Digital Japanese History

絵本水や空、耳鳥斎 画、3冊 (合1冊) ; 23cm、平安、八文字屋八左衛門、安永9 [1780]、、出典:国立国会図書館「NDLイメージバンク」 (

Figure 4. 豊国 1, Terakoya kakizome 寺子屋書初 (西村, 1825). National Diet Library Digital Collections.
Figure 4. 豊国 2, Terakoya kakizome 寺子屋書初 (西村, 1825). National Diet Library Digital Collections.
Figure 4. 豊国 3, Terakoya kakizome 寺子屋書初 (西村, 1825). National Diet Library Digital Collections.


Through the Kansei reforms, merchant management became more complicated, and the rise of village leaders demanded literacy to publish documents. Private schools such as terakoya and village schools responded to this demand. Unlike the experiences of particular buke women as mentioned earlier, this section will look at commoner women’s education in general through evidence presented especially by two emeritus professors.

Peter Kornicki mentions that the distribution of textbooks increased the variety of subjects in which commoner women could study. Moral guides were most published during the Edo period; Martha Tocco presents that the distribution of Onna daigaku was the basis of commoner women’s education.[1] Furthermore, they temporarily lived in buke or wealthy merchant families to learn the ideal womanhood as apprentices, gyōgi minarai.[2] This custom was meant to educate commoner women in manners and etiquette. This fact indicates that similar to the case of buke women, commoner women were also taught to be aware of the idea of male supremacy based on Neo-Confucian thought. Meanwhile, they also learned flower arrangement, classical Japanese dance, and tea ceremony under their masters. Furthermore, a wider variety of textbooks offering instruction in academic subjects such as arithmetic and geography were available for girls’ education. By the end of the Tokugawa period, more and more women were reading a diverse range of popularly published material.

A historical record, analyzed by Sugano Noriko, an emeritus Professor at Teikyo University, statistically presents the prevalence of women’s education and availability of books on various provisions. In the late Tokugawa period, terakoya saw the emergence of female master (Onna shishō). According to Sugano, female masters’ terakoya were first founded in 1785 by Ichikawa Shima at the present-day Yushima, Tokyo.[3] Especially in Tokyo the number of female masters’ terakoya rose from the beginning of the ninetieth century. Female masters led more than ten percent of terakoya in Edo. According to Sugano, more than thirty out of the total fifty-three terakoya in Edo remained even after the end of Tokugawa period.[4] Although this development was still limited to wealthy and urban commoner women, the late Tokugawa period saw a growing number of commoner women who enjoyed education similar to commoner men’s education.

It can be concluded, therefore, that equal education was improving in the commoner class in the late Tokugawa period considering the growing number of women-led terakoya.


[1] Tocco 2005, pp. 1–39.

[2] Tsunemi 1942, pp. 62.

[3] Sugano 1994, pp. 240–256.

[4] Sugano 1994, pp. 240–256.