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In Depth

The Craggy Hilltop “Dungeon” That is Asano Campus

Hiroyuki Sato
Associate Professor
Information Technology Center

The University of Tokyo’s Asano Campus is built on a small hill that was known as Mt. Asano in the distant past. Geographically, it is located on the easternmost edge of the Hongo terrace beyond which spreads eastward the lowland area of Yanesen (the Yanaka, Negishi and Sendagi districts). In the Edo period, the place where the Campus now stands was part of the second residence of the Mito Domain. Today, this fact can be found mentioned on campus only in the text engraved on the Mukaigaoka-no-ki Monument, which was designated as one of the Promenade of Knowledge* sites by the University (the left edge of Picture 1).

If you look up at the Asano Campus from below, you will immediately be able to tell that the Campus stands on the top of a hill (Pictures 2 and 3). Indeed, reaching the Campus requires an uphill climb in most cases (Picture 1 shows a slope from the Asano South Gate close to the Information Technology Center, while Picture 4 shows a slope leading to a staff apartment building). From these pictures, you may think that the Campus is covered with lush greenery. Actually, however, it is just overgrown with weeds and other natural vegetation.

  • The text and poem on the Mukaigaoka-no-ki Monument were engraved by none other than the author himself, Nariaki Tokugawa, the 9th lord of the Mito Clan

  • The Asano Campus as seen from the Nezu district

  • The Asano Campus as seen from the Ikenohata district

The Campus also features staff apartments, which are located at the foot of the hill and are still in use. The apartments are shaded by densely growing trees (Picture 5 shows a staff apartment building near the Faculty of Letters Annex). From the looks of things, we can surmise that trimming these trees would be a time-consuming task. At first glance, this Campus, without any fancy gardens or ginkgo trees, seems rather dull. In the summer, however, you may feel as if you are wandering through a mountain forest because of the thick growth of trees and other plant life. Pictures 2 through 5 will help you imagine what it’s like.

By virtue of being on the top of a hill, the Campus commands spectacular views of every direction. Once you reach the top, you can enjoy a good view like Picture 6, which shows a panorama of the Yanesen area as viewed from the Kumamoto Terrace. (The Kumamoto Terrace, which is on the rooftop of the Faculty of Engineering Building 9, was constructed to commemorate the relationship between the Faculty of Engineering and Kumamoto Prefecture. Picture 3 is taken in the direction of the Kumamoto Terrace from below. It looks like the view from up there would be great, don’t you think?)

  • The Asano Branch of the University Co-op is also located on the ground floor of the building in the center of the picture

  • The building on the right is a staff apartment building that is still in use

  • Kumamoto Terrace is also an ideal location for a BBQ

The one fact you must not neglect to mention when introducing the Asano Campus is that the Yayoi Historical Remains are located on the outer edge of the Campus. More precisely, they can be found on the periphery of the Faculty of Engineering Building 9. These remains are significant because they are the origin of the namesake of the prehistoric artifacts now known as “Yayoi pottery.” A monument to the discovery of the Yayoi pottery stands facing Kototoi-dori Avenue (Picture 7). I saw this monument for the first time when I was a student, and I was surprised to find out that Yayoi pottery was named after the pottery found on the Asano Campus. (Yayoi pottery is famous in Japan because it signifies the start of the Yayoi period, a Japanese historical age.)

Meanwhile, the Asano Campus has long been known as a place with a number of large-scale experimental facilities. Accordingly, the types of people who have had the experience of going in and out of the Asano Campus to work, research or study are limited to an extent, and perhaps they are rather few in number. Picture 8 shows an old guideboard that has survived to this day (I think that this guideboard is historically important because it shows facilities that do not exist anymore), from which you can discover buildings that were once on campus, including a facility housing large computers, a nuclear-related facility and a building for wind tunnel experiments. You can also see that some of the buildings that are currently in use, such as the Isotope Science Center, already existed when this guideboard was placed. The location where the Large Structure Testing Laboratory once stood is now home to the Takeda Building, which was constructed in 2003 (Picture 9). Installed in the underground floor of this building is a clean room that is said to be the "place with the cleanest air within the Yamanote Line circle." Doesn’t this kind of facility just perfectly match the “large-scale experimental facilities” image of the Asano Campus? Incidentally, a new piece of Yayoi pottery was unearthed during the construction of the Takeda Building. Amazing, huh?

  • The monument’s address is 2-11 Yayoi-cho, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo

  • There are a few old guideboards throughout the Asano Campus

  • The building is named after Mr. Ikuo Takeda, who gave a generous donation for its construction

From here, one structure that may catch your eye is the pair of domes that house reflecting telescopes on the roof of Faculty of Science Building 3 (Picture 10). I also want to mention the building housing the Cryogenic Research Center, which is old but still in active use. A tanker truck that carries liquid nitrogen sometimes goes in and out of the Cryogenic Research Center (Picture 11). The building now occupied by the Information Technology Center was constructed in the 1960s and first used for its predecessor, the Computer Center. Because by today’s standards they were granted a somewhat generous budget at the time, it seems that they were able to design the lobby in an elegant way that still manages to be in vogue even now, as shown in Picture 12.

As mentioned before, the Asano Campus stands on the top of Mt. Asano. The structures of the buildings on the Campus vividly tell of the difficulties planners went through during design and construction because of the scarcity of level ground. For instance, you can find ground-level exits on various floors of the campus buildings. Such layouts are perhaps reminiscent of those found in Japanese mountaintop hot spring resorts. When I was a student, I occasionally visited my friend in his laboratory on the underground floor of Faculty of Engineering Building 12. After entering the building from the main lobby on the ground floor, I was able to reach the ground from the exit on the underground floor without returning to the main lobby. It took me a while to get used to this layout, and I was really puzzled by it until then. Taking a closer look, you will see that there are many other similar buildings on the Asano Campus. In addition, outdoor staircases adjacent to buildings can be commonly seen around Campus. These outdoor staircases contribute to the dungeon-like atmosphere (Pictures 13, 14 and 15).

  • The reflecting telescopes housed in the domes on the roof of Faculty of Science Building 3 have apertures that are 30 cm in diameter

  • Large-scale tanks used for experiments can be found across the Asano Campus

  • The lobby of the Information Technology Center is characterized by circular ceiling accents

The staircase shown in Picture 13 stands between the Faculty of Engineering Building 12 and the Micro Analysis Laboratory Tandem Accelerator, and the one shown in Picture 14 is in the valley between the Faculty of Engineering Buildings 9 and 10. Picture 15 shows an outdoor staircase that, from a height equal to the ground level of the Faculty of Science Building 3 and the Information Technology Center, extends steeply downwards. As you can see, calling this area the “Asano Dungeon” is no exaggeration. This dungeon of a campus would be an exciting setting for a game of tag or hide-and-seek, don’t you think?

  • The Faculty of Engineering Building 12 also houses some laboratories of the Graduate School of Education

  • The Faculty of Engineering Building 10 contains laboratories related to electronic engineering and other such disciplines

  • The Information Technology Center has promoted research in information processing both outside and inside the University

*The Promenade of Knowledge was a project commemorating the 130th Anniversary of the foundation of the University of Tokyo, in which sites of mainly historical importance were selected to be transformed into spaces for relaxation.

**This article was originally printed in Tansei 33 (Japanese language only).