|

Todai’s traditions reflected in Hongo neighborhood

by Satoko Kawasaki

Staff Photographer

Hongo, an area in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward, is synonymous with Japan’s top academic institution, the University of Tokyo.

Also known as Todai, the university, established in 1877 as the first national university in Japan, is not just a top institution but its green campus is open to the public on most days, providing a precious oasis to nearby residents and workers in the middle of the capital.

With the establishment of the university, Hongo has flourished with eateries, stores and residential buildings catering to students and faculty.

It is also a place where many writers have lived, including literary giants Soseki Natsume, Ichiyo Higuchi and Takuboku Ishikawa.

During the Meiji Era (1868-1912), Hongo had many boardinghouses for university students, boasting some 120 at one point.

Among them is Homeikan, which still stands near the main gate of the university. Built more than 100 years ago, Homeikan has transformed itself from a boardinghouse into a posh ryokan inn.

The inn’s traditional wooden exterior and warm, nostalgic atmosphere — a rare sight in the heart of Tokyo — is popular with both Japanese tourists and those from overseas.

Along the Kikuzaka slope near the subway Hongo 3-Chome Station, other wooden structures remain, although most disappeared during the war or due to aging.

Higuchi, a great novelist whose portrait is printed on ¥5,000 bills, lived in a house along the Kikuzaka. The house is gone, but a well said to be used by Higuchi can still be found in a quiet corner amid residences, giving a glimpse into the time when she lived.

The well, administered by Bunkyo Ward, can also still be used to draw water today.

Strolling around Hongo, the area is likely to bring back memories of a time almost forgotten.


Yasuda Auditorium stands tall on the University of Tokyo grounds in Bunkyo Ward. The campus is open to the public on most days.
Yasuda Auditorium stands tall on the University of Tokyo grounds in Bunkyo Ward. The campus is open to the public on most days. | SATOKO KAWASAKI
A mother and child play by a pond at the University of Tokyo. The green campus in Bunkyo Ward offers the public a chance to enjoy nature.
A mother and child play by a pond at the University of Tokyo. The green campus in Bunkyo Ward offers the public a chance to enjoy nature. | SATOKO KAWASAKI
The interior of the Homeikan inn serves up a nostalgic atmosphere.
The interior of the Homeikan inn serves up a nostalgic atmosphere. | SATOKO KAWASAKI
Homeikan, a
Homeikan, a ‘ryokan’ inn located near the main gate of the University of Tokyo, is one of the few remaining wooden structures from the Meiji Era in the Hongo area in Bunkyo Ward. | SATOKO KAWASAKI
A well in a residential area along the Kikuzaka slope was said to be used by novelist Ichiyo Higuchi during the Meiji Era (1868-1912).
A well in a residential area along the Kikuzaka slope was said to be used by novelist Ichiyo Higuchi during the Meiji Era (1868-1912). | SATOKO KAWASAKI

This section explores in photographs neighborhoods of interest.