Though it’s one of Tokyo’s busiest school districts, the area around JR Yoyogi Station lacks the lively atmosphere that marks other teenage haunts.
|Students file out of the north exit of JR Yoyogi Station in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward on their way to their respective cram schools.|
The hundreds of students who crowd the station’s exits around 5 p.m. each day look gloomy and serious, having spent the first half of the day at their respective high schools and facing hours more of study at one of the area’s cram schools.
Fukio Matsuda, a founding member of Yoyogi Seminar, the country’s largest cram facility, said the area has since the 1950s focused on its development as an academic district. Its convenient location and relatively cheap real estate prices are the prime reasons cram and other special schools are attracted to the area, though these haven’t done much for the area’s economy or character, he said.
“You can call Yoyogi a mecca for cram schools, not only because it hosts dozens of them but also because it has almost nothing remarkable besides them,” Matsuda said.
The name Yoyogi, which means “a tree that has lasted for generations,” can be traced back to the 16th century, when Yoyogi Village first appears in a historical document.
It is commonly believed the name originates from a fir tree on the grounds of Meiji Shrine that has been preserved by locals for centuries.
As the village covered extended areas, “Yoyogi” pops up sporadically in the names of parks, train stations, schools and shrines across Shibuya Ward.
It’s readily apparent that Yoyogi has not been as fortunate as neighbors Harajuku and Shinjuku in terms of business and commercial prosperity. Locals describe it as an “undeveloped village between giants.”
That it is cut off by green spaces like Yoyogi Park, the precinct of Meiji Shrine and Shinjuku Gyoen Garden, and dissected by the surface-level tracks of the JR and Odakyu railway lines gave birth to another nickname: “the isolated island within Tokyo.”
The numerous cram schools in the area do not necessarily foster the financial well-being of local shops, either.
Isamu Yamada, who owns a local ironware shop, complains that students spend little here because they do not have enough money or time for shopping.
“Old residents here still call this town the village of Yoyogi to ridicule our stagnant economy,” he said.
The situation appeared ready to change when Shinjuku began expanding its sphere of influence southward. Among recent projects, new Shinjuku landmark Takashimaya Times Square was built in 1996, and NTT DoCoMo Inc. is now building a 240-meter-tall headquarters building just north of Yoyogi Station.
But although the DoCoMo building and the south end of Times Square are much closer to Yoyogi than Shinjuku, their builders prefer to say they lie in “southern Shinjuku.”
“In the near future, this area may become prosperous, but only as a part of of Shinjuku,” said a local realtor. “But, I think Yoyogi will last forever in the memory of those who once went to crams schools here as the place where they spent the toughest period of their adolescence.”