Not all famous figures from the history of Japan are Japanese – Teacher Jane is a good example of a foreigner who has made a big impact on this country. In Japan today, you can see foreigners all over the place – even in small towns. But imagine if you were the first ever foreigner to arrive in a Japanese city – what an experience that must have been!
On discovering there was a museum in Kumamoto called ‘Teacher Janes’ Residence’ I imagined that Jane would be a woman, but it turns out that ‘Teacher Janes’ was actually a man, with Janes being his surname. When you think about it, a female English teacher in Japan in the 1800’s is not a very likely occurrence at all, let alone an English teacher in a small, southern city. The museum building is the house where Janes lived – built in 1871 in a colonial style.
Leroy Lansing Janes (1837 – 1909) was from Ohio, and had a career as an artillery captain on the Union side in the civil war. He also spent time as an agricultural farmer before coming to Japan.
The Kumamoto Western school taught roughly 200 students during its five years of existence. Janes was revolutionary – he taught in English only (immersion style) and didn’t use Japanese to explain things. His students struggled at first but their quick progress later on brought them much fame. Janes also encouraged free thought and self-study, things that were pretty much unheard of in the Japanese style of education.
Further into his time in Kumamoto, Janes held Christian meetings and taught from the Bible. While he had always been keen to teach on the subject of morals, Janes waited until he had been in Kumamoto for three years before he began to speak to his students about Christianity. He wanted to wait until he had gained their trust and respect, and until their English capabilities were such that they would understand the important relationship between Christianity and Western civilization.
In 1876, he took some students hiking on Mount Hanaoka, where there was a mass conversion to Christianity. The families of the boys were shocked, and the school ultimately closed down. With his students, he relocated to Kyoto and joined a school which had been founded a year before. Janes returned to the United States in 1878, but he came back to Japan and taught for 6 more years during the 1890’s.
Janes was ground-breaking in many ways. He admitted two girls into his school (sisters of other students) despite the fact that it was only anticipated he would teach boys, making it the first gender-integrated school in Japan. He also taught the Kumamoto people much about agriculture, as he had gained this knowledge during his time farming at home. Janes Residence is also known as the birthplace of the Japanese Red Cross Society, as it was there that the group merged with the Hakuaisha Philanthropic Society.
The Janes Mansion Museum in Kumamoto is located close to Suizenji Park, and has 200 Yen entrance fee. The colonial style building is quite striking, surrounded by low-rise traditional Japanese abodes. The rooms are light and airy, and while the exhibits are of limited interest, there is an English pamphlet to explain about his life. Up the creaking staircase, you can see the exhibition on the Japanese Red Cross Society, with some interesting artefacts relating to disaster relief in Japan. There is a small garden out the front of the building where it is pleasant to sit in the peace and quiet, and contemplate how things have changed so since Teacher Janes day.