Campus Tour: University of Tokyo

Whenever I go visit new places, I always make it somewhat part of my agenda to visit a famous university campus in the area. It's a fascinating spot for people watching and it gives you a glimpse of the daily lives of students. Not to mention, most world-renowned academic institutions offer many chances to take photographs next to landmarks and architectural masterpieces. If you're nearby the Bunkyo Ward in Tokyo, why not drop by The University of Tokyo, the home of Japan's greatest intellectuals and academics. The University of Tokyo's main campus is quite large by Tokyo standards and you may find it difficult to walk through the entire grounds. For those who are tight on time or just want to see the most interesting things the campus has to offer, I've compiled a list of points of interests to make your tour through Japan's most prestigious university run smoothly.

1. Akamon (The Red Gate)

What better way to start your tour through "Todai" (colloquial nickname for the University of Tokyo) than to enter through the famed Red Gate? Visitors are always flocking around Akamon taking photos, and with its bright hues that makes it stand out amongst the other neutral toned buildings, it's easy to see why. I pass by the Red Gate almost everyday, yet it still manages to capture my gaze. The closest train station to Akamon is Hongo Sanchome which you can access through the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line or the Toei Oedo Line.

2. General Library

Home to the largest collection in Japan with over 8,000,000 books, the University of Tokyo is literally a goldmine of knowledge. The General Library in the Hongo campus is the most well known. Currently the library is undergoing renovation, but you can still appreciate the architecture from the outside. 

3. Sanshiro Pond 

A favorite place of mine to visit whenever I need a few minutes of solace between classes, Sanshiro Pond has been around since 1615. Along with the gardens that surround it, it was regarded as one of the most beautiful gardens in Edo. What makes this pond even more spectacular is the fact that its contours spell out the character for "kokoro" which means heart in Japanese. While its official name is Ikutoku-en Shinjiike, it is commonly referred to as Sanshiro Pond after Natsume Soseki's novel Sanshiro.

4. Yasuda Auditorium

There's something about clocktowers that complete the atmosphere of a higher academic institution. Almost every campus I've visited and even my undergraduate alma mater had one grace its campus. Always a popular spot for taking photos, the Yasuda Auditorium stands proudly at the heart of the campus as the symbol of the school. A lot of tourists like to do jumping shots around here so it's always funny to watch people attempting to jump high for a good shot. Here's a tip: Feeling kind of hungry? Look for a flight of stairs somewhere near the front of Yasuda Auditorium and start your descent down into the main dining hall. Here you can eat like an authentic Todai student with many meal sets to choose from--all for a reasonable price of less than 600 yen. 

5. The Statue of Hachiko

Wait a minute? The Statue of Hachiko? I thought that was in Shibuya. That's true but it's at The University of Tokyo where you'll find Hachiko finally reunited with his beloved master, who happened to be a professor at the university's Faculty of Agriculture. Those who are familiar with the story know that the faithful dog Hachi would wait for his master in front of Shibuya station everyday. Even after the professor's sudden death, Hachi waited everyday for 9 years. On the 80th death anniversary of Hachi, the statue of the loyal dog and his master together again was erected in March 2015. 

6. The University of Tokyo Communication Center

The glass building located next to Akamon is home to the university's communication center. Here they sell numerous products that have been developed by the university's science and technology  students that make for cool souvenirs. 

7. Wagashi Kurogi

Walking around the campus of Todai takes up a lot of energy (trust me, it takes over 10 minutes to dash from one class to another) and no doubt by the end of your tour, you'll probably want somewhere to rest and maybe enjoy a warm cup of tea. Sure there are many of cafes around campus like Starbucks and Doutor, but if you want to try something unique and Japanese, I recommend visiting Wagashi Kurogi. The confectionary shop sells Japanese style desserts or "wagashi" but they also offer sit-in desserts. The great thing about wagashi is that they change with the seasons, meaning there's always something new to enjoy. Plus they're so so pretty that you'll probably want to take a couple of Snapchats before you eat. In the sweltering Tokyo summers, you can cool down on "kakigori"shaved ice desserts that look as delicious as they taste. Be ready to eat with your mouth and your eyes!

Final tips:

The campus is HUGE (for Tokyo standards) as I've stressed throughout, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and if you're visiting in the summer, it's recommended you bring mosquito repellant as there are many greenery in the campus. The closest stations to the main campus are Todai-mae on the Namboku Line or Hongo-Sanchome on the Marunouchi Line and Toei Oedo Line. If you're feeling lost, don't hesitate to ask students for directions. As Todai students, they should be able to converse in English or if not, there are many international students that attend as well. Just be sure to ask those who don't look like they're rushing to their class because their professor over-extended the lecture time--aka, me. Hope you enjoy the campus tour and feel free to share your experiences in the comments! 

Midori Nishida