If you slip through the arched passageway of the East Research Building on Mita Campus and follow the sloping path left to campus, you are greeted halfway by the pillars of Maboroshi no Mon (lit. "phantom gate"), Keio's former main gate. The gate dates back to the early Meiji period, just after Fukuzawa moved his school to Mita. At the time, the entrance facing Mita Dori Avenue was Keio's front door. Here we trace the origin and history behind this entrance, affectionately known as Maboroshi no Mon, which has kept a careful watch over Keio for more than 150 years. It has become an iconic symbol of the university, even becoming the title of a popular Keio school song.
Present-day Maboroshi no Mon
Changing with the Times: A Gate Reincarnated
In 1871, Keio University moved from Shiba Shinsenza to the former Mita residence of the Matsudaira family, who belonged to the Shimabara Domain in Nagasaki. Near the current location of the East Research Building once stood a black wooden gate, a remnant of the daimyo's mansion, which would become the main entrance to Keio University. This wooden gate was called the Front Gate (omotemon or seimon), while another leading to Tsunamachi on the west side of campus—the current location of Keio's Chutobu Junior High School—was called the Back Gate (uramon) or West Gate (nishimon).
Black wooden gate of the former Shimabara Domain in the Mid-Meiji Period (Photo courtesy of the Mita Media Center)
When Yukichi Fukuzawa passed away in February 1901, his funeral procession departed from his home at Mita Campus and passed through this Front Gate. They marched along Mita Dori Avenue to Akabane-bashi Bridge and Ichino-hashi Bridge before reaching his final resting place at Azabu-san Zenpuku-ji Temple. The gate was Keio's front door in every sense of the word.
In the summer of 1913, out of fears that the worn wooden entry would collapse, Keio replaced it with a Western-style wrought-iron gate with granite pillars. The gate's design was decidedly simple, to the point that it lacked any signs or markers, a possible tribute to the non-conformist attitude that has long defined Keio.
In November 1943, Keio held a send-off rally for students conscripted into the Imperial Japanese military amid the Second World War. Departing the Grand Lecture Hall—which would later be lost in the Tokyo air raids—Keio's student soldiers were bid farewell by their peers, exiting through the Front Gate before visiting Fukuzawa's grave at Azabu-san Zenpuku-ji Temple. During the war, there was one incident in which an Imperial Army truck damaged the gatepost of Maboroshi no Mon. When Buhei Haiso, head of the then Supplies Division, reported the accident to President Shinzo Koizumi, he was told that there was no need to refrain from holding the military accountable and instructed to demand payment for the damages.
After the gate was again damaged in an air raid in May 1945, it received restoration two years later, thanks in part to donations from the Yokosuka Mita-kai. Soon after the war, a gate marker appeared on the right gatepost bearing the inscription for Keio University (慶應義塾) in black ink. However, it was later stolen, and its whereabouts are currently unknown.
In 1959, as part of Keio University's 100th-anniversary celebrations, the university built the South School Building and the Front Gate you see today. While the former main entrance facing Mita Dori Avenue officially became the East Gate, it continued to be known by the moniker maboroshi no mon, or "phantom gate," among students.
School Song Holds Clues to Maboroshi no Mon Origins
Though legend has it that the name "Maboroshi no Mon" was given to the gate for its lack of signage, evidence suggests that its origins lie in a school song of the same name.
Keio students walk through Maboroshi no Mon in 1935
In the spring of 1933, the school song "Maboroshi no Mon" was composed in a collaboration between the Keio Wagner Society and the Cheerleading Club (now the Keio Cheer Group). According to the publication 75 Years of the Keio Cheer Group, the song originated with Keizo Yanai, then leader of the Cheerleading Club, which was officially established in 1933. He reportedly told his peers, "Cheerleading should not only be for sports. We should also compose a splendid tune to be sung as a farewell when we graduate and make for London or Paris."
Keio chose lyricist and Waseda graduate Hakushu Kitahara to pen the lyrics, but he turned down the offer due to his alma mater's rivalry with Keio. So, the job fell to poet and French literary scholar Daigaku Horiguchi, an alumnus of Keio, on the recommendation of Kosaku Yamada, who wrote the music. Thus the school song "Maboroshi no Mon" was born with the lyrics: "We stand on a hill of wisdom, past the phantom gate."
In later years, Horiguchi recalled that despite the gate's humble appearance, to him, it seemed like a soaring portal into the ideals and aspirations of youth, in keeping with Keio's non-conformist tradition. In other words, passing through its pillars was an ethereal rite of passage, which may explain why he chose to call it the "phantom gate." Horiguchi poured his heart and soul into his craft, going as far as praying for success at a Buddhist temple in Fukagawa. He even brought a small statue of Buddhist deity Acala to a Waseda-Keio Baseball Game, where his song was to be unveiled for the first time. Keio was down but turned the tables on Waseda and ended up winning the match. Even today, every time Keio wins the Tokyo Big6 Baseball League, "Maboroshi no Mon" is played during the victory parade when the procession arrives at the East Gate of Mita Campus.
More Than a Century of Maboroshi no Mon
When the East Research Building was completed in 2000, Maboroshi no Mon was relocated closer to Fukuzawa Park. If you pass under the arched passageway of the East Research Building, the pillars of the former main gate now greet you at the top of the cobblestone path. Just in front of it are umadome-ishi, large stones used by members of the former Shimabara Domain to tie up their horses, which were also moved here from their original locations. Part of the gate's iron grill now adorns the side of the bridge leading from campus to the third floor of the East Research Building.
Maboroshi no Mon and umadome-ishi horse-tying stones in 1998
The cobblestone path that leads from the East Research Building up to campus had long been closed due to the construction of the Keio Museum Commons. It was reopened in the spring of 2021, allowing visitors to pass through once again. Every spring, the cherry blossoms that line the slope bid farewell to the Keio graduates as they walk through Maboroshi no Mon and on to the next phase of their lives. It will undoubtedly continue to keep a watchful eye over Keio for generations of students to come.
*This article originally appeared in Stained Glass in the 2022 Winter edition (No. 313) of Juku.