Rakuzenkai in efforts to establish first school for the blind and Deaf in Tokyo in late 1870's

The Instutituion for the Blind and Mute (訓盲院) in Tokyo in late 1870's

In February, 1873, when the ban to spread Christianity in Japan was lifted for the first time after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the missionaries came to visit Japan one after another. Most were a doctor who gave priority to treatment of a sick person, and then did a missionary work.

Dr. Henry Faulds (1843-1930), a doctor, came to visit Japan as a  missionary from Scotland in March, 1874. He founded a Christian hospital called the Tsukiji Hospital on the foreigner settlement located in Tokyo in 1875.

He observed a great number of blind persons, and said to his Japanese friends, "There are many blind persons in Japan. It might be a result of the eye disease which is infectious. We should consider the measure against blindness above all by the spread of health knowledge.

"It is necessary also to give blind persons the Bible book and to raise the culture. A Japanese translation of the Bible should be started. We could establish a training center for the blind in collaboration with Japanese volunteers?"

A group of Japanese prominent men (Furukawa Masao, Tsuda Sen, Nakamura Masanao, and Kishida Ginko), Dr. Burchardt, a missionary of the German-American Lutheran Church, and Dr. Faulds held a meeting at Dr. Faulds' home on May 22, 1875. Dr. Faulds proposed starting an enterprise for the blind people as a Christianity charity, which resulted in the organization of a philanthropic society called the  Rakuzenkai.

On June 19, 1875, four persons including Furukawa made a written proposal which was signed jointly and submitted it to Tokyo governor Okubo Ichioh (1817-1888) in order to borrow the house and land for a educational institution for the blind. However, the proposal was not granted, because the letter stated that a foreigner as the master and the Japanese people were forms of a guest in the enterprise.

Then, Tsuda, Furukawa, and Kishida discussed the plan including a possibility of the construction of the institution and funds, etc. They signed a letter to the Tokyo governor jointly again in November, explaining that they wished to establish a school for the blind following the West European countries, that they had ordered the Bible in the Braile in the U.S., that the management of the institution would be based on the volunteers' fund-raising, and asking for a permission to rend a lot with a house, etc. Again their petition was rejected, and the concrete plan of establishment of a school for the blind progressed slowly.

In December, the Bible book in Braille and the Braille-manufactured paper arrived from the U.S. The Rakuzenkai organization regulations was developed and the opportunity of establishment of the school for the blind was being brewed.

The Rakuzenkai, changing its Christian stance, started inviting powerful bureaucrats as a member, such as Sugiura Yuzuru, head of the Department of the Interior Geography, Maejima Hisoka, director of postal services, Komatsu Akira, director of education. All  joined the Rakuzenkai in January, 1876.

The third petition about the school for the blind was submitted to Tokyo on February 27. It stated that the reason why the Rakuzenkai members have not received any response related to the past petition was that they believed Tokyo was considering the petition carefully, that the volunteers would work on the operation funds through such as donations, and there was no mention on the land with a house, nor expenditure of cost.

The Tokyo Prefecture granted the petition finally, so the establishment of a school for the blind was officially approved on March 15, 1876.

Yamao Yozo, who proposed to establish an education system for the blind and deaf earlier, joined the Rakuzenkai on March 26. He claimed that the influence of any foreign country or religion on the Rakuzenkai should be reduced, and expressed the opinion also about the concept on an education for the blind and deaf. Such the circumstances led Dr. Faulds to leave the Rakuzenkai.

Through the efforts of Yamao and Kido Takayoshi, a friend of Yamao's and a highly-ranked governmental official, His Majesty the Emperor Meiji heard of this project and graciously granted a sum of three thousand yen toward the foundation of the school for the blind on December 22, 1876. The No.1 contributor among the Rakuzenkai members was Yamao.

In March, 1879, Yamao went to Kyoto to inspect the first school for the blind and mute in Japan, the Kyoto School for the Blind-Mute. Its establishment was approved in September, 1878 by Makimura Masanao, the Kyoto governor and a good friend of Yamao's. Yamao had helped cultivation and mechanization of the engineer of a Nishijin brocade, one of Kyoto's well-known products.

The school building of Rakuzenkai Kun-mo-in (The Rakuzenkai School for the Blind; the Educational Institution for the Blind) was built on the site of Tsukiji in Tokyo which belonged to the Navy Ministry, in 1879.

The School for the Blind was opened on January 5, 1880. After the investigation on the blind in Tokyo, the Rakuzenkai staff visited the house where a blind child lived and invited the parents to enroll their child, to which their reaction was blunt. As a result, a blind boy aged 13 and a 3 year-old blind girl were enrolled on February 13, followed by two deaf boys aged 11 and 14 each on June 1 in the year. Ouchi Seiran was appointed as the first principal.

The newly opened Rakuzenkai School might be said as a result of the culturally advanced men or the western-educated bureaucrats who performed by suffering troubles considerably and cutting the way of education of children with disabilities rather a result of meeting the needs of common people.

The name of Kun-mo-in (The Educational Institution for the Blind) was changed to Kun-mo-a-in (The Educational Institution for the Blind and Mute) in 1884. However, it was taken over by the Government due to financial difficulties in 1885. The school hence became the first national school for the Blind and Deaf in Japan.

English information on YAMAO Yozo:

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