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The Ashikaga School: A Japan Heritage Site

Commended by Saint Francis Xavier, this school is the oldest one in Japan.

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Japan Heritage

Known as the oldest school in Japan, this site was designated as a national historic landmark in the 10th year of the Taisho era (1922). There are various theories concerning its establishment. Some believe it to be an academic institution for classical studies originating from the Nara period (around 710 to 794). Others say it was built by Ono no Takamura in the 9th year of the Tencho era (832). Still others theorize that it was founded by Yoshikane Ashikaga, who also built Banna-ji Temple during the early Kamakura period (around 1185 to 1333). However, the school's origins remain unknown to this day.

From the Muromachi period onward, though, the history of the Ashikaga School is clear. Norizane Uesugi, who ruled the northeastern half of Japan during the Muromachi period, revived the school by donating four of the valuable Five Classics of Confucianism to it, and inviting a Buddhist priest named Kaigen from Engaku-ji Temple in Kamakura to be its new headmaster. The school boasted an impressive 3,000 students at its peak. In the 18th year of the Tenbun era (1549), the Jesuit missionary Saint Francis Xavier even described "the university of eastern Japan" to those overseas as the largest and most renowned of its kind in Japan.

The Ashikaga School has three gates. Pictured above is the second one, known as Gakko-mon.
The Ashikaga School has three gates. Pictured above is the second one, known as Gakko-mon.

Toward the end of the Edo period, the Ashikaga School's role as the "university of eastern Japan" came to an end. Although it was closed down in the 5th year of the Meiji era (1872), volunteers have started a campaign to preserve the school, and it lives on among citizens as a symbol of the local area as well as its heart and soul. In the 2nd year of the Heisei era (1990), some of the buildings and gardens were restored to appear as they did during the middle of the Edo period. The school was recognized as a Japan Heritage site in the 27th year of the Heisei era (2015).

Even just looking at the many buildings on the premises is a worthwhile experience.
Even just looking at the many buildings on the premises is a worthwhile experience.
This building is called Hojo. Lectures and events were held here in the past.
This building is called Hojo. Lectures and events were held here in the past.

Nowadays, the Ashikaga School is open to the public so that visitors can see where the students of old once studied. There are also programs held on Sundays such as one in which participants all read the Analects of Confucius aloud. Plus, visitors can enjoy the privilege of receiving a certificate of enrollment at the ticket office window. Be sure to come visit this Japan Heritage site, the Ashikaga School.

Be sure to take a look around the gardens, which have been beautifully reconstructed to appear as they did long ago.
Be sure to take a look around the gardens, which have been beautifully reconstructed to appear as they did long ago.

Photos

  • The Ashikaga School has three gates. Pictured above is the second one, known as Gakko-mon.

    The Ashikaga School has three gates. Pictured above is the second one, known as Gakko-mon.

  • Even just looking at the many buildings on the premises is a worthwhile experience.

    Even just looking at the many buildings on the premises is a worthwhile experience.

  • This building is called Hojo. Lectures and events were held here in the past.

    This building is called Hojo. Lectures and events were held here in the past.

  • Be sure to take a look around the gardens, which have been beautifully reconstructed to appear as they did long ago.

    Be sure to take a look around the gardens, which have been beautifully reconstructed to appear as they did long ago.

Reviews

1
  • 0419 Team

    美麗的環境及優雅的庭園,能在這種地方授業會感到非常幸福

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Details

Address
2338 Shohei-cho, Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture
Telephone number
0284-41-2655 (Ashikaga School office)
Open
9:00 AM to 4:30 PM (from April to September), 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM (from October to March)
Closed
The third Wednesday of each month (the second Wednesday of November)
Fee
420 yen for adults, 220 yen for high school students, and free of charge for those in middle school and under
Accepted payment
Cash only
Access
10 minutes on foot from Ashikaga Station via the JR Ryomo Line, or 15 minutes on foot from Ashikagashi Station via the Tobu Isesaki Line
Official website
Official website (Japanese)