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The Old Shizutani School

 

The Shizutani School was established by Ikeda Mitsumasa of the Okayama Domain and is known as Japan's oldest school for common people. The buildings on the Shizutani School grounds, for the most part, have been nationally designated as National Treasures and Important Cultural Assets.

 

On top of that, being in close proximity to the town of Inbe — the birthplace of Bizen ware — the roof tiles are made of Bizen ware. When the school was built, a new kiln was created for the sole purpose of firing these tiles; that is just how many Bizen ware tiles were needed. The buildings demanded great effort, taking 31 years to complete.

 

The establishment of The Shizutani School
The history of the Shizutani School begins in 1666, when the leader of the Okayama Domain, Ikeda Mitsumasa, visited Shizutani. Ikeda took a liking to the area, which was blessed with its natural surroundings, and ordered the establishment of a school for common people at the time.

 

Construction began later in 1670, and it is believed that all of the facilities, including an auditorium, shrine, and stone fence, were completed in 1701.

 

As the name "school for the common people" makes clear, it was not a school that accepted only students from the samurai ranks to raise as future leaders; children from ordinary households were also accepted. The school was open to all sorts of people, and even children from other domains were allowed to study at the Shizutani School.

 

The curriculum included teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, among other subjects. It is said that on dates with a "1" or "6", Confucianism was taught in the auditorium of the Shizutani School, which is designated as a National Treasure, while dates that had a "5" or "0" were days of rest.

 

However, before the Shizutani School was completed, Ikeda Mitsumasa, who ordered the construction of the school, passed away in 1682. In a word, he left the world behind before the spectacular buildings of the Shizutani School were completed. A shrine (Shizutani Shrine) was built to honor him, in the name of praying for the prosperity and continuity of the school.

 

Life at the Shizutani School started by waking up at 6:00 A.M. with studies commencing at 7:00. Later, at 10:00 A.M., students would come together to study in the auditorium. Dinner was served at 4:00 P.M., followed by students doing homework and studying on their own. Lights out was at 10:00 P.M.

 

Word of the Shizutani School got around, and many scholars and literary figures would come to visit.

 

Around the Shizutani School
The Shizutani School, continuing from the Edo Period (1603-1868), is extremely valuable as a cultural asset, particulary because it is said to be the oldest existing school building for commoners in the world. Even today, the tradition continues, with lectures held in the auditorium as the audience sits on their knees in Japanese seiza style.

 

Before stepping onto the grounds of the Shizutani School, there is a pond and quad. This pond is also an Important Cultural Asset.

 

 

When you step onto the school grounds, Shizutani Shrine is directly in front of you. As mentioned above, this shrine honors Ikeda Mitsumasa, the leader that ordered the construction of the Shizutani School.

 

 

 

Next to the Shizutani Shrine is a seibyō, where the father of Confucianism, Confucius himself, is honored.

 

 

You can take off your shoes and go inside the auditorium, a designated National Treasure. As a wooden structure that has survived to the present day, it is a highly valuable building. Its roof is made of Bizen ware tiles, and its floor and other areas have been inherited from the Edo Period.

 

 

 

 

The school gate and stone fence are also Important Cultural Assets

 

 

Cut through the stone fence and you will end up at the archives where valuable documents regarding the Shizutani School and cultural assets are on display.

 

 

 

As you can see, the architecture of the Shizutani School with the Bizen ware tiles and the intricately constructed stone fence gives the school a unique look. If you make the trip to the Shizutani School, you can still get a first-hand look at the study buildings that have been adored since long, long ago.


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