The History of Soka Education

The Life of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi

The pedagogy of Soka education was developed by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, a Japanese educator in the early 20th Century. Born in 1871 to a poor family in Niigata, Japan, Makiguchi struggled to receive education during his youth Owing to extreme poverty, his parents abandoned him at the age of 6. He was consequently adopted by his relatives. Although he was financially challenged, he continued to study while working, which ultimately enabled him to graduate from a teacher’s school in Hokkaido, Japan, and to become an educator devoted to the happiness of young people and providing equal opportunities for underprivileged children.

The Rise of Japanese Militaristic Control Over Education

When Makiguchi began his educational career in 1893, Japan was building on its military strength and imperial expansion. The Japanese government possessed excessive control over education and molded education into fulfilling the country’s national and military objectives. In particular, textbooks were standardized in a way that promoted a national consciousness of total and complete loyalty to the state and the emperor, fostering nationalistic patriotism.

Education for the People

Despite the political climate in Japan, Makiguchi held fast to radically different educational beliefs from the ones that the Japanese government indoctrinated, and he developed an educational philosophy based on humanism. He believed that the purpose of education was to cultivate students’ happiness through nurturing their social consciousness.

He taught students how to think critically and to solve problems, not to merely accept knowledge as given facts. He regarded the role of the teacher as a guide who empowers students by helping them take responsibility for their own learning.

Through such empowerment, Makiguchi believed individuals could reveal their fullest potential to create value in their own lives and in their communities, and thereby attain happiness and contribute to the betterment of society.

What is Value?

Whereas truth is an objective, unvarying recognition of things as they are, value is a subjective, emotional bond between self and object. Makiguchi explains that there are three elements of value:

  • 1. Beauty is an emotional and temporary value, derived from the five senses.
  • 2. Benefit is an individual gain which is not exclusive to monetary profit but is related to the whole of one’s life.
  • 3. Good is the personal conduct of an individual that intentionally contributes to the formation and development of a unified society.
what is value diagram

Makiguchi's Emphasis

Makiguchi emphasizes that the value of benefit must be pursued in harmony with the value of good. The function of education is essentially leading the learners to creating the three values of beauty, benefit, and good.

Soka Educational Theories Take Practical Form

Between 1913 and 1932, Makiguchi was appointed as principal for a number of primary schools in Tokyo, which allowed him the opportunity to refine his educational theories into practical form. As an educator, Makiguchi emphasized that every single child be treated with the utmost respect and care, especially economically disadvantaged children.

He showed the way by preparing box lunches out of his own pocket for his underprivileged students. He left the box lunches in the janitors’ room for students to pick up, out of his concern not to embarrass the students. His efforts to provide student lunches took place years before a formal school lunch program was established in Japan.

In 1930, Makiguchi published the first volume of The System of Value Creating Pedagogy, in which he presents the educational theories he had been developing throughout his career as an educator. He writes about his ideas on how the purpose of education is to enhance the student’s capacity to create value and happiness in their lives by confronting the various challenges and opportunities that life presents.