―From State-Owned Institution to Private School―
Gakushuin’s origins lie in an educational institution for the court nobility that was established in Kyoto during the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate. After the Meiji Restoration, in 1877 Gakushuin opened its doors in Tokyo for the education of the nobility. Not long after, it became a state school and was divided into Gakushuin for boys and the Peeresses’ School for girls. The Peeresses’ School was later renamed to Gakushuin Girls’ Division and then Gakushuin Girls’ School, and continued to provide an integrated education for girls.
After the end of World War II in 1945, Gakushuin and Gakushuin Girls’ School faced a major turning point. The 17th Chancellor, Katsunoshin Yamanashi, had to negotiate with the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers (GHQ) for the schools’ survival. He was able to secure an agreement that allowed the schools to merge in 1947, thereby establishing the Gakushuin Foundation and transforming the institution into a private school. Despite the financial strain and scant funding available, the 18th Chancellor, Yoshishige Abe, devoted all his efforts to the management of the school. In doing so, he laid the foundation for the institution to develop into its present form, including the opening of Gakushuin University. Chancellor Abe continually exhorted Gakushuin students to‘Be Honest’, words which have become part of the school’s ethical tradition and that are rooted in each and every Gakushuin student.
The School’s Liberal Ethos Fosters Individuality
At Gakushuin, students have been enthusiastic about participating in extracurricular activities ever since the Meiji era. Hojin-kai Journal, still published today, is one of Japan’s oldest alumni and students magazines. The Journal started as a collection of articles contributed by such acclaimed writers as Saneatsu Mushanokoji, Naoya Shiga, Muneyoshi Yanagi and others affiliated with the Shirakaba (“White Birch”) Society. Gakushuin also embraced lacrosse and other sports of Western origin early on. Gakushuin continued after the war to provide an education that places a high value on students’ individuality. The 20th Chancellor, Waichi Sakurai, reminiscing about 1947 when the school was privatized, recalled,“There was a strongly-held conviction that if we were to preserve the freedom for Gakushuin to continue offering the unique education we had always provided, we could not be a national institution. We thus made the decision to go private”.
Education Cultivating a Broad International Outlook
From its founding, the Peeresses’ School offered English and French language classes. It is also where Umeko Tsuda, who later went on to found Tsuda University, taught English. Gakushuin Girls’ Senior High School continues to this day to offer German and French language classes. At the opening of Gakushuin University, Chancellor Yoshishige Abe set out a policy of“fostering international knowledge, a mastery of foreign languages, and an understanding of the reality of both the world and country that we live in”. In 2016, Gakushuin University opened its Faculty of International Social Sciences, which is working to educate young people who will go on to take an active role on the world stage.