Station caters to educational elite

by Setsuko Kamiya

Located on the northeastern end of the Ueno plateau, JR Nishi-Nippori Station is the newest among the 29 stations along the JR Yamanote loop.

The station opened in 1971 to facilitate transfers between the train line and the subway network, a station for which opened in Nishi-Nippori two years earlier.

Although just 800 meters and 500 meters, respectively, from its two neighboring Yamanote stations (Tabata to the northwest and Nippori to the southeast), Nishi-Nippori Station was a boon to students at Kaisei Gakuen, an elite private school for boys located a minute away.

The school opened in 1871 on Dokanyama hill, which was known in the Edo Period (1602-1867) as one of the best sites for viewing cherry blossoms.

A number of high-profile politicians, business figures, scholars and novelists — including writer Shimazaki Toson (1872-1943) and poet Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) — are among the school’s alumni.

Today, Kaisei Gakuen’s junior high and high schools are recognized as among the most competitive and exclusive in the metropolitan area. For nearly two decades, the high school has been sending more graduates to the University of Tokyo — the nation’s No. 1 university — than any other high school in Japan.

Of the some 3,300 freshmen who entered Todai, as the university is known, this year, Kaisei Gakuen graduates account for 166, or roughly 5 percent.

While the area around the station has now lost much of its old charm, the cherry trees in Kaisei Gakuen’s schoolyard may stir those aspiring to enter the exclusive institution.

As the beginning of the school year in April coincides with the cherry blossom season, people often liken the success or failure of an entrance exam to the blooming and falling of cherry flowers. Those who aspire to enter the school must dream of the day they can stroll under the trees when in full bloom.

Cram schools catering to those seeking entry to the prestigious school have also flocked to the area.

Nichinoken Co., a cram school operator for elementary school students, recently opened a branch right next to Kaisei Gakuen.

“To many parents who eventually want their sons to enter Todai or other top universities, an environment where at least one in four students in the classroom enters Todai is an attraction,” Kazunari Kita, a Nichinoken official, said of Kaisei Gakuen.

Another official who is supervising Nichinoken’s Nishi-Nippori branch said, “The boys aspiring for Kaisei Gakuen say they are encouraged to see the school ground from the window of our school.”

Another cram school operator, Tokyo Gakuen, has been sending students to nearby Kaisei Gakuen every year since opening its Nishi-Nippori branch in 1973.

But competition to enter elite private schools is likely to intensify due to concerns about the Education Ministry’s new school curriculum, which will reduce public school students’ learning volume by 30 percent from April 2002, cram school officials said.