Reconstructed Primary Schools and Visions for New Tokyo, 1923-1930
University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong
In the 1920s, the landscape of primary school education in Tokyo underwent a sudden, sweeping and dramatic transformation. At the beginning of the decade, the majority of the capital’s children attended lessons in small, poorly ventilated, dark, and overcrowded classrooms. By 1930, two-thirds of these wooden buildings had been replaced by three-storey reinforced concrete buildings boasting light-filled classrooms and a multitude of modern facilities aimed at promoting and monitoring the moral and physical health of children. The event that triggered this transformation was the Great Kanto Earthquake and Fires of 1923. Drawing on contemporary journal articles and personal reflections written by educators and architects, as well as school histories and municipal government publications, I aim to demonstrate how and why the 117 new primary schools were built the way they were between 1924 and 1930. I suggest that the design of schools reflected and reinforced the ideological and pedagogical trends of late Taisho and early Showa Japan. Most significantly, however, educators and architects seized the reconstruction project as an opportunity to re-conceptualise schools in terms of their civic role and function in the community. Although unified by their desire to build schools that better enabled increasingly diverse educational and social objectives, the reconstruction project also sparked intense debates and contestation between architects and educators. By examining the tensions, solutions and celebrations associated with this large-scale project, I hope to shed light on what the reconstructed primary schools tell us about competing visions of modernity, the role of schools in an urban landscape, and the use of architecture as a vehicle for social change in 1920s Japan.