Also known as Todai, University of Tokyo is famously known among Japan as the most prestigious university in the nation and also in Asia. Approximately 145,000 people visited its school festival this past May, and many tourists from around the country, or even outside the country, visit the campus year-round. So what’s there to see in University of Tokyo? What are some of the must-see spots? Here’s an easy guide to grasp the essence of the campus.
About the University of Tokyo
University of Tokyo was established in 1877 as the first modern university in Japan. Its history goes back to the Edo period, when several government schools were combined to form its origin.
The University of Tokyo adopts a liberal arts education system, in which all undergraduate freshmen and sophomores are placed in the Faculty of Arts and Science located in the Komaba Campus, where they have some freedom in taking whatever classes that may interest them. After the first two years, the students officially move on to the faculty of their choice, mostly located in the Hongo Campus.
The university has several campus areas. However the main areas, as mentioned above, are the Komaba Campus and the Hongo Campus as the vast majority of undergraduates are placed there. Other campus areas are mainly for research purposes.
In this article, I will be introducing the Hongo area—it has the oldest history of all the campuses, thus having many symbolic attractions of the university.
What to see (On Campus)
The Red Gate, or Akamon, is probably the most famous symbol of the University of Tokyo. The location of the Hongo campus was formerly the residence of a feudal lord, and the Akamon was built in 1827 (Edo Period) to congratulate a marriage between the daughter of a shogun (Tokugawa clan) and the lord (Maeda clan of Kaga). Akamon is named as an important cultural property.
Located in the heart of the campus, Yasuda Auditorium is also an important symbol of the university. The Yasuda Auditorium was completed in 1925 thanks to donations from Zenjiro Yasuda. It was originally constructed in order to create a grand building to welcome the emperor. It was also the symbol of the Todai Riot in 1968-1969, where over 700 students were arrested for taking part in a violent student movement. The auditorium was restored after the riot from 1988 until 1994, and underwent construction again from 2012 to 2014 for earthquake-resistance.
The Sanshiro pond surprisingly dates back to 1615. Its formal name is Ikutoku-in Shinji-ike, and back in the Edo period, it was known to be one of the best gardens of the capitol. Now, it is commonly known as Sanshiro-ike, as it was depicted in the novel “Sanshiro” by Soseki Natsume.
The Statue of Hachiko
You may have heard of the Statue of Hachiko near Shibuya Station. This statue is almost like a sequel to the famous statue in Shibuya. The statues depict a story of a loyal dog named Hachi, who waited every day for his master in front of Shibuya Station—for nine years after the master died from an emergency. Hachi’s master happened to be a professor of the Faculty of Agriculture at Todai. The campus of the faculty used to be located near Shibuya, but has now moved to the Hongo area. The statue was built to let poor Hachi meet his master once again, at last.
The Second Co-op Shop
If you are looking for souvenirs, this is the place to go. Goods with official logos, from postcards to sweatshirts can be purchased here, along with a few snacks.
The Communication Center
Turning left after entering the Akamon, you will see a small, glass building called the Communication Center. Here is an excellent place to find unique souvenirs. The Communication Center sells products that have been developed by the science/technology crew at Todai.
Where to Eat (On Campus)
So, it’s nearly lunch time and you’re looking for a place to eat. The Hongo Campus holds many different types of places to eat, from cafeterias to formal ristorante. Below are just a few selections:
If you are into some school cafeteria food, then try the Chuo Cafeteria, or the Central Cafeteria. It is the biggest cafeteria within the Hongo Campus, and although it is hard to find, it is located right below the circular grass area in front of the Yasuda Auditorium. Go to the Yasuda Auditorium, and look for a stairway that leads down—that should get you to the right place. Just be mindful of the students who must eat during their lunch break; many students are in a hurry, and the last thing they want is a group of tourists making a line. Avoid 12:10-13:00 on the weekdays. The staff may ask for you to leave if you cannot prove that you are a student during this time.
Located right near the Akamon, is the UT Café, a nice little café with a terrace. The capacity is not too large, but the food they serve is quite yummy. They have a pasta lunch set available, so if you are interested, you may go for that.
This is more of a Japanese sweets shop more than a lunch place. Featured in many gourmet magazines, this café will probably be the most interesting for those gourmet-seekers. The highlight menu of Kurogi is its giant Kaki-gori, or shaved ice. They update the menu each season with a limited flavor. The soft, downy touch of the ice on your tongue is sure to melt you. The only problem with Kurogi is that it can be extremely hard to find. You may think the unique building can’t be that hard to miss, but it is located among a jungle of research facilities. Ask for Kasuga-mon (Kasuga Gate), the nearest gate (it’s right next to it).
Above were only a few spots that you could explore within the Hongo Campus. However, there are many more interesting spots with alarming stories of history lying beneath. Besides, Hongo Campus can be quite difficult to self-navigate. If you are interested, you can sign up for an officially guided tour held every Saturday and Sunday. Reservations go pretty quickly, so hurry to be sure.
Hope you enjoy!