A Townscape with Historical Charm
Hongo-dori Avenue in front of Hongo Campus.
The University of Tokyo was founded in October 1876 in Hongo, when the first department was established. During the Edo period (1603-1868), this area was the site of many daimyo residences, built for the lords from outlying regions. Little by little, the population increased, and with the construction of Denzuin Temple and Nezu Shrine, the community grew into a township. Hongo-dori, which runs past Akamon (Red Gate), is a portion of the Nakasendo route, one of the five historic highways established during the Edo period. In marked contrast to the more famous Tokaido route, which meanders along the coast, Nakasendo offered the inland connection between Tokyo’s Nihonbashi and Sanjo Ohashi in Kyoto. Accordingly, from very early on, the Hongo section of the historic highway was lined with the stores of merchants eager to promote trade.
To the south of Hongo lies the Shoheizaka Gakumonjo, an educational institution, which was run under the direct control of the Tokugawa government. The school, considered one of the forerunners of UTokyo, was housed in the building now commonly called Yushima Seido. Nearby is Yushima Tenmangu Shrine, famous nationwide for its plum blossoms. Northeast of Hongo lies the Edo period temple town of Yanaka, which features Kaneiji Temple, one of the largest and wealthiest temples in the Edo period. In the southeast corner is the Koishikawa Korakuen Garden, a well-preserved Edo period garden. A host of other historic landmarks, within easy distance for the casual stroller, add color to the scene and provide a rich backdrop to the neighborhood.
Historic landmarks near Hongo Campus.
The birthplace of modern Japanese literature
A map showing the literary landmarks
in the neighborhood.
Since the founding of UTokyo, Hongo has been at the center of Japan’s cultural development. Following close behind UTokyo’s lead, universities, both public and private, came clamoring for a foothold in this neighborhood, that soon became known as Tokyo’s most prestigious site for learning. From the Meiji through Taisho (1868-1926) periods, Japan’s most prominent authors, playwrights and poets came to live here, penning many of their masterpieces as they listened to the hum of student chatter that filled Hongo’s streets. Visitors are invited to enjoy a short cultural history walk by tracing the many literary monuments—denoting the homes and favorite spots of Japan’s literary giants such as Ogai Mori, Soseki Natsume, Shoyo Tsubouchi, Ichiyo Higuchi, Takuboku Ishikawa, Kenji Miyazawa and many more—that dot the neighborhood.
Bunkyo Ward, in which Hongo Campus is located, derives its name, meaning “capital of culture,” from such a background. Fortunately, the area was not seriously damaged in the air raids and fires that ravaged much of Tokyo during World War II. The history-laden school along with the many shrines and temples retaining the rich period atmosphere of Hongo remained relatively intact. Today, UTokyo stands proudly in Tokyo’s city center, exuding a culture of intellect.
Historic sites and monuments abound on the Hongo Campus grounds.
To learn about them, please check out the Highlights section in Explore our Campuses (Hongo).
Yanesen: Town of books and temples
Hasezan Kanouin is but one of many temples in Yanaka.
Turning to the north of campus.
Exit either through Nishikata Gate or Yayoi Gate and make your way east on Kototoi-dori street, which runs along the north border of Hongo Campus. A gentle downward slope will guide you directly to the Nezu subway station, where the road intersects Shinobazu Street. On the other side of this street is the famous Shinobazu Book Street, where the neighborhood teems with stores selling books, both new and old. A library and book café complete the picture of an idyllic student town.
This district, which has come to be known as “Yanesen,” derives its name from the three converging neighborhoods of Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi. The sights here include the lively, old-town atmosphere of Yanaka Ginza Street veering towards Nippori Station, as well as one of the few remaining temple towns in Tokyo.
Here, in the small alleyways, “under the temple eaves, lies the town of Yanaka” (Taito Board of Education). The description fittingly portrays the congregation of over 70 temples in this little town.
We recommend you take the time to venture into this town, just a stone’s throw from Hongo Campus.
Museums and cherry blossoms of Ueno Park
Cherry blossoms at Ueno Park
On the opposite side of Shinobazu Book Street, after the crossing with Nezu Station, is Japan’s “Bunka No Mori” (translated as the forest of culture), an area housing many of Japan’s renowned museums, as well as Ueno Park. The shortest route here from Hongo Campus is through Ikenohata Gate. You will find Ueno Park just across Shinobazu Street.
As you stroll by the lotuses of Shinobazu Pond and venture deeper into the park, a large water fountain serves to remind you that you’ve come to the right place to quench your thirst for knowledge, exploration and culture. Nearby, the National Museum of Western Art, the National Museum of Nature and Science, the Tokyo National Museum and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum offer a chance to see first-hand, national and international cultural properties through permanent and traveling exhibitions. Within the park, you will also find Ueno Zoo, Japan’s first zoo, as well as Kaneiji’s original five-storied pagoda. The park offers the chance to satisfy diverse cultural curiosities.
Those interested in architecture are also encouraged to examine the design of the museum buildings.
Ueno Park has been one of the most famous cherry blossom-viewing sites in the country since the Edo period. Every year, hordes of visitors gather during cherry blossom season, which runs from the end of March to mid-April, at what is Japan’s most peopled cherry blossom-viewing venue. The lit up night cherry blossoms has an atmosphere all its own.
The seasons through flowers
In Japan, every season offers unique garden views. Early to mid-spring (Feb.-Apr.) is the season for plum and cherry blossoms, as well as azalea and Japanese wisteria. From early to mid-summer (May-Aug.), iris and hydrangea add color to the garden, while fall (Sept.-Nov.) sees vivid colors at play. The Hongo Campus boasts many vantage points for seasonal flower-viewing within walking distance.
Our recommended tour starts with Koishikawa Korakuen Garden. Built initially as the inner garden to the residence for the Mito branch of the ruling Tokugawa family in 1629, Korakuen was designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty and a Special Historic Site under the Cultural Properties Protection Law of Japan. Within the garden, flowers in season blend seamlessly with ponds, rivers, hills and fields, offering a calming and elegant landscape, befitting the garden of a feudal lord.
The plum blossoms at Yushima Tenmangu Shrine and the azaleas at Nezu Shrine are also noted for their splendor, and festivals are held, respectively, when the flowers are in bloom.
For those who not only want to view but examine the flora, there is the Koishikawa Botanical Garden, the oldest such garden in the country. Its official name, Koishikawa Botanical Gardens, Graduate School of Science, the University of Tokyo, belies its function as an educational facility belonging to UTokyo. It is open to the public, and visitors will find plum and cherry trees, azaleas and camellias being grown there. Blossoms adorn Hongo during warmer seasons, bringing many visitors, but the fall is also busy with people eager to see the trees cloaked in their brilliant autumn attire.
But perhaps the most stunning of all autumn views in the area is the ginkgo tree-lined avenue on Hongo Campus.
Tokyo Dome and its vicinity
Next to Koishikawa Korakuen Garden is the giant Tokyo Dome, which serves as a stadium for hosting major sports tournaments, international conventions and concerts.
This franchise stadium for professional baseball team Yomiuri Giants can accommodate some 50,000 people and is the largest domed facility in Japan. Many international superstars choose Tokyo Dome to hold concerts. It is also known as a venue for major sports events, including American football and pro-wrestling.
Many shops and restaurants can be found around Tokyo Dome along with a hot springs facility and popular amusement park attractions such as a roller coaster and Ferris wheel. These attractions add to the role of the Dome to make it not only a stadium, but also an all-around rest, relaxation and entertainment theme park.
“Conbini” convenience stores
Nothing beats the everyday handiness of the “Conbini” convenience store. Handling everything from boxed lunches to drinks, stationery goods, magazines, event tickets and registration of delivery items, they continue to surprise us with novel ideas and services to bring further convenience to consumers.
A few dozen Conbini stores are dotted around Hongo Campus, operating 24/7. There are three actually on campus, too! We also found a ¥100 store (similar to dollar stores, where all goods are ¥100), selling an array of household goods, stationery and groceries.
When in need for more serious shopping, we suggest Hakusan-dori Avenue by Kasuga Station.
You’ll have a wide choice of shops, including an established international gourmet supermarket, a discount shop, a ¥100 store and even your everyday grocery store!
There are several banks, and on the other side of Hongo-dori Avenue, there’s a post office. The campus area also has a selection of medical facilities.
The closest stations are Hongo-sanchome Station on the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line and Toei Oedo Line, Yushima or Nezu Station on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line, Todaimae Station on the Tokyo Metro Namboku Line or Kasuga Station on the Toei Mita Line.
Both the subway and regular train stations are safe, low-crime areas. Although personal caution is always recommended, the crime rate is negligible, and concern for safety among residents and students is minimal. For outings using the subway, please see “Within a 10 km Radius of Central Tokyo.”
Disembark the train at Komaba-Todaimae Station, just two or three minutes from Shibuya on the local Keio Inokashira Line train. The main entrance to Komaba Campus is just down the steps at Todaiguchi exit. The convenience of this station deters students from straying off the school-to-station path, so there are not many student types strolling about, but a little exploring uncovers some interesting stops.
The world-famous scramble crosswalk of Shibuya is a direct road from Suiji Gate. As you exit the gate and begin your walk, you realize that Shibuya is actually a valley.
The main attractions near Komaba Campus
The northeast corner of the campus, from the Kamiyama-cho area to Yoyogi-Koen Station, has, in recent years, become a popular area dotted with tasty bistros and atmospheric bars. “Third wave” coffee stands serving specialty coffee have been increasing, and the area is becoming more and more popular with the sophisticated Shibuya youths.
Every weekend, Yoyogi Park buzzes with events such as flea markets and free concerts. International fairs like Asian gala events, with food stalls selling local foods and ingredients and performers entertaining the crowds with traditional arts are especially popular.
An atmosphere of calm
During the Meiji period, the Komaba Campus area housed the Komaba School of Agriculture, the precursor of UTokyo’s Faculty of Agriculture. Part of the site, between the Komaba I and Komaba II Campuses of the school, is Komaba Park, once the estate of diplomat Marquis Maeda. The central feature of the park is the English Tudor-style former residence of the Marquis, now an Important Cultural Property. Beside it, the Museum of Modern Japanese Literature satisfies the curiosity of those with a strong interest in the lives and works of major modern and contemporary Japanese writers. Book café Bundan, on the ground floor, replicates meals from favorite literary scenes.
In addition, to the south of the park is the Japan Folk Crafts Museum, exhibiting mainly traditional wares. The Toguri Museum of Art, located in nearby Shoto and specializing in ceramics, combines to make for an interesting visit.
On the road running along the north side of Komaba Campus, often called Koken-dori or Cosmos-dori, once stood the former Aeronautical Research Institute of the Tokyo Imperial University. These days, cafes and bread shops, a store offering house-roasted coffee, and gourmet food shops are beginning to once again fill the street front, all seeking to reclaim the limelight that the area once enjoyed.
In contrast, on the south side of campus, a more casual and young atmosphere—perhaps due to the nearby high schools—surrounds Todaimae Shopping Street and its vicinity. Informal set-menu eateries, Chinese restaurants and noodle shops are crowded with mainly local residents. A post office and convenience store are also nearby.
To the east of the shopping street, a lone bakery quietly beckons connoisseurs from far away, reminding us just how diverse and eclectic this college town remains.
Town of live gigs and entertainment, Shimokitazawa
Shibuya is only minutes away by train from Komaba-Todaimae Station, but we turn your attention now to the other direction. At our 1 km limit for this article, but just two stops or three minutes away, we find the little town of Shimokitazawa, which, typical of stations on private train lines, serves a smaller, quieter neighborhood. Between its 15 small- to mid-sized live music houses and 6 small performance theaters with a capacity of some 100 people, the lively community admits it can only comfortably accommodate up to about 600 visitors at a time. Every year, the Shimokitazawa Theater Festival in February and Shimokitazawa Music Festival in July test the limits of the town’s hospitality.
In addition, Shimokitazawa features two food markets, one mid-sized and the other city-scale, as well as a cosmetics store, drugstore, a bookstore of unique books, general store, and a host of stores selling second-hand goods, such as used clothing, used tools, used furniture and, of course, several antique shops.
University of Tokyo General Research
Building at Kashiwa-no-ha Station
The history of Kashiwa Campus, now home to some of the world’s most advanced laboratories and research centers as well as UTokyo’s Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, the School of Engineering and part of the School of Science, is still relatively young. The location was newly developed in the 1980s and 1990s, when institutions and even a ministry opted to apply for space on the grounds. Joining UTokyo at this time were Chiba University’s Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences, the National Research Institute of Police Science, the National Cancer Center and a section of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, seeking to establish a hub for learning and new business development.
With the nearest station, Kashiwanoha-campus Station on the Metropolitan Intercity Railway Tsukuba Express, more than a kilometer away, it could take as much as 25 minutes on foot, so we recommend a bus for this journey. The distinct atmosphere of an emerging new town surrounds the station area, where a large-scale commercial facility has already opened and construction still continues.
The UTokyo General Research Building is just beside the station.
“Kashiwa-no-ha Smart City,” being promoted by a major developer, is an interesting project near the station. The development attempts to manage the use of energy by connecting solar photovoltaic systems with power sources such as storage batteries for offices and other commercial facilities and establishing a Smart Center for energy conservation and CO2 reduction.
The Smart City project will eventually spread to include the entire district (3 million m2). In cooperation with the technological institutions in Kashiwa-no-ha, including UTokyo, plans are under way for a next generation “creative industrial base” with sights set on 2030.
The right environment for research
The other nearby station, Edogawadai Station on the Tobu Noda Line (Tobu Urban Park Line), is serviced by a street with several supermarkets and other stores selling home supplies. There are two bakeries and several unmanned vegetable stands stocked with products from nearby fields. Students and researchers cooking at home can shop for the freshest vegetables here.
The south side of the campus abuts the Chiba Prefectural Kashiwa-no-ha Park, a 45 ha expanse with grass fields, cherry blossom piazzas, wooded areas, a rose garden and flower beds, offering an outdoor haven with delightful views throughout the year. There is also a barbecue terrace.
Amid the frenetic buzz of an ever-growing city, Kashiwa-no-ha offers an oasis for research and study.