Mita Campus is home to the students of four undergraduate faculties: Letters, Economics, Law (including Political Science majors), and Business and Commerce, plus six graduate schools in those same fields with the addition of Human Relations and the Law School. College is a critical period for personal growth, both physically and mentally, so we decided to investigate student food culture at Mita and what fuels Keio students’ mighty appetites.
Founded in 1937, “Yamashoku” is the name of the oldest cafeteria on Mita Campus, and this year marks its 80th anniversary. Amid the extensive menu, the eponymous Yamashoku Curry stands out as the go-to meal not only for students, but for faculty, staff, and graduate students as well.
"There isn’t anyone who has attended lectures at Mita Campus that hasn’t eaten the curry here,” laughs Tadao Tanimura, the third-generation manager of Yamashoku. So what is the secret to being so well loved? We talked with Tanimura to find out more.
“It could be because we make the curry from scratch. We don’t use curry roux, so our curry has that homemade feel. It’s an original taste that you can only get here. Plus our portions are big and we make sure you get your money’s worth.”
Tanimura has stood in the Yamashoku kitchen for more than 60 years—since 1955—filling the stomachs of students, faculty, and staff. Mita Campus would not be what it is today without recipes like his pork cutlet curry, which has always been a popular choice for students that need to fill up for a long day of classes.
“We fry the cutlets fresh, so they’re extra crispy. Actually, everything on the menu is made right here in our kitchen. We get all of our meat and fish directly from the market and prepare it here.”
That dedication to home cooking must be what draws so many people to Yamashoku. And for some of them it doesn’t end with graduation—many graduates come back for more. In fact, the university began selling a ready-made curry pack as Keio Official Goods in 2015 to let people enjoy the taste of Yamashoku at home.
“It’s proven very popular with alumni. Some people even send it to their former classmates who are living overseas.”
The packaging includes the tagline “Tastes Like Friday,” a phrase that supposedly originated among frequent Yamashoku goers.
“We prepare the curry a day in advance and let it sit overnight. Adding a little more roux to it each day helps to thicken it up. The curry is at its thickest on Friday, which is where the expression comes from.”
Tanimura, who has on occasion attended the weddings of Keio graduates, says that he gets noticed even without his uniform. Yamashoku curry, already steeped in history, is sure to continue amassing cherished anecdotes as it fills the stomachs and hearts of countless students and graduates.
We also spoke with some students who were eating at Yamashoku. (Faculties/years are that at the time of interview)
“I like the sukiyaki beef bowl,” said Naohiro Kawatani, a third-year student in the Faculty of Business and Commerce. Yamashoku’s homemade taste seems to be hitting the spot.
Tadahiro Yamao, in his second year at the Graduate School of Economics, told us that he comes for the unique flavors and large portions. As a Yamashoku curry fan, he says, “When I’m in the mood, I can easily come three times a week.”
Hiroshi Yokoyama, a J.D. candidate at Keio Law School, chimed in, “I’m here at least twice a week.” A bold eater, he further customizes Yamashoku’s original curry with a hefty helping of parmesan cheese.
Whether between classes, after club activities, or during a seminar meeting, everyone knows that Yamashoku is a must-stop spot when you’re at Mita Campus.
Even before the recent ramen boom, “Ramen Jiro” was a holy land for diehard ramen fans, who wrap lines outside the iconic triangular Ramen Jiro building, located just seconds from Mita Campus. Jiro owner Takumi Yamada reminisces on his longstanding relationship with Keio.
“I originally opened Ramen Jiro near Toritsu Daigaku Station. Many of my most loyal customers were Keio students studying at Hiyoshi Campus, but I had to think about quitting the ramen business after the location had to close. Just around that time, one of my Keio regulars told me about a vacant shop next to Mita Campus. Keio students were the ones who brought me to Mita.”
But that wasn't the end of Yamada's relationship with the university.
“The Keio Cheer Group started coming around the time that professional baseball player and Keio alumnus Daisuke Yamashita started to blow up. I was close with the Keio Jukusei Shinbun, the student-run college newspaper, too. I used to do all kinds of pranks with students then.”
Even as Ramen Jiro became a permanent fixture for students at Mita Campus, it faced another crisis in the early 1990s. And again, both students and alumni alike rose up to defend the ramen shop.
“When I was forced to move again due to road widening, there were talks of relocating to the student cafeteria. They even collected signatures on a petition to the university! [laughs] Even the university administration seriously considered our plea, but eventually the decision to move was postponed. We were at a loss about what to do when students from the Keio Judo Club told us about an owner in the area who was closing shop. The students helped us get through the paperwork, and we've been here ever since. Other students from the Keio Cheer Group and athletics association even came to help out after my wife was involved in a traffic accident around that same time.”
Students helped influence the completion of a unique taste that has earned Ramen Jiro a cult following.
“My ramen originally had a distinctively Japanese taste, but students demanded a thicker and richer broth. I arrived at the current flavor after years of research. To satisfy student demands, I had to develop my own flavor, searching for an original combination of noodles and soy sauce. I’ve also had to nearly double the original amount of noodles.” [laughs]
Since then, the taste of Ramen Jiro has spread nationwide thanks to Yamada’s apprentices. Now anyone who knows anything about ramen knows Ramen Jiro, whose fans are affectionately called “Jirorians.” When a new Ramen Jiro opened in Kyoto this April, ramen fans from around the country thronged to the new branch on opening day. What is it that makes people crave Jiro so much? The secret to its popularity may lie not only in its flavor but in owner Yamada’s personality.
Keio alumnus and former college sumo wrestler Taiga Iizuka (Faculty of Policy Management, 2015), who now works in the food industry, remembers his time working here while enjoying a long overdue bowl of Jiro ramen.
“I started working here part-time when I was in my second year of college. The money was good, and it was a lot like having another club to go to after school. Part-time jobs were usually given to Keio Cheer Group, athletes, and—for some reason—students from the Faculty of Letters. We had fun, and I have countless stories from my time here. There was always something happening here.” [laughs]
He says that everyone at Ramen Jiro—customers, part-timers, and regular staff—treated each other like one big family.
“When I interviewed for my current job, the interviewers were surprised to learn that I had worked at Ramen Jiro. It’s still a popular topic today when I’m out doing sales. To me, the ties I made at Ramen Jiro are simply priceless. Even now, many alumni including myself come to check on Mr. Yamada. It’s become a kind of custom for Keio students and alumni to come give him an update on their lives. Ramen Jiro is an essential, if not mandatory, course in our Keio education.”
Yamashoku and Ramen Jiro—two enduring tastes of Keio life that remain with students throughout the years.