Life Style

Japan and its children at the school of modernity

It’s a journey through time and space, with childhood as a common thread, the way children are brought up and educated, the vision of the world that we intend to transmit to them. A privileged vantage point to understand what Japan was like during the Meiji era (1868-1912).

→ CRITICAL. “Tales of chance and other fantasies”, the power of the imagination

At the time, the country broke its isolation and opened up to Western influences. It is, as underlined by the subtitle of this rich exhibition at the Maison de la culture du Japon in Paris, “in the school of modernity”.

English Breakthrough

The four traditional social classes are fading, giving way to a meritocracy largely based on academic effort. As in France, the end of the XIXand century saw the introduction of compulsory education in Japan. We move from individual teaching to collective teaching, in large classes where the blackboard appears.

Above all, we observe the proliferation of educational prints distributed by the Ministry of Education or purchased by families. These wall charts present, like a picture book, the fauna, flora, objects, gymnastic exercises… Among the most popular, those also written in English, already synonymous with openness to the world.

The success of “toy images”

Some prints also combine a playful dimension with their educational aim. They then take the form of “toy images”, which sometimes recall games of the goose, sometimes models. There are paper dolls to dress, characters that can be decorated with various hairstyles. Some remain traditional, others obey Western codes, a sign that different currents coexist, even clash. Moreover, the spirit of the period may well promote rationality, but children’s stories continue to feature fantastic creatures and ghosts.

→ MAINTENANCE. “Manga tell wonderful stories”

Until May 21, the exhibition also brings together the works of four masters of printmaking in the Meiji era to show the daily life of children, chasing dragonflies or launched into the game of the demon who tramples the shadows, again practiced today and which consists of fighting by stepping on the opponent’s shadow. Something to delight our eyes and feed our curiosity.


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