In the wake of the Second World War, the biggest challenge facing Keio was the rebuilding of its campuses, which sustained more damage than any other university in Japan during the war.
Keio University lost most of its facilities at Mita, Hiyoshi, and Shinanomachi campuses in the Tokyo air raids of April and May 1945. Even the Grand Lecture Hall at Mita, one of the largest halls in prewar Japan, was destroyed during the bombings, which meant that for quite some time after the war, nowhere on campus could accommodate large crowds of people. Both the entrance and graduation ceremonies had to be held outdoors, and in 1947, Emperor Showa attended the 90th anniversary of Keio's founding in an open-air ceremony held on Mita Campus under a marquee pitched on the quad amid the wartime rubble. To make matters worse, Hiyoshi Campus was commandeered by the Allied occupational forces until 1949, preventing reconstruction from proceeding as planned.
Nevertheless, hope for reconstruction gradually gained momentum through fundraising for a centennial commemorative project, which began in 1955 as Keio approached its 100th anniversary in 1958. However, with so many other school buildings and facilities to be rebuilt, it was impossible to commence construction on a structure large enough to serve as both an auditorium and gymnasium. However, once Hiyoshi was selected to be the venue for the centennial ceremony, construction on the Hiyoshi Commemorative Hall finally began in earnest. This hall was considered a significant symbol of Keio's reconstruction as this excerpt from an article in Mita Shimbun, the student newspaper at the time, indicates: "While it seems that construction has only recently begun due to lack of funding, once complete, this building is bound to usher in the post-war era at Keio."
Construction of the Hiyoshi Commemorative Hall progressed rapidly after the groundbreaking ceremony in March 1958, concluding just seven months later in October of the same year. The impressive steel-framed reinforced concrete structure capped the end of a ginkgo-lined promenade. With three floors above ground and one below, the scale of the building was massive at a total area of about 6,000 square meters. Other features included a sizeable ground-floor gymnasium and auditorium where the stage and the bleachers faced each other. The gymnasium could transform into a ceremonial venue with bleachers and seats lining a court that could hold as many as 10,000 people, including standing room. An auditorium of this size was unprecedented and the first of its kind in Japan.
The Keio University Centennial Ceremony was held at the Hiyoshi Commemorative Hall on November 8, 1958, and was attended by 4,654 people from Japan and overseas, including Emperor Showa, the presidents of the University of Tokyo and Waseda University, and by representatives from Harvard University. As the first modern educational institution in Japan to celebrate its centennial, there was a great deal of public interest, and even a commemorative postage stamp was issued in Keio’s honor. At the ceremony, Japan's Minister of Posts and Telecommunications presented the first printed sheet of these stamps to then Keio president Fukutaro Okui.
From 1959, the old hall served as the site of Keio's entrance and graduation ceremonies, in addition to many other events and celebrations. It was used for Keio University Athletic Association matches and physical activity courses at a time when such courses were compulsory. The World Wrestling Championships were also held there in 1961. But perhaps most students remember it best as the venue for annual health examinations. Since 1980, plenty of musicians have performed at the Hiyoshi Commemorative Hall on the eve of the Mita Festival, and the venue has long opened its doors to Keio alumni and their families as the main venue for both Mita-Kai Homecoming Day and the Post-50th Reunion for Keio Alumni, which celebrates alumni who graduated from Keio 51 years ago or more.
While there were plans to rebuild Hiyoshi Commemorative Hall as part of the 150th anniversary of Keio University's founding, reconstruction was postponed, with only a much-needed seismic retrofitting update to the building in 2009.
Plans resumed in October 2017, and after two and a half years of construction, the New Hiyoshi Commemorative Hall was completed on March 10, 2020. The new building has four floors above ground and two below with a total floor area of 12,500 square meters, more than twice that of its predecessor. Total capacity has also increased from around 6,500 to approximately 10,000 people, not including standing room. But it's not only the scale of the new building that is so impressive. There are new accessible viewing spaces for wheelchair users, and the facility boasts state-of-the-art heating, ventilation, and air conditioning to ensure visitor comfort.
The symmetrical, stark-white facade of the New Hiyoshi Commemorative Hall blends well with the First and Second Buildings, which stand adjacent at the top of the ginkgo-lined promenade. Together, these buildings act as a beautiful foil for the natural scenery of the four seasons on campus. This brand-new structure builds upon the storied history of the hall that came before it to write a new chapter in the annals of Hiyoshi Campus and Keio University.
*This article originally appeared in Stained Glass in the 2021 winter edition (No. 309) of Juku.