Named after the patron saint of the diocese, St. Michael’s International School was founded on a firm foundation of Christian principles, which continue to this day. It is part of an international educational tradition extending back to 1893 when its predecessor, the English Mission School (EMS), one of Japan’s first international schools, was founded.
Arising from the joint efforts of Miss Leonora Lea, an English Missionary who remained in Kobe during World War II, and Bishop Michael Yashiro of Kobe’s St. Michael’s diocese, the school officially opened for international school children on 10th March 1946 with a special event which was attended by Sir Vere Redman, who represented the British Embassy and travelled from Tokyo for the occasion. In addition, an English Language Section was opened at the same time for adults wishing to learn English, as it was the intention of the founders to create a place for people of all ages and circumstances to learn. Initially this English language section targeted Japanese students but today it supports people of many nationalities.
Throughout its history and continuing today, St.Michael’s is a small and friendly school, which ensures that the students are educated in a pleasant atmosphere conducive to the development of understanding, tolerance and friendship towards people of all nationalities, cultures and religions. The development of character and sensitivity to global issues are important objectives, together with a firm academic foundation in all subjects. The school educates for the future, while maintaining the traditions imparted by our founders.
The school is many things to many people and over the years St. Michael’s has welcomed students from every corner of the globe. It is a common occurrence to have family members visiting the school to reminisce about their time, remembering old friends and events with fondness and pride.
The St. Michael’s Legacy: Something of which to be Proud
When we look at St. Michael’s today we can take an even greater pride when we
remember where it has come from. The first thing worthy of note is that St. Michael’s represents an British -Anglican educational tradition which extends back into the Meiji era. Without this, it is doubtful that St. Michael’s would ever have been founded.
The Early Years
An English – Anglican school has existed on the present Tor Road site since 1893. A goat shed once marked the spot where the Miss Lea Memorial building, constructed in 2006, now stands. Immediately to the north were paddy fields and a strawberry patch, whilst the view down to the harbour was unrestricted. The student body, all boys, consisted mainly of Japanese, including naturalized Japanese from the Bonin Islands with the school itself being known as the Kenko Gijiku. Teachers were assigned to the school from a British missionary organization, the Society for the propagation of the Gospel (SPG) with Mr Hughes as the first Headmaster, later replaced by Mr Walker, who remained with the school until its forced closure in 1941.
20th century growth
The early years of the 20th century were good ones for international school development. Rapid economic growth, buttressed by Japan’s industrialization contributed to an attendant growth in overseas commercial interests in Japan and demand for international education accordingly. Catering to this demand, Kenko Gijiku became the English Mission School (EMS) transitioning to a coeducational school, delivering an English language education and a curriculum designed to prepare young people for opportunities in the growing business environment in Japan and for entry to British universities. In the 1930s however, a less favourable wind began to blow with the rise of nationalism, foreign policy in the hands of the military and war clouds gathering on the horizon. Many families left, others were interned after war was declared, and the school itself was taken as enemy property and used for government purposes throughout the war years, until destroyed in a B.29 raid in early 1945.
The seeds of rebirth
It was among the ashes of the EMS that Miss Lea and Bishop Yashiro planted seeds of reincarnation. St. Michael’s International School arrived on the scene not a phoenix-like explosion of rebirth, but rather as a result of a careful process of planting and nurturing. From the makeshift tatami room classes held in Miss Lea’s house, to the shack that opened its creaking doors in April 1946 it was a battle for survival given the absence of equipment, funding and just about everything else.
The growth years and a heritage worth remembering
As Kobe began to emerge from the Pacific War equipment of any kind simply did not exist and St. Michael’s exercise books consisted of handfuls of unused receipt books, donated by the US military based nearby, along with some of their unused furniture. Thanks to the perseverance of all involved St. Michael’s was slowly able to establish its roots in a firmer foundation. Just as the EMS benefited from economic expansion in the early 20th century, St. Michael’s was able to do likewise in the second half of the century and secured the future of British education in Kobe. In 1970 St. Michael’s completed construction of the purpose built academic building which would survive the crisis of the 1995 Kobe Earthquake and still stands proudly today.
St. Michael’s International School, with it’s colorful history, has gone from strength to strength. A long standing connection to the UK, a string of international accreditations and a well established reputation for excellence. St. Michael’s continues to reflect the vision of our founders and remains the small school with the big heart.