The Practice of Education and a Modern Version of the Terakoya Temple School: The Potential of Cooperation with Local Temples
December 17, 2014
Consultant for the Kamakura Terakoya
Director of the International Institute for Language and Culture at Waseda University
Head of the Kamakura Terakoya
These days problems occurring at educational facilities like truancy and bullying continue to mount. We have been directing our attention to education connected to families, localities, and this wayward generation of youth, while also working to revive “the power of place” at religious facilities. We have been studying from a cooperative model bringing together these three groups as one.
The Japanese term terakoya 寺子屋 refers to the private elementary schools being run by Buddhist temples (tera) that became common place in the Edo Period (1603-1868) in Japan. The schools became virtually extinct in the modern era as modern western education became the norm in Japan. However, Buddhist temples have continued in this day to serve as kindergartens and day care centers in many communities. Amidst growing problems in Japan of school truancy and other behavioral problems among the young, the terakoya concept as a more holistic concept of education has been spreading into many sectors as a kind of informal educational system. The Kamakura Terakoya project seeks to work not just in Buddhist temples but to bring together a number of community groups (all religious centers plus civil society groups and university students) under the educational concept of terakoya.
Prof. Ikeda related that Kamakura Terakoya began in the early 2000s when Prof. Hajime Morishita—a doctor of psychiatry and founder of the Ikuno Gakuen Junior and Senior High School in Hyogo Prefecture—came to visit him very concerned about the situation of youth education, violence to themselves to others, and their general waywardness. They discussed how they were looking forward to the 21st century as a time of globalization in which diversity and opening up would increase. However, that seems to have been the opposite ever since the 9/11 incident and an ongoing spate of religious and ethnic based violence throughout the world. On the contrary, it seems we have entered a dark age, so the two thought about how to protect and nurture children in this atmosphere. Dr. Morishita thought it would hard to create such an alternative terakoya activity within the huge cities and was seeking to build up from the grassroots as a volunteer activity.
In this way, they first approached the group of famous temples of Komyo-ji, Kotoku-in (Daibutsu), and Kencho-ji in the ancient historical city of Kamakura outside of Tokyo. Their first terakoya event was a weekend retreat in October 2003 for 2 nights and 3 days at the great Rinzai Zen temple, Kencho-ji. The participants were 25 children primarily ages 7-12, 25 undergraduate students from Waseda University where Prof. Ikeda teaches, and 20 parents of the local community children. This created a nice three way inter-generational connection from the primary students to the university students to the adults. The university students helped provide an important buffer between the adults and the kids, since they still understand what it’s like to be a kid and how to relate to them. The daily activities were conducted within a Zen practice context with early morning and evening zazen meditation. Rev. Ikeda remarked that in today’s heavily secular environment where religious education is banned in the public schools (from the constitutional separation of church and state), children have basically little chance to really encounter temples or stay in them overnight.
Prof. Ikeda then spoke about the educational approach and style of Kamakura Terakoya. He noted how the educational system in Japan since the war ended has been competitive and subject oriented. In theory, there are three places where children receive education: at school, at home, and in the community, of which the temples belong but are often not so involved. Prof. Ikeda pointed out that the education in these three places is not coordinated or connected. Thus, the key concept for Prof. Ikeda and Kamakura Terakoya is what they call “multifaceted education” (複眼の教育 fukugan-no kyoiku). With young children, elder students, and adults at the center, the goal is to bring together community civic groups, formal educational centers, and religious centers, while drawing on cultural heritage and working towards a future ideal vision.
For Prof. Ikeda, this project has not only been a service for young children in the local community but also for university students. These days, Japanese university students are not involved much in volunteer or social activities, either showing a lack of interest in social problems or finding it difficult to connect and get involved in NGO activities. At the International Institute for Language and Culture at Waseda University in Tokyo, Prof. Ikeda and other the teachers are involved in NGO activities and are trying to set up a volunteer center there, mirroring such attempts at other universities. For Prof. Ikeda, Kamakura Terakoya has been part of a larger values centered education he is trying to provide his students at Waseda University.
One of Prof. Ikeda’s students, Daiyu Yoshida, came along and spoke briefly on his experiences in the project. He mentioned how the Waseda University students created an inter university association for volunteering in Kamakura Terakoya with Meiji Gakuin University (Totsuka Campus), Yokohama National University, and Kamakura Women’s University. Yoshida himself was born and raised in a Buddhist temple and will ordain as a priest after graduating in the spring. In this way, he will quit his work at Kamakura Terakoya where he has been for the past 4 years. Yoshida also spoke of the after school care center which the university students have been running for 5 years now. The center is open from 3:00-7:00, with many kids going home after 5:00 but others staying later whom they help with their homework.
Kamakura Terakoya has conducted a wide variety of other activities depending on where a specific event is located. They have conducted experiential educational activities linking fun and the earth, such as studying how to make pottery with a local craftsman. They have learned about traditional culture though song and old myths in activities at the great Engaku-ji Zen temple. They have enjoyed sports at the local beach during a weekend retreat at the great Komyo-ji Pure Land temple on the coast of Kamakura, and they have also learned about hard work in helping with rice planting in the local area. These kinds of activities have become popular for a number of Buddhist temple based and non-temple based terakoya activities around Japan, and Kamakura Terakoya is a member of the new Terakoya Network established in 2010 that includes 26 such groups all over Japan.
These initiatives are the challenging work of creating a new participatory and democratic Japan that is no longer dominated by the centralization of power in Japan’s massive governmental bureaucracy and giant corporations, of which Prof. Ikeda is openly critical. The role of civil society and the NGO sector—to which Kamakura Terakoya is attempting to link religious and educational sectors—is critical in Japan today for articulating a new public philosophy and social vision for Japan to embark on.