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An exhibition on lecture notes from Waseda University’s historic correspondence curriculum (1886-1956)

Takashi Hiroki
Assistant, Waseda University Archives

Photo (1): Poster for the forthcoming exhibition

In spring 2016, The Waseda University Archives will hold an exhibition called “Lecture notes from Waseda’s historic correspondence curriculum (1886-1956).”

This year marks the 130th year since Waseda University’s predecessor, Tokyo College, began publishing lecture notes for students enrolled in correspondence courses. However, few people actually know about the long history of Waseda’s correspondence curriculum.

At the end of the 19th century, Japan established a modern educational system, marking the arrival of an era when one’s educational record became of great significance. It was an unjust period, however, when most economically underprivileged people had to abandon their dreams at a young age. For people who could not afford to go to Tokyo or enter a higher-level school, one of the few choices to continue their studies was to take correspondence courses using lecture notes written by teachers.

While similar projects were short-lived, Waseda’s correspondence lecture notes continued for over 70 years, and over two million students had subscribed to them by the time they were discontinued in 1956. The correspondence lecture notes were emblematic of “another campus,” which existed outside the real one in Tokyo. It is not a stretch to say that students subscribed to these notes and who studied on their own in adverse conditions, embodied Waseda’s anti-establishment mentality more than regular students.

In this article, I would like to introduce the history of Waseda’s “other campus” while referencing materials on display at the exhibition.

1. “Even in education, there are many techniques available” - The launch of correspondence lecture notes

Photo (2): Lecture notes issued by the political science lecture society

Waseda University’s predecessor, Tokyo College, embarked on a correspondence course project in 1886, four years after its founding. At that time, with the promulgation of the Constitution and the establishment of the Diet several years later, Western-based laws and systems were introduced one after another, rapidly transforming Japanese government and society. New knowledge is essential for living in new times and Waseda was one of the institutions to publish correspondence lecture notes to meet the needs of society.

The creator of Waseda’s correspondence lecture notes was Sanae Takata (1860-1938), a founding member of Tokyo College and later, its third president. Initially, lecture notes were published by the political science lecture society (see Photo (2)). Keita Yokota who was inspired by Takata’s plan to publish lecture notes organized the society. Its prospectus begins with, “Even in education, there are many techniques available.” Yokota was sure that providing instruction to students physically present on campus was not the only way to teach them. He wanted to deliver high-quality education to not only the privileged and the few but to others who wanted to learn but lacked resources. The lecture society’s prospectus conveys Yokota’s enthusiasm to carry out this mission.

Correspondence lecture notes soon became a project run directly by Tokyo College. In those days, a push to spread higher education called “university extension” was growing in the United Kingdom and the United States. Waseda actively embraced this idea, viewing the correspondence lecture note project as the centerpiece of its Western-based initiatives. The reason why Waseda’s lecture notes continued for an unusually long time may be because it was supported by this guiding principle.

2. An invisible school, the advancement of correspondence lecture notes

Waseda University referred to subscribers of correspondence lecture notes as “off-campus students,” treating them as regular members of the institution, as stated in the University regulations. Unlike the current system, students did not obtain any public qualifications even if they completed all required correspondence courses using lecture notes, but were allowed to attend lectures and use the library. If they passed examinations, they could enroll in regular courses.

Regular teachers mainly wrote lecture notes. One example is “History of Western philosophy” by Hajime Onishi (1864-1900), which was rated highly in academic circles and featured at the Waseda University Archives exhibition. Lecture notes gradually expanded the disciplines they covered, incorporating political science, law, administration, and literature, and even included mid-education courses such as middle school, commerce, and female higher education. In the Showa period, lecture notes covered disciplines such as architecture and electric engineering. Indeed, Waseda’s correspondence lecture notes grew to offer a full array of courses that warrant its title of “invisible school.”

The University built a support system for students attending correspondence courses. Support services included answering questions and responding to requests for advice, hosting meetings for off-campus students in various places of the country, publishing supplementary readers, and selling various goods by mail order. Those who completed correspondence courses using lecture notes were called “associate school friends.” Off-campus students who felt a strong attachment to Waseda University became part of the support base vital to the University.

3. Looking to the same ideal - The diversity of off-campus students and true forms of self-education

Photo (3): Teisuke Shibuya’s “five-year plan”

In many cases, the purpose of subscribing to the correspondence lecture notes was to pass tests and qualifying examinations for senmon gakko (vocational colleges) in hopes of advancing in the world. It was very difficult to complete courses using lecture notes and only one out of ten students did so. Among these graduates were Masasada Shiozawa (1870-1945) and Hozumi Tanaka (1876-1944), who both later became presidents of Waseda University, Sokichi Tsuda (1873-1961), who broke new ground in ancient Japanese history, and others who have gone on to represent Waseda.

Teisuke Shibuya (1905-1989), an activist farmer and poet, was also among those who entrusted their future dreams to the correspondence lecture notes. His “five-year plan,” which chronicled his study plan to acquire qualifications is on the cover of the extra edition (March 1935; currently held by the Fujimi City Library in Saitama Prefecture) of the Waseda Lectures on Electronics included in his collection of books (see Photo 3).

In the first half of the 20th century, Japan was a colonialist empire that brought East Asia under its influence. Students who subscribed to correspondence lecture notes came to include many people from neighboring colonies such as China, Korea, and Taiwan. In these colonies, where there were nearly no roads to success, there were people who found in the Japanese lecture notes a way out of their difficult circumstances.

4. In spirit of the democratization of education - The end of off-campus lecture notes

Photo (4): Draft regulations of Waseda University School of Education by Correspondence (1947)

In the early 1930s, lecture notes and supplementary readers were gradually influenced by militarization. As the country set forth on a path towards war, a rationing system was introduced for printing paper, forcing Waseda’s publishing department to reduce the number of lecture notes. In the major air raids on Tokyo in March 1945, the publishing department lost a printing house that accepted publication orders, making them unable to issue lecture notes.

After Japan's defeat, correspondence lecture notes stepped into the limelight again as a medium that embodied the spirit of democratizing education. Boosted by the tailwind of GHQ policy, which encouraged the introduction of American-style education by correspondence, Waseda University, too, started to publish lecture notes that met the requirements of its new system. Waseda even planned to establish a new faculty of correspondence education (see Photo (4)). However, for various reasons, the correspondence lecture notes were no longer as influential as they had once been. One reason was the increased competition from prefectural governments’ correspondence education projects.

In 1949, when Waseda was forced to choose between correspondence lecture notes and evening sessions for working students—it chose the latter. In 1956, Waseda discontinued registration for new students in correspondence courses, closing the curtain on seventy years of correspondence education.

This exhibition highlights just a few aspects of the long diverse history of correspondence lecture notes. However, even with just the exhibition’s historical materials, visitors will be able to feel the thoughts of people who devoted their lives to learning, their anguish and hope for the future, and the struggles and atmosphere of an era. The organizers of this exhibition are happy to provide an opportunity for people not involved in education to question the meaning of learning.

2016 Spring Exhibition “Waseda’s Correspondence Lecture Notes and Their History 1886-1956”
March 22 to April 23, 2016, 10:00-17:00
Closed Sundays (Open on Sunday, April 3)
Aizu Museum, exhibition room on the first floor
The Museum is located in Building No. 2 on Waseda Campus, Waseda University.
Admission fee:
Organized by the Waseda University Archives

Takashi Hiroki
Assistant, Waseda University Archives

Takashi Hiroki was born in 1977. After completing a doctorate course at Waseda University Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, he became Assistant at the Waseda University Archives in April 2015. His field of expertise is modern and contemporary Japanese history.