Isawa Shuji, Nineteenth-Century Administrator and Music Educator in Japan and Taiwan

By Howe, Sondra Wieland; Lai, Mei-Ling et al. | Australian Journal of Music Education, July 2014 | Go to article overview

Isawa Shuji, Nineteenth-Century Administrator and Music Educator in Japan and Taiwan


Howe, Sondra Wieland, Lai, Mei-Ling, Liou, Lin-Yu, Australian Journal of Music Education


The Japanese educator Isawa Shuji (1851-1917) wrote a commemoration for Luther Whiting Mason (1818-1896) after his death:

The authentic music, which you composed in Japan, has come to Taiwan, which is right on the equator, and even the locals can sing "Chocho" [Butterfly] and "Hotaru no Hikari" [Light of firefly] ... (1)

The "Chocho" melody was from the American song "Lightly Row," and the original song of "Hotaru no Hikari" was from "Auld Lang Syne" What was the relationship between Isawa and Luther Whiting Mason and why was Taiwan mentioned in this commemoration? This paper will look at these two songs as a representation of how Japanese music education was introduced from the United States to Japan and, in turn, to Taiwan. Isawa Shuji's work will be the major source.

Isawa Shuji (1851-1917) was an important international figure who introduced Western music into the schools of Japan and Taiwan. Isawa was familiar with Western music and educational ideas before he studied music education in the United States. He studied with Luther Whiting Mason (1818-1896), who had developed the National Music Course, a music textbook series for public schools. Isawa returned to Japan to administer teacher-training programs and develop his ideas on combining Japanese traditional music and Western music in school music textbooks. He then traveled to Taiwan to organize teacher-training programs and promote music education. (2)

Isawa's work with Luther Whiting Mason in introducing Western music into the Japanese school system has been described by Berger, Eppstein, Howe, and Ogawa. (3) Colonial education in Taiwan is discussed by Lin, Tsurumi, and Hsieh. (4) Kaminuma has written a biography of Isawa. (5) Isawa's work in Taiwan has been discussed by Lai, Lee, Liou, and Sun. (6) This paper will provide a new perspective on Isawa's activities in three countries based on sources in Japanese, Chinese, and English.

Isawa's Training in Japan

Isawa was born in Shinano province (present-day Nagano prefecture), the son of a samurai. He was a drummer in a Western-style fife and drum military band. He studied in the local school of his domain of Takato, learning about the Chinese philosophy of Confucius and Mencius. Isawa studied English with an American missionary and with Nakayama (John) Manjiro, who had lived in Massachusetts in the early 1840s. He then pursued Western studies in Edo (present-day Tokyo) and Kyoto and was selected to study for two years at Daigaku nanko, the forerunner of Tokyo Imperial University (7) (see Table 1).

In 1874, Isawa was the President of the Aichi Prefectural Normal School where he introduced music into the kindergarten curriculum. He commissioned one of his teachers, Nomura Akitari, to collect local children's songs and to write song texts for the kindergarten games which are called shokayugi. Dr. David Murray, senior advisor in the Japanese Ministry of Education, was impressed with Isawa's work and suggested to Tanaka Fujimaro (1845-1909), Commissioner of Education, that Isawa be sent to the United States. (8)

Western pedagogical books were available in Japan in the 1870s and Isawa became interested in developmental education (kaihatsushugi). In 1875 he published Kyojushimpo [Modern Teaching Method], which was a reworking of David P. Page's Theory and Practice of Teaching (1847). Page, principal of the New York State Normal School at Albany, advocated music for its utilitarian purpose of building character, maintaining order, and promoting good reading ability. (9) Since Western books were brought to Japan in the 1870s, Isawa was familiar with many aspects of Western education and Western music before the Japanese Ministry of Education sent him to the United States to study teacher training.

The 1870s was an intense period of Westernization in Japan when Japanese delegations were sent to the United States and Europe to study, and foreign employees (oyatoi) were invited to work in Japan. …

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