2021 marks 150 years since Keio University moved from its first home in the wetlands of Shiba Shinsenza to higher ground at Mita. A quick search for "Mita" in the Kojien, Japan's most authoritative dictionary, brings the following definition:
1. A district in Minato, Tokyo, located southwest of Shiba Park and home to Keio University.
2. Another name for Keio University.
Mita is no longer just a place name; it has become synonymous with Keio University. Here we look back on the history of Keio University's relocation to Mita amid the turmoil of the Meiji Restoration.
It was in 1858 that Yukichi Fukuzawa first opened his school for Dutch studies at the residence of the Nakatsu Domain in Tsukiji Teppozu, which is thought to have been located near the present-day St. Luke's International Hospital in Akashi-cho, Chuo, Tokyo. He traveled back and forth between Tsukiji Teppozu and Shiba Shinsenza (near present-day Hamamatsucho in Minato, Tokyo) for over a decade to teach at his small private school.
By the time he moved his school to Shinsenza, Japan was in the throes of the Meiji Restoration, and Fukuzawa used this as an opportunity to renew the organizational structure and teaching methodologies at his small school. And so, Keio Gijuku made a fresh start as a pioneer of private education in Japan. In fact, the history of Keio University parallels the history of Japan's modern era, named after the Keio era that immediately preceded the Meiji Restoration.
So why the sudden move to Mita only a few years later?
It all started in 1870 when Fukuzawa contracted typhus, who noted that something stunk in the marshy air of Shinsenza and that he wanted to move elsewhere, according to his autobiography.
Fortunately, Fukuzawa fully recovered from his illness, but with an ever-increasing number of prospective students, his school soon outgrew its home at Shinsenza. And so, a plan to relocate was born. After some deliberation, the residence of the Shimabara Domain at Mita was selected as the front runner. At the time, Tokyo Bay was clearly visible from the top of Mita, which set it apart as a top candidate. Fukuzawa described it as "high, dry ground with good views of the sea."
With the establishment of the Meiji government in 1868, feudal lords were reduced to one official Tokyo residence each, the rest being seized by the government. Around the same time, the newly formed Tokyo municipality approached Fukuzawa to investigate policing systems in foreign countries to modernize its law enforcement as a Western-style police force. Fukuzawa then struck a deal with Tokyo, which officially issued a loan of the Shimabara Domain's residence of nearly 40,000m2 in November of the same year. The land was subsequently sold to Keio, which relocated in March 1871. The site was 30 times larger and the building five times bigger than that of Shinsenza, making Keio Gijuku the largest private school at the time. And as Japan's first modern private school, the number of students and faculty also continued to grow. Some of Fukuzawa's most famous works, such as An Encouragement of Learning and An Outline of a Theory of Civilization, were published one after the other after the relocation to Mita. For the last 30 years of his life, Fukuzawa lived at Mita, mapping out the education at Keio and continuing to write prolifically. And so, the word "Mita" came to represent Keio, the intellectual center of a newly reborn and modern Japan.
In 1909, Keio Gijuku's founding day was officially established as April 23, which according to one theory, was a date converted from the lunar calendar to the Gregorian calendar we use today.
The Keio Gijuku Gakuho published in May 1909 states: "Keio will dedicate April 23 (March 23 on the lunar calendar) as the school's foundation day every year henceforth to commemorate the school’s move from Shiba Shinsenza to its present location at Mita 2-chome. Classes shall be canceled, and a variety of commemorative events will be held. The Kishukusha Dormitory Festival will be held on April 23 every year." The Jiji Shinpo a leading newspaper founded by Fukuzawa, also reported on the establishment of Keio University's opening anniversary on April 22, with accompanying festivities that included lectures, exhibitions, and a garden party.
These documents are a testament to the fact that the relocation to Mita was recognized as a milestone in the formation of Keio University, a giant leap forward for the school at the time.
In the early Meiji period, when Keio first relocated to Mita, former residences of feudal lords were being transformed into homes for the peerage, politicians, and other members of the wealthy class. Mita is said to have been a quiet place both day and night, a hilltop with an abundance of nature and an uninhibited view of the sea.
But after the relocation of Keio to Mita, bookstores, restaurants, stationery shops, clothes shops, and other businesses popped up along the first and second blocks of Mita (present-day Mita 2-chome), and the area gradually transformed into the equivalent of a college town, with the bustling Mita Dori Avenue at its heart.
The first Keio-Waseda Baseball Match was held in November 1903 after the opening of Tsunamachi Sports Ground nearby, marking a milestone in the history of baseball in Japan. The following year, the Keio Gijuku-mae stop was built on a tram line along Mita Dori Avenue, which became a popular mode of transportation for local residents and students alike.
Today, high-rise office buildings line Mita Dori Avenue. The area is also home to Keio Chutobu junior high school and Keio girls senior high school and dotted with foreign embassies, shrines, and temples. There is an undeniable charm to the area around Mita, whose history has paralleled that of Keio University over the past 150 years.
*This article originally appeared in Stained Glass in the 2021 summer edition (No. 311) of Juku.