The impact of Kansei Reforms and Matsudaira Sadanobu on the-then education

Mentioning the political context in the late Tokugawa period is significant to discuss the then education since politics aims to educate people to control them under its agenda. During Kansei (寛政, 1789–1801), the beginning of the late Tokugawa period, Matsudaira Sadanobu, the then shogun’s chief, led a dynamic policy change in society, which is known as the Kansei reforms. One of the reforms included education, which is called the Kansei Edict (寛政異学の禁) and banned philosophical thought other than Neo-Confucianism to be taught at public schools. Matsudaira did not possess a feminist viewpoint at all. He instead cherished Neo-Confucianism which idealizes men’s supremacy over women and restricts women’s social roles by limiting their activity to within the house. Although the enactment was mandated among public schools, it was also influential regarding private schools since they worried about losing students by teaching the other ideologies which opposed the government’s will. The society in Tokugawa period emphasized formalism, according to the traditional norm, “respect for men and contempt for women”, which was indifferent to forming the equality among both sexes.[1] Matsudaira also expressed concerns about women educating children.[2] Apparently, Matsudaira desired to deprive women, regardless of their social class, from education to hinder women from obtaining knowledge, which threatened the stability of the male-dominated society. His will to greatly limit women’s education, did not necessarily mean to make women illiterate. For instance, Matsudaira saw a moral purpose to women’s reading; hence encouraged buke and commoner women to engage in basic reading and writing.[3] Hereafter, this paper will discuss what teachings were relayed and how buke and commoner women were educated by looking at experience reports of the late Tokugawa period.


[1] Tsunemi 1942, pp. 60–61.

[2] Kito 2011, pp. 80–82.

[3] Kito 2011, pp. 80–82.