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In Depth

History of the University of Tokyo 1684-2014

A Research University Created by the Pooling of Multiple Academic Streams

The framework that would later produce the University of Tokyo came into existence through the restructuring and consolidation of Tokyo Kaisei School and Tokyo Medical School. The origin of the latter dates back to the Otamagaike Vaccination Clinic that was opened in the Kanda area in 1858. Meanwhile, Tokyo Kaisei School originated from the Kaiseisho (Institute for Western Studies) that was established by the Tokugawa shogunate in 1863. This institute was created as a result of the reorganization of its predecessor, the Bansho Shirabesho (Institute for the Study of Barbarian Books*), which had been founded in 1857.

The Institute for the Study of Barbarian Books is connected to Tenmonkata (the Astronomy Agency), which was formed in 1684. The Astronomy Agency was the entity authorized by the shogunate to compile calendars. Since its foundation, officers at the Astronomy Agency studied and researched Western knowledge, with a particular focus on the field of astronomy and the study of calendars. As the importance of Western knowledge increased, a section called Bansho Wage Goyo (the Western Books Translation Agency) was established within the Astronomy Agency. During the final years of the Tokugawa shogunate and the end of the Edo period, there was a sudden and drastic increase in demand for the translation of and research on Western books. To answer this demand, the Western Books Translation Agency developed into the Institute for the Study of Barbarian Books, an educational and research institute focusing on Western learning.

Two former officers at the Astronomy Agency, Genpo Mitsukuri and Seikei Sugita, became the first two instructors at the Institute for the Study of Barbarian Books. Also, Western books housed in the Astronomy Agency and the Momijiyama Library of Edo Castle were transferred to the Institute for the Study of Barbarian Books upon the Institute’s establishment. Thus, it can be said that the history of the University of Tokyo, through its predecessor Tokyo Kaisei School, can be traced back to the Astronomy Agency in terms of not only academic but also personal connections. Another noteworthy personal connection was Hiroyuki Kato, the first superintendent and second president of the University, who had previously been an instructor at the Institute for the Study of Barbarian Books.

History of the University of Tokyo 1684-2014
History of the University of Tokyo 1684-2014

* Here, the Bansho Shirabesho is rendered as the "Institute for the Study of Barbarian Books" as that is to how it is often historically referred. This name is also used to differentiate the organization from its immediate successor, the Yosho Shirabesho (the "Institute for the Study of Western Books").