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Science and Technology - Edo Japan

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Social Studies +2 Age Level Middle School (13 to 15 years old)

This collection is meant to be used in the midst of a unit of Edo Japan. Through the study of new technologies and scientific advances at the time, students can further dive into the Edo national dynamics by means of the developments in science. This module on science and technology is geared towards understanding Edo Japan through inventions and progress other than in the arts, and in unison with the rest of the world, therefore opening discussion as to how closed the country really was. 

Numerous technologies are tightly linked to cultural expressions such as theater arts and the ukiyo-e , and therefore, a separate series of lessons on arts and culture during the Edo Period is absolutely necessary following or preceding this lesson. A study of the Edo culture remains a common approach to explore the society in Edo Japan; the study of science and new technologies compliments this analysis, and it will facilitate engaging a wider audience. 

The artifacts listed here provide illustrations of cross-cultural developments and technological inventions before the end of the Edo period. Through these resources, the teacher can focus on medical advances, particular inventions such as the Montgolfière or simple robots, greater historical processes such as industrialization or everyday objects such as hairpins and cloth, which were also part of the exchange of ideas. 

Analyzing these technological commonalities between Japan and the greater global arena, will provide context for the later discussion of ‘rangaku’ (Dutch studies) during the Edo period. 


Lesson plan (2-4 hours) 

1. Make the resources and artwork available to the students in preparation for the lesson at least one day ahead of class. These artifacts and texts will serve as a pre-research idea bank and starting point. 

2. Teacher can briefly present the material available and prepare a quick lecture or discussion presenting a general overview of science in Japan at the time, or sciences in the world during the same period (e.g. main inventions and discoveries, scientific leaders and award winners, revolutions in science such as the Industrial Revolution.) The lecture could include a brief overview of the state of the social sciences around the world, as well (e.g. theories in psychology, birth of sociology, main theories in anthropology.)

3. Lead the routine "Claim/Support/Question" using the resource "Ukie Edo Nihonbashi Odawaracho uoichi no zu." Discuss the main issues and talking points that surfaced during the routine; tie in the results of the routine with the keywords presented in Step 2. 

4. Students explore on their own the resources in the collection and decide on a topic that they would like to research further. A few ideas are: automated technologies, advances in medicine, technology of daily-life objets or technology in the arts. Teacher can also provide research support to guide students into the collection's reading, such as scaffolded questions or a diagram to lead to their preferred topic. 

5. Students research the topic of their choice and prepare 10-20 minute presentations on the topic. The goal and format of the presentations can also be defined in class (e.g. slideshow, written piece, a draft for a longer essay, a design technology project...) 


Extension activity

At the end of the lesson on Edo culture and science, create a newspaper that covers the main events of the Edo period. Students can write pieces on the area of their choice: politics, science and technology, arts and culture, or even a column on daily life. Teacher can define the word limit and format, topics covered, and members of each newspaper. After editing and correcting the articles, they can be arranged as a real newspaper. The resources in this collection serve as primary and secondary sources for the activity. 

*PDF of examples is attached in the collection.