Waseda and Keio: rivals to the core

by Masami Ito

It was Oct. 22, 1933, at the Jingu Baseball Stadium. The winner of the day’s So-Kei (Waseda vs. Keio) match would lift the trophy for the year.

The teams were neck-and-neck, when Keio sent Shigeru Mizuhara to field third base. Waseda went wild with fury, as earlier in the match Mizuhara had repeatedly — and often successfully — challenged the umpire’s calls.

As the fielder took his position, the Waseda crowd began throwing garbage at him. Mizuhara tossed the trash aside — all save a half-eaten apple, which he threw right back at the Waseda supporters. This angered the fans, and when Keio’s two-run home run swept his team to victory shortly after, they poured onto the field in fury.

This so-called Apple Incident — which escalated into a riot of 6,000 angry fans that it took 200 police officers to quell — is the worst clash on record between Japan’s two leading private universities, Waseda and Keio.

Though not as well-known abroad as the rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge, or the Ivy League schools of Harvard and Yale, that between Keio (founded in 1858) and Waseda (1882) has been raging for almost a century.

The latest academic rankings compiled by cram schools put the University of Tokyo at the top, with Kyoto University following as a close second. Keio and Waseda come in joint third.

Despite their identical academic ranking, though, Waseda and Keio have totally different images. It is often said that Keio is forward-looking and up-to-the-minute, whereas Waseda is plain and inakakusai (countrified).

“When I was a student, the tuition for Keio was more expensive than that of Waseda,” explains Toru Sakuwa, a 1981 graduate of Keio and the first chief editor of the Keio Sports Shimbun. “So many people living outside of Tokyo chose Waseda, which resulted in that inaka image. You could say that there was a disparity in wealth. For example, Golf is an expensive hobby and while there were 30 golf clubs at Keio, Waseda had only one.”

Kenji Nakamoto, a 1983 graduate of Waseda and former editor of the Waseda Sports Shimbun, gracefully agrees: “While Keio students hung out in fancy restaurants and bars, we at Waseda ate and drank at yatai food stalls, sitting on beer cartons.”

Thus far, Waseda may seem to be no competition for cool Keio. However, one thing fires up students of both institutions — sports. The most heated So-Kei (or Kei-So, as Keio students call it) rivalry is in baseball, but there are matches for almost every sport, including rugby, regatta, American football and soccer.

The So-Kei matches are big events for both universities. “It’s almost like a tradition. You get into Waseda, you go to a So-Kei baseball match,” says Naoko Kusakabe, a 2000 Waseda graduate.

Part of the ritual is the all-night camp-out before the first game. People bring enormous quantities of alcohol — ostensibly to encourage good spirits and get people cheering for their side — but by dawn there usually are a lot of ambulances on the scene. And by the beginning of the game, the campers that made it through the night are generally too drunk to care.

After the last of the four matches, the winning team and its supporters parade from Jingu Stadium toward their traditional destinations: Hibiya Park for Keio or Shinjuku Komagegki-jo for Waseda. The victors then proceed to get drunk, and sing their school songs and chants putting down their opponents. They also jump into the park fountains — or, at least, Keio fans do. The fountain at Shinjuku Komageki-jo was drained a number of years ago, so Waseda students have to content themselves with climbing up the scaffolding around it, much to the displeasure of university administrators and the police.

But competition on the playing field should be merely one form of healthy rivalry between two top schools, not the only form. The So-Kei competition perhaps takes things too far — if a weekend match is cancelled, for example, a new game is played on Monday, for which faculty at both universities usually cancel classes.

For two such universities, whose graduates fill the highest positions in public life (former prime ministers Yoshiro Mori and Keizo Obuchi are from Waseda, former prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and the current prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, are from Keio) should academic rivalry be taking the backseat? After all, who knows, either school may well be educating the future prime minister right now.

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