Knowledge on the Move


Formalization of Technical Know-how and the Creation of an Institutional Framework for Technical Education in Meiji Japan


Project: From Craftsman to Engineer



The second conference will focus on the acquisition, diffusion, transformation and adaptation of technical knowledge during the transition from an economy and society largely characterized by craftsmanship to an industrialized society. It will concentrate on technical education and illuminate it from different angles.


The dissemination of technical knowledge in the Edo-period was usually personal, i.e. from teacher to pupil, from master to apprentice, but the results of the first sub-conference in September 2018 showed that this initially largely implicit, context-specific knowledge, based on experience, intuition, and perceptions, was gradually supplemented by a cumulative knowledge, which had already become systematized to a certain degree, and was disseminated in handwritten and printed form. The sources of technical knowledge during this period included genuine Chinese works, some Chinese translations of Western works, and a growing number of works based on Japanese authors’ insights and experiences made in their Japanese environment.


The absorption of Chinese learning throughout the Edo-period and the spread of Chinese translations of Western works prepared the ground for a broader reception of Western science and technology during the Bakumatsu- and Meiji-period. Chinese ideograms proved useful in China and Japan to express abstract concepts and create new scientific and technological terms. In contrast to China, where for a long time foreign missionaries played a major role in the translation of Western books into Chinese, Japanese scholars began in mid 18th century to translate Western books directly from Dutch into Japanese, on the basis of their language skills acquired earlier. The creation of a repertoire of terms and expressions, which enabled people to grasp and describe technical processes, was an important prerequisite for the further development of scientific and technological knowledge.


It was therefore not only possible to bring extensive holdings of Western scientific and technical literature in their original languages to Japan and offer them to teachers and students with a sufficient knowledge of foreign languages. It became also possible, with the help of translations, to make foreign specialist literature on science and technology available to a broader group of students at higher educational institutions in various forms ranging from complete translations to simplified adaptions. Another important task was the translation of textbooks for secondary or tertiary levels, because it provided the necessary teaching materials for the newly created secondary schools, technical schools, business schools, all the way up to vocational schools.


A more detailed investigation of this whole process, as well as of the impact of different ways of translating, acquiring and adapting Western technical know-how will provide important insights into this part of the transformation process. Therefore textbooks from different fields of science and technology should be examined as well as their application on different school levels. It should be investigated how the newly founded vocational schools in Japan dealt with this new knowledge in their curriculum, which schools were established and how the teaching took place. Concrete examples of graduates of such schools and their experiences shall be analysed based on first-hand documents from the early Meiji-period.


Technical education as a prerequisite for a successful industrialization not only requires the acquisition of new forms of standardized technical knowledge, based on scientific research, but also new institutions for a formalized education as well a new approaches to learning.


So one part of the presentations should focus on the early Meiji-period with an emphasis on the Kōbu daigakkō (Imperial College of Engineering, 1873-1886) and its influence on the formalization of technical education and the formation of an engineer elite; further topics are the ways how modern technical education was organized (technical schools on different levels) and how students were able to adapt to new ways of teaching and learning and successfully appropriate the new kind of knowledge and apply it into practice.


But, while the relevance of higher education institutions, such as the Kōbu daigakkō or the Keisei Gakkō, often highlighted as forerunners of the later Tōkyō University, for the development of new industries cannot be ignored, other levels of education were just as important. The general economic development and especially major political campaigns such as Shokusan kōgyō (Increase Production and Promote Industry) and Fukoku kyōhei (Enrich the Country and Strengthen the Military), led to the realization, that the graduation of a rather small number of highly qualified engineers was not sufficient to bring about a comprehensive industrial development.


This induced the government to introduce more schools at a lower level and established a network of vocational schools throughout the country. The formalized technical education system in a broad network of various forms of vocational training schools (shokkō gakkō), through which technical knowledge was disseminated to the general public, gained ground. By his way it became possible to train a broad stratum of people of different skills in various technical fields, who could be employed in the new industries as well as in traditional crafts at different levels according to their training.


This type of schools, which were to some extent – as some scholars accentuate – perhaps more important for Japan’s industrial development than the higher education institutions, has so far been largely neglected by the academic research.


One goal of this conference is to gain a more detailed and comprehensive knowledge about the role of technical education in Japan’s development to a highly industrialised and technology-based nation.


The planned conference in 2019 will bring together scholars from Japan and several European countries in the field of technical education to enhance research within the three-years project on “From Craftsmen to Engineer” started in 2018 with a conference on “Generation, dissemination and application of technical Knowledge from Edo- to Meiji period”.


In order to guarantee continuity and to promote the desired networking, participants from the first conference will take part, both as speakers and as commentators. They will be complemented by a number of new participants who will contribute to the conference through their specific work/research related to various aspects of technical education and industrial training. This will serve to broaden the network and highlight the field of Japanese history of technology more clearly within the framework of the academic Japanese Studies in general.


As already mentioned in the application last year, the Japan Library of CEEJA strongly supports the initiative to organize this research project on the history of technology in Japan. The library will again offer participants from Europe to use the extensive holdings on this subject, (donated by Erich Pauer and two outstanding Japanese scholars in the field, namely the late Hiroshige Tetsu and Soda

Hajime), for their research.


Among these materials (books, articles, handwritten notes, photos etc.) are e.g. the

so-called “Ōhara papers” (a personal property of Erich Pauer), a unique collection of original lecture notes and internship reports, diaries of surveying trips etc. mainly from the years 1877 to 1896, stemming from Ōhara Junnosuke, a mining engineer graduated from the Kōbu daigakkō (Imperial College of Engineering) in the early Meiji period. These materials offer an extremely rare opportunity to shed light on the concrete content and the ways of teaching and studying at the Kōbu Daigakkō (Imperial College of Engineering) during a crucial time of the transitional phase. They are to be presented in a special paper during the conference.