Entering the oldest university in Japan from its Main Gate

Cultural resources in the Hongo Campus of the University of Tokyo - Part 1

By University of Tokyo

University of Tokyo

Fire Hydrant (artillery-projectile-shaped)Original Source: MATSUDA Akira

While walking in the University of Tokyo’s Hongo Campus, cultural resources can be found everywhere. Besides the monuments, buildings and art works created and installed after the founding of the university in 1877, there are a variety of materials left by people who were in Hongo in the premodern period. 

Some items have been intentionally preserved, and others have somehow remained with the passing of time. While a selected few are well-known, such as the Akamon Gate and the Yasuda Auditorium, most cultural resources are still quietly waiting to be noticed by people.

This story, consisting of 3 parts, uncovers some examples of the cultural resources that lie dormant in the Hongo Campus, whilst tracing the history behind them.

The rows of gingko treesOriginal Source: KIRIYA Shiene

Avenue of Ginkgo Trees

First to be introduced is the avenue lined with ginkgo trees that connects the university's Main Gate (Seimon) and the Yasuda Auditorium.

It may seem counterintuitive to think of trees as a “cultural" resource. However, as the university intentionally chose to plant deliberately selected ginkgo trees, they are an excellent "cultural" resource.

The avenue was created around 1906. When the University’s then-President Professor HAMAO Arata, who wanted “to create a solemn atmosphere that makes anyone straighten their collar as soon as they enter the Main Gate”, consulted Professor HONDA Seiroku of the College of Agriculture, they decided to plant ginkgos.

The rows of ginkgo trees around 1908Original Source: University of Tokyo Archives

This photo shows the avenue dated around 1906. By planting the trees according to their heights, where the taller ones are placed nearer to the Main Gate and shorter ones further away, the path lined with ginkgos appears longer than it is due to optical illusion.

Photo from the collection of: The University of Tokyo Archives [College of Law Graduation Photo Album (July 1908)]

The temporary Main Gate and the ginkgo trees around 1911Original Source: University of Tokyo Archives

Here you can see the avenue behind the provisional Main Gate (Kari-seimon), dated around 1911. 

Photo from the collection of: The University of Tokyo Archives [College of Law Graduation Photo Album (July 1911)]

The rows of ginkgo trees in autumnOriginal Source: MATSUDA Akira

Since then, the ginkgo trees have matured together with the university for over 100 years.

Although many university buildings were destroyed by fires of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, the rows of ginkgo trees continued to stand unchanged.

The avenue has now become a well-known spot loved by the community, and in 2011 it was conferred the Hometown Landscape Award (Furusato Keikan-shō) by the Bunkyo Ward.

Crossroads of Law and Letters

Let's stop at the crossroads midway along the Avenue of Ginkgo Trees and take a look at the surroundings.

Each corner is occupied by the Faculty of Law and Letters Building 1 (1935), the Faculty of Law and Letters Building 2 (1938), the Faculty of Law Building 3 (1927), and the Head Administration Office of Engineering (1925). 

The Yasuda Auditorium (1925), the General Library (1928), the Main Gate (1912), and the Faculty of Engineering Building 1 (1935) can also be seen at each of the ends of the paths lined with trees.

The Crossroads of Law and Letters around 1931Original Source: MATSUDA Akira

Since the construction of the provisional Main Gate in 1896, the area has been increasingly considered a symbolic space of the Hongo Campus through the development of the Avenue of Ginkgo Trees as well as the construction concept of the auditorium by the then-President HAMAO Arata and the reconstruction plan by Professor UCHIDA Yoshikazu following the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923).

Reconsturcted streetlights at the Crossroads of Law and LettersOriginal Source: KIRIYA Shiene

The streetlights that had been removed during the wartime, in the early 1940s, were restored based on historical documents.

The Crossroads of Law and LettersOriginal Source: KOGUCHI Aoi

In 1994, granite slabs and the streetlights restored based on their pre-war design were installed, adding to the charm of this historical landscape.

The Crossroads of Law and LettersOriginal Source: SUNEYA Kohei

To protect this landscape for future generations, the university's campus plan has designated the buildings around the crossroads as “Type I Preserved Buildings” and the area encompassing and characterised by it as a “Type I Historical Space” as well as “Landscape Axis”.

This crossroads, accentuated by historical Western architecture in all directions, is valuable not only to the Hongo Campus of the University of Tokyo, but also the whole of Japan.

Part 1 of our story ends here.

In Part 2 we introduce a Himalayan cedar tree that has an intriguing origin, and graffiti and posters which reveal unofficial histories of the university.

Credits: Story

Courtesy of:
University of Tokyo Archives
University of Tokyo, Faculty of Letters
University of Tokyo, Department of Cultural Resources Studies
Text written by:
- LEE Kah Hui (Avenue of Ginkgo Trees)
- SUNEYA Kohei (Crossroads of Law and Letters)
- OGANE Aki (The Himalayan Cedar)
- KIRIYA Shiene (Graffiti and Posters)
- SHIMIZU Akifumi (The Perimeter Wall)
- AOKI Ran (Remnants of the Kaga Domain Residence)
- MATSUMOTO Reiko (Sewer remains in Front of the General Library)
- KOGUCHI Aoi (The Mandala on the Library Plaza)
All belonged to the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Tokyo, at the time of writing.
Photo by:
English text proofread by:
LEE Kah Hui
Curated by:

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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