授賛助之。

Various professors supported it.

其口語法用例先成。

Its colloquial use cases are established first.

皀以刊行。

And is published with.

而會文法讀本等。

Grammar and a reader, etc.

亦已就諸

It is complete.

其訖助之日

Finally the day of its release!

興此書相待

We welcome this book!

而教授日語日文之資料。

And its teaching material for Japanese and Japanese literature.

庶乎其備矣。

It is almost ready.

抑是書也。

This book.

為華人而作。

Is thus made for Chinese.

然而教授我邦語於一般諸外国人之典型。

Teaching of our Japanese to typical foreigners.

亦不出於此。

Nor is it for this reason.

則是書之所裨益

The benefit of this book.

盖不小也。

is not small, after all.

明治三十九年四月

April Meiji 39 (1906)

宏文学院長嘉納治五郎

Kōbun Gakuin head Kanō Jigorô

– translation copyright 2020 by Lance Gatling

Endnotes:

* 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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