Sightseeing at Tokyo’s Universities – See what we Recommend!

  • You might think that sightseeing and universities don’t mix – right? Wrong! Despite the seriousness at which students in Japan study to enter these bastions of education, Tokyo’s universities offer the tourist a much more enjoyable experience. Many of Tokyo’s universities are blessed with interesting museums, architecture and natural parklands. Yet, sadly these places are often ignored by visitors. Hopefully this short list will change that. Focusing primarily on traditional universities, it is just a starting point. Each university has a history of hidden treasures – welcoming visitors to explore. So what are you waiting for?




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    The name Waseda is ceremonious with rugby, politics, and culture. One of the classic private universities of Tokyo and among top tier universities, its black and crimson colours have been seen on many sporting fields, and its alumni boast past Prime Ministers, cabinet officials, artists and business leaders.

    Waseda’s wonderfully laid out campus is one of the best in Tokyo. Unlike other universities, Waseda has maintained a traditional style of campus, incorporating museums, Gothic architecture and pleasant greenery. The university even has its own church and several European style cafes both inside the campus and surrounding it. If you get the opportunity, try and attend a Waseda rugby, football or baseball game and witness supporters sing Waseda’s famous anthem “miyako no sei hoku”! The atmosphere is spectacular.

    Waseda’s campus has many highlights, one of which is its Ōkuma Garden. Located near Waseda church, it was previously the residence of the Matsudaira clan. In 1884, Shigenobu Ōkuma, one of the founders of Waseda University, remodeled the garden and donated it to the university. The garden is magnificently maintained despite being well used by students – a wonderful testament to Waseda college goers. The garden features clusters of native bush-lined paths with statues and prayer sites. There is also a lovely Korean style decorated bell.

    Waseda campus has three interesting museums. The first is the History for Tomorrow, devoted to the university, its famous alumni and achievements in sports and Japanese history. Signage is in Japanese and English and the building is an excellent example of traditional architecture. Nearby is the Aizu Museum containing archaeological materials and artifacts.
    Most of the work was donated by Doctor Aizu Yaichi, a master potter and researcher for Waseda. The final museum is the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre, the only purely theatre-based museum in Japan. Named after the famous writer and Waseda teacher Tsubouchi Shōyō,it holds the first translated works of William Shakespeare as well as exhibits from traditional Kabuki and modern productions. Unfortunately most of the signage here is in Japanese.

    Waseda University Website

    Tokyo university : Hongō


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    No other university’s name has the impact of Tokyo University. The very name “Todai” raises heads and gasps of “amazing, you went to Todai – you must be a genius”. The university itself is steeped in history with a very impressive campus. Chartered by the Meiji government in 1877, it is one of the major Imperial Universities of Japan.

    Todai’s Hongō campus is large, with a series of beautiful parklands, traditional buildings, cloistered halls and an air of establishment. Yet it is not unaccustomed to controversy. Tokyo University was at the epicentre of the 1968/9 riots, when communist Zengakuren battled police over US military bases and socialism. These riots lead to deaths and sparked copy-cat protests throughout Tokyo.

    The Hongō campus occupies the former estate of the Maeda family, and can be accessed via metro or a short walk from Ueno Koen. One of the key features of the university is Sanshiro, a lovely pond inhabited by fish and turtles, and surrounded by a mini forest. The pond is named “Sanshiro” after the novel Sanshiro by Soseki Natsume which featured the University’s pond in the story. The university has other lovely natural areas, lawns to enjoy, statues of founders to admire, and a series of halls and cloisters to appreciate.


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    Tokyo University has two museums. The first is located on the Hongō campus near the magnificent 1827 red Akamon Gate – one of the symbols of The University of Tokyo. Tokyo University Museum has over three million materials in its collection, making it one of the largest university collections in Japan. Unfortunately, the style of the museum resembles a research centre rather than a museum. Signage in English is limited, and with most exhibits in plastic bags, it’s a little difficult to appreciate. However, the highlight is its carbon dating machine. Visitors can witness the machine and science in action, through a large see-through glass window.


    Tokyo University’s second museum, Intermediatheque, is located in the Kitte Building near Tokyo Station. This magnificent two story structure is amazing – a real showcase. This is the University’s primarily ‘public’ museum, and as such its layout and English signage is much more geared towards visitors. Opened in 2013, the museum is well designed and focuses on natural history as well as the history of Tokyo City.

    The natural history section has an array of skeletons, bones, maps and intricately drawn botanical books. The museums history section gives visitors an appreciation of Tokyo’s progression during the years. There is also has an area dedicated to the great scholars and scientists of Tokyo University, as well as their original writings and photographs. The museum is a testament to Tokyo University’s academic cultural heritage.

    Tokyo University Website


    Meiji University : Shin / Ochanomizu


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    Meiji University’s Ochanomizu campus, while steeped in tradition, has a very modern look and contains a lovely little two-part museum.
    The first outlines the history of the university with models of the campus and historic photographs.

    The second is split into three sections. One highlights Japan’s traditional commodities, including pottery and textiles. The second focuses on archaeological artifacts dating back to the Jōmon period. The final – which is a little less tasteful – outlines crime and punishment during the Tokugawa government and includes its own hangman model and torture devices!

    Meiji University Website

    Kokugakuin University

    Nestled within the heartland of modernity between Shibuya and Ebisu, Kokugakuin University is a private university with strong links to Ise Jingu. The museum perfectly marries Kokugakuin University’s own three-doctrine philosophy of inner awareness, nature and people.

    The Archaeological area features artifacts from ancient Japan, primarily from the Jōmon period, with clay work, pottery and bronze displays. The Shinto area has a variety of exhibits, including models of Shinto traditions, videos (in English) centering on key shrines in Japan and information about festivals and deities. The last area is dedicated to the history of Kokugakuin.


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    While most of this section in the museum is in Japanese, photographs of the founding masters, the original letter written by Prince Arisugawa Takehito outlining the university’s founding principles, and other key academic research, make for an interesting walk-through.

    Kokugakuin University Website

    As you can see, the opportunities found in Tokyo’s universities are endless. While universities might not be on the bucket list of most tourists, institutions such as Waseda, Kokugakuin, Meiji and Tokyo are fascinating, steeped in culture and history. They also offer a great opportunity to talk to locals, most of whom are keen to practice their English with a stranger. So if tourist filled Asakusa is not your style, then try something different and more relaxed and visit one of Tokyo’s universities. You will be pleasantly surprised!

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    Feature photo by Shota Nakasuji on Unsplash