A particular vision: Froebel in Japan

Ruth Thomson
Friday, September 20, 2013

Froebel's influence extends to Japan and lives on there through the Glory Kindergarten and the work of pioneer Annie Howe


'Come, let us live with our children!' This is the well-known motto of Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852). Froebel was the 'Father of the Kindergarten' and is still seen today as a heroic figure in early childhood education. Some may think that Froebel is old-fashioned, however, the currently important ideas of early childhood education such as play, imagination, creativity, mathematics, music, aesthetics, science, socialisation, morality, and culture, all are to be found in Froebel’s theory and practice.

 Froebel’s theory and the idea of the kindergarten travelled in the 19th century from Germany to the countries of Western Europe, England, the USA, eventually arriving in Japan. The kindergarten was adopted by many ambassadors, the so-called 'Froebelians', around the world and to a large extent laid the foundation for the current practice of early childhood education in many countries.

Froebel’s work was translated and transformed by Froebelians to fit in with local ideas, culture, values and politics. Although authentic Froebelian materials Gifts (play materials — such as shaped wooden bricks and balls) and Occupations (a series of hands on activities) are currently not often seen in early childhood settings, the spirit of 'Come, let us live with our children!' is still alive in the hearts of early childhood educators around the world. Therefore, the everyday experience of Froebelians in the past may, in many ways, be similar to ours today. A Froebelian’s experience of creating a kindergarten in Japan can be related through the story of Annie L Howe (1852-1943) which shows her beliefs and values concerning the education of young children.  


The history of early childhood education in Japan emerged in the form of the kindergarten in the late 19th century. The purpose of the establishment of kindergarten was to be one of the stepping stones of the modernisation of Japan. The first official kindergarten was established in 1876 by the Meiji Government and Ministry of Education, which was attached to Tokyo Women’s Normal School (now called Ochanomizu University).

The kindergarten movement there eventually emerged during the last decade of the 19th century and the great achievement of the diffusion of Froebel theory and practice was, largely the result of Christian missionaries like Annie Howe. Although the concept and the system of Kindergarten in Japan has survived until today, Froebelian theory and practice has not lasted there, as it was not deeply rooted except in the Glory Kindergarten, which was established by Howe in Kobe, Japan in 1889.

Annie L Howe was seconded to Kobe, Japan by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions of the Congregational Church in 1887. She was trained as a Froebelian kindergarten teacher at the Chicago Froebel Association, Kindergartner Training School in the USA.

She made a great impact on Froebel education and the kindergarten movements in Japan through her kindergarten and teacher training school. The difficulties in creating a kindergarten in a country, where the traditions were strange, where the language was unfamiliar, and where there was no help for an American woman missionary, cannot be underestimated.


One of her greatest achievements, apart from the establishment of the Glory Kindergarten in 1889, was the translation of Froebel’s works and Froebelian literature into Japanese. She was the first person to translate Froebel’s Mother’s Songs and the Education of Man into Japanese. The translation of the Mother’s Songs in 1896, which is a series of finger plays, games and songs designed to teach children about their bodies, sense, and social relationships, was very successful in Japan.

The pictures accompanying the Mother’s Songs showed many beautiful scenes and touches of life in Japan and preserved the spirits of the subjects wonderfully well. She truly had a passion for the education of young children with the spirit of 'Come, let us live with our children'. 

In Life and Light for Woman (1892) by the Women’s Board of Missions, Annie Howe’s kindergarten was introduced by Dr P Root. This article also appeared in, The Kindergarten in American Education (1908) by the American kindergarten leader, Nina C Vandewalker.

Dr P Root spoke highly of Howe’s Kindergarten: 'The most fascinating place in Kobe, and I except not even the curio shops, the waterfall, or the walk over the hills, is the dainty little kindergarten which Miss Howe has mothered and which she is still mothering'. 

Sightseers who visited the kindergarten, only come away saying, as I heard at least two people say recently, ‘It is the most fascinating place in Japan.’ I have seen the kindergartens in Boston and other cities and enthused over them, but all in all I still commend you to the Kobe Glory Kindergarten.' [Root (1982): 459].


Through the rich data contained in her diary, teaching records, kindergarten journals, articles, books, photographs and letters to her parents and family in the USA, it is apparent that she was full of enthusiasm for Froebelian education, but had her own particular vision of the education of young children also. The Glory Kindergarten which took children from three to five years was bursting with the fullness of life and joy.

She described her children in a report in 1922: 'They sing, they play, they march, they work at designing, they are filled with beautiful stories they beam with joy, and they expand like flowers in the Sun.'

She believed that children must be taught freedom and independence of mind and that the education of young children is full of hope for the future. She also taught kindergarten teacher trainees to see the beauty of the world in nature, music, and art through Froebel’s doctrine and to play a positive role in enhancing the abilities of all children as Froebel’s principles include the recognition of the uniqueness of each individual child’s potential and a holistic view of child development.

 There was a particular vision in the Glory Kindergarten, which was, 'the charm of leading the children out to a broad view of the world, and to an ennobling conception of life'. She wanted to foster a peace-loving soul with a broad international perspective in all children and to understand that we are all the same living in this world regardless nationality, religion, ethnicity, and culture. This is a fundamental feature of Froebel’s views of the world, which was the idea of unity in its entirety.

Howe implemented various projects for her children to foster the values and knowledge of the world. She often read her favourite story to children, which was The seven little sisters who live on the round ball that floats in the air (1861) by Jane Andrews, which describes the lives of girls from the seven continents and affirms their sisterhood under one heavenly Father.  

A good example of her approach occurs in her teaching record and its diary for May, 1911. The project she described was entitled 'National life' — Japan, Germany, England and America. She told stories about each country such as speaking in different language, their different cultures, and many different views of the world, especially children’s life in those countries. Her children made a big ship to travel to those countries and stops were made by children at all of them. The children also made flags of Japan, Germany, England and America.

Annie Howe focused on similarities rather than differences. She emphasised what we have in common and tried to find things that would act as the catalyst to the friendship in diversity. For the celebration of the Armistice of 1918, she wrote in her diary, 'The emphasis was laid not on the awfulness of the world war, but on the sympathy being shown to its suffering children.'

The message she wanted to send her children was that there were children in the world like children in the Glory Kindergarten. Perhaps, it is her sense that feels and holds the unity in the apparent diversity of things, and by whose vigor and activity life and actions are brought into harmony with unity that makes her truly Froebelian.


The kindergarten and training school she created has become a model for early childhood education in Japan. Her work is not ended and her spirit in implementing the philosophy and practice of Froebel. Her influence lives on among her followers in Japan.

Every March, for the Japanese Doll’s Festival, the Glory Kindergarten invites children from international kindergartens in Kobe, such as the Kobe Korean Kindergarten, the Kobe Chinese Kindergarten, the Deutsche School Kobe European kindergarten, and Canadian Academy Kindergarten. All the children play, sing and dance together for fun.

It is considered to be international education and peace education as she implemented it a century ago, which helps children develop the attitude and behaviours to live in harmony with people who have different values, backgrounds, and beliefs. The effect of Annie L Howe’s work has been profound in the Glory Kindergarten. The spirit of 'Come, let us live with our children!' is deeply rooted and is still alive there. It could still be said that 'the most fascinating place in Japan' is the dainty little kindergarten where Miss Howe had mothered and her spirit is still alive. Have you seen the kindergarten? Then you must go. All in all I still commend you to the Glory Kindergarten in Kobe Japan.


The Glory Kindergarten(1922) the Glory Kindergarten Report, Shoei College, it is also cited in the Japan Mission News in 1922 (p7)

The Glory Kindergarten(1996) Youji kyouiku no keifu to Shoie, [The Glory Kindergarten and the History of Early Childhood Education] (The Glory Kindergarten Publish, Kobe, Japan.)

Root, P (1892) The Kindergarten Kobe, Japan — Life and Light for Woman (1892) by the Woman’s Board of Mission, available from http://archive.org/stream/lifeandlightfor25missgoog#page/n24/mode/2up

Takano, K (1973) AL Hau jyoshi no hoikusha yosei no kosonitsuite [ ALHowe’s conception of Froebelian teacher training], The Journal of the Japan Society of Research on Early Childhood Care and Education, 26, 111-112

Takano (1985) AL Hau jyoshi to Shoei no Ayumi, [Miss ALHowe and the Glory Kindergarten and training School, ],(Glory Shoei College, Kobe Japan)

Takano & Nakamura (1975) AL Hau Jyoshi no Nihon Hoikushieno Kouken: Youji Ongaku Kaigtakusha toshite [A.L. Howe’s Contribution to the History of Early Childhood  Education in Japan: as a Pioneer of Music education] the Journal of the Japan Society of Research on Early Childhood Care and Education, 28, 103-104

Nishigaki, M (2007) AL Haunoshogai, Nihonno youjikyouikuni, Fureberu Seishin odonyushita fujin senkyoushi Ani L Hauno hataraki to Shiso [The life of A.L Howe: the person who introduced Froebel Philosophy in Japan], Kobe Local Newspaper press, Kobe Japan

Wollons, R (2000) 'The missionary Kindergarten in Japan', in: R. Wollons (Ed)

Kindergartens and culture: The global diffusion of an idea. New Haven; London, Yale University Press, 113-136.

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