The more you know about it, the more you will love it!?

This article is a collection of less-known facts about the University of Tokyo and sports. In fact, the University of Tokyo has a close relationship with sports.

Long-awaited overall victory in Nanadai-sen

The championship flag

The championship flag. The President has declared that a parade will be held on campus if the university wins the competition. Will that happen?

The Nanadai-sen is an annual national athletic meet of the seven former imperial universities, Hokkaido University, Tohoku University, the University of Tokyo, Nagoya University, Kyoto University, Osaka University and Kyushu University, and was formerly known as the Nanatei-sen. It is hosted in rotation by each university. Athletes compete in approximately 30 sports disciplines, and the university with the highest overall score is the winner. The University of Tokyo won the 51st Seven Universities Athletic Meet (2012) hosted by Kyushu University. On the last day of the competition, the University of Tokyo was trailing the leader, Kyoto University, by five points but proceeded to win the last event in the program, table tennis (men), and overtook Kyoto University, which dropped to 6th place, thus securing overall victory for the University of Tokyo for the first time in 17 years. In 2012, the University of Tokyo also won the competitions in Shorinji Kempo, karate (men), lacrosse (women) badminton (women), fencing, gymnastics, and water polo. The 52nd Seven Universities Athletic Meet was hosted by Osaka University in mid-September. The University came fourth in an intense competition that was won by Tohoku University.

The University of Tokyo: the driving force behind football in its early days

The name of the University of Tokyo often comes up in reviews of the early history of football in Japan. The Light Blue football team of Tokyo Imperial University won its first overall victory in the 11th Emperors Cup All Japan Football Championship in 1931, and proceeded to win the 26th Championship in 1946 and the 29th Championship in 1949. The University of Tokyo Association Football Club Alumni Team has many prominent members. Two graduates of the University of Tokyo have served as coaches of the national football team: Shigemaru Takekoshi and Shunichiro Okano. Takekoshi served as a coach a total of four times while Okano also became the ninth President of the Japan Football Association (JFA). The fourth JFA President Yuzuru Nozu, who invited Dettmar Cramer, the renowned “father” of modern Japanese football, to Japan was also an alumnus of the University of Tokyo Association Football Club. Three players from the University of Tokyo participated in Japan’s squad for the 1936 Olympic football tournament, and contributed to the historic win against Sweden that was later called the “miracle of Berlin.” The light-blue jerseys of the University of Tokyo Association Football Club embody honorable traditions.

Ichiko, the official mascot of the Athletic Foundation of the University of Tokyo


Ichiko featured in Undokai-ho, the newsletter of the Athletic Foundation of the University of Tokyo

The mascot dog Ichiko was born through a process of open solicitation of ideas across the university on the occasion of hosting the 48th Seven Universities Athletic Meet (Nanadai-sen) in 2009. The visual characteristics of the dog include one ear standing up, a square hat that gives him an academic air and a gingko leaf-shaped badge hanging from his neck. The name of the mascot is said to come from the name of Dai-ichi Koto Chugakko (Ichiko for short), the First Higher Middle School in Tokyo, which is the forerunner of the College of General Education (present-day College of Arts and Sciences). Initially, the mascot was tentatively named Nanako (after Nanadai-sen), but today it is familiar across the university as Ichiko. The university co-op store sells correction tape, tote bags, T-shirts and various other products bearing the image of Ichiko. Such products are also available for purchase over the Internet. The University of Tokyo dog is not a spy who snoops around for secrets, but an endearing yuru-kyara (short for yurui kyarakutaa, literally translated as “loose character”). Maybe Ichiko’s rival is Bussei-ken, the mascot dog of the University of Tokyo Institute for Solid State Physics (Bussei Kenkyujo in Japanese) in Kashiwa.

Students without previous experience bolster the activities of university sports clubs

Table 1: Percent of members with previous experience in the total number of members

Lacrosse Team0%(0/86 people)
Bicycle Club0%(0/57 people)
Taido Club0%(0/33 people)
Equestrian Team0%(0/26 people)
Support Club Cheerleaders0%(0/22 people)
Bowling Club0%(0/22 people)
Bicycle Club0%(0/17 people)
Bodybuilding and Weight Lifting Club0%(0/13 people)
Boxing Club0%(0/11 people)
Wrestling Club0%(0/9 people)
Rowing Club5.7%(3/53 people)
Soaring Club7.1%(1/14 people)
American Football Club9.8%(8/82 people)
Golf Club10.1%(4/37 people)
Ice Hockey Club11.5%(3/26 people)
Archery Team12.1%(4/33 people)

Table 1 lists the number of students affiliated with sports clubs and teams of the University of Tokyo and the number of amateurs (students with no previous experience in the respective sports) (Source: Undokai-ho No. 61). The table shows that there are 10 clubs and teams (the Lacrosse Team, Taido Club, Boxing Club, Wrestling Club, Cheerleaders Club, Bicycle Club, Automobile Club, Equestrian Team, Bowling Club, and Bodybuilding and Weight Lifting Club), in which there are no members with previous experience. In most cases, students come from high schools without club activities in the respective sports. Clubs that practice popular sports boast a large number of experienced members (43 out of 44 students in the Baseball Club, 19 out of 21 students in the Basketball Club, etc.), but most University of Tokyo clubs and teams are composed entirely of amateurs with no previous experience. In other words, there are many clubs that provide an opportunity for their members to start from an equal position, regardless of their experience. The University of Tokyo is a great place for students to make a spectacular debut in sports club activities.

The University of Tokyo has competed in Hakone Ekiden

Earlier we introduced Sho Matsumoto, the athlete who competed in the 81st Tokyo-Hakone Round-Trip College Ekiden Race (Hakone Ekiden) in 2005 as a member of the Inter-University Athletic Union of Kanto, but, in fact, the University of Tokyo has participated in the Hakone Ekiden with its own team once before. This happened not in the early days of the event but fairly recently, only some 30 years ago, in the 60th Hakone Ekiden in 1984. The team of the University of Tokyo came 7th in the preliminary race and finished 17th overall, after Hosei University with a time of 12 hours 15 minutes and 8 seconds. The winner of the race that year was Waseda University. Meiji University finished 18th, and Keio University finished 20th. In 1984, the event celebrated its 60th anniversary and to commemorate the occasion not the top six but the best 11 teams in the preliminary competition qualified for the race. Nevertheless, the participation of the University of Tokyo team was a groundbreaking achievement.

Graduate school athlete makes it into the Guinness Book of World Records

The 2012 Tanigawa Mari Half Marathon.

Hiroyuki Takada came fifth in the 2012 Tanigawa Mari Half Marathon. The second-ranked athlete that year was Yuki Kawauchi.

At the Tokyo Marathon held in February 2013, Hiroyuki Takada, a then-student of the Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, finished the race in 3 hours, 43 minutes and 33 seconds with a 20-pound (approximately 9kg) weight on his back, setting a Guinness World Record. Busy preparing his master’s thesis, Takada used to pack his backpack with heavy books and materials and run to and back from school. This routine eventually improved his record by more than five minutes. In spring 2013, he took a job at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and today screens building approval applications at the Tama Metropolitan Construction Guidance Office of the Bureau of Urban Development. “My work on weekdays invigorates me, and on weekends I run to my heart’s content in the city or the mountains,” says Takada. “I got accustomed to my new work environment, so going forward I intend to face the challenge of competing in various events.” Let’s support this running civil servant.

Full marathon hosted by the University of Tokyo

PR material for last year’s Izu-Heda Marathon.

PR material for last year’s Izu-Heda Marathon. The schedule for this year’s event will be announced soon.

Every year, the University of Tokyo and the Athletic Foundation of the University of Tokyo host the Izu-Heda Marathon in Numazu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, where the Foundation’s Heda Dormitory is located. A Komaba - Hongo marathon was the forerunner of the race. Later, that marathon was changed to a race down the Izu Peninsula. Since 1976, the event has been held with its present course. It consists of a full marathon and a half marathon. The full marathon starts and finishes at the Heda Dormitory and the course runs through the beautiful natural scenery of Western Izu. Not only University of Tokyo students, but local residents as well can compete in the race, which is supported by Numazu City. The affordable participation fee, which is further reduced for Numazu City residents, is another attractive feature of the event. The maximum elevation difference of approximately 800m makes the race harder than most other full marathons, but it also boosts the exhilaration of those who succeed in finishing it.

University of Tokyo student was the first Japanese Olympian

Yahiko Mishima was a Japanese athlete who competed as a short-distance runner in the 1912 Summer Olympics held in Stockholm. He was a student of the Tokyo Imperial University. Together with marathon runner Shizo Kanakuri, Mishima was the first ever Olympic competitor from Japan. He competed in the qualification rounds for the 100m, 200m, and 400m races but was eliminated. Mishima brought back to Japan spiked running shoes and other sports equipment, and introduced the crouch start technique, thus contributing to the development of Japanese athletes’ competitiveness. University of Tokyo students from the Rowing Club and the Association Football Club participated in the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin. A crew from the Rowing Club competed in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. When will we see the next Olympian from the University of Tokyo?

Athletes who graduated from other universities support the sports activities of the University of Tokyo

Team members practice under the zealous guidance of Naohiko Tobita.

Team members practice under the zealous guidance of Naohiko Tobita.

The Baseball Club is not the only University of Tokyo club that benefits from guidance provided by top athletes who have graduated from other universities. Tomotsuna Inoue, an athlete who gained much popularity with his challenge to play in the US National Football League (NFL), is a graduate of Waseda University but provides the Kendo Team with guidance for physical training. Another prominent athlete who at one time oversaw the physical training of the team is cyclist Tomohiro Nagatsuka, a silver medalist from the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Naohiko Tobita, a longtime member of Japan’s national hockey team who has also played in overseas hockey leagues, is a graduate of Tenri University but provides zealous guidance to the University of Tokyo Hockey Team. The time is ripe for each club to demonstrate their gratitude through their competition performance.

The University of Tokyo is the birthplace of Japanese baseball

Commemorative statue of a hand

The captain of the baseball club back then served as a model for the hand statue. A world map is carved on the ball.

The birthplace of baseball in Japan is Daiichi Daigaku-ku Dai-ichiban Chugakko (First Junior High School), a forerunner of the University of Tokyo. The beginning of Japanese baseball was in 1872 when Horace Wilson, an American teacher, taught his students to play baseball. This happened in the area of Kanda-Nishikicho in Chiyoda Ward, where Gakushi-Kaikan is located. Today the site is marked with a commemorative statue of a hand clutching a ball. Shiki Masaoka, the haiku poet who first came up with a combination of characters that literally meant “field ball,” was a graduate of Todai Yobimon, a preparatory school affiliated with the University of Tokyo, which later became the First Higher Middle School (Dai-ichi Koto Chugakko). He used this combination as his pen name, Noboru, which was a complex bilingual pun as the characters can be transliterated into no boru (“no” ? field and “boru” ? ball). Many of the baseball terms he translated into Japanese are still widely used. Another University of Tokyo alumnus (Kanae Chuman, member of the baseball club of the First Higher Middle School) first translated the word “baseball” as “yakyu” (“field ball”), using the same characters. The first international baseball match was held with the participation of the University of Tokyo (represented by the baseball club of the First Higher Middle School). The patron god of baseball is unlikely to forget our contribution to the sports.

University of Tokyo student comes up with a judo technique that conquers the world

There is an original rule in the judo competitions in Nanadai-sen that a “Mate” (wait) call to temporarily stop a bout is not issued even if one of the rivals is deadlocked in a “ne-waza” (ground techniques), and contestants use various inventive moves within this rule. One such secret technique was born in 1991 at the University of Tokyo Judo Club. Its name is “Shibayama Tate.” The technique created by Osamu Shibayama, then a third-year student, was to hunch over the head of the face-down opponent, slip one hand from under his side to grasp the opposite collar, clutch his obi (belt) with the other hand, then proceed to roll the opponent over and pin him to the mat. Hiroyuki Akimoto used that technique to win a gold medal in the 2010 World Judo Championships. In three out of six matches, he won by ippon using the Shibayama Tate technique. The success of the gold medalist testifies to the efforts of the University of Tokyo Judo Club members who relentlessly work to develop new techniques.