In early June 2017, I visited my family and friends in Tokyo, Japan. An additional purpose of this trip was to present a paper on theatre education in the United States at the Japanese Society for Theatre Research Conference.
This event is held on the campus of Keio University located in Hiyoshi, Yokohama, about 12 miles west of the central Tokyo, my alma mater. During my stay, I also visited the Tsukiji Fish Market, one of the most famous fish markets in the world. This essay is about Keio University.
Keio Gijuku University and Fukuzawa Yukichi
Spending two days on the Hiyoshi campus of Keio University made me nostalgic. Many decades ago, I entered the gate of the Hiyoshi campus of Keio University as a freshman in the Department of English and American literature.
The Hiyoshi campus offers mostly general education courses. Students normally spend only one or two years there before moving to another campus of the university called Mita, located in Tokyo. I took languages courses and general education courses in philosophy, sociology, and geography.
Like many college students, however, I was interested not only in classes. In Japan, extracurricular activities are very important for students from elementary school to college because they provide a way to make friends and develop an interest in arts, sports, and sciences. Most students also join student associations and organizations. The first day of the school year in April is considered recruitment day for those organizations.
The English Speaking Society (ESS) successfully recruited me along with many others, and I joined this club on the first day. The ESS was and still is one of the most popular student organizations.
Many colleges in Japan have a similar organization, though they don’t all call it ESS. It’s known for providing opportunities to use and improve English and also develop connections with successful graduates working in corporations. This combination—English and job connections—is attractive because it could be advantageous at the time of job applications.
The ESS broken down into four sections: debate, discussion, public speaking, and drama. I joined the debate section and participated in regional team and group debate competitions. Even after I moved to the Mita campus, the ESS remained an important part of my college life. The friendships I made there have remained after graduation. To this day, every time I visit Tokyo, a group of us from the ESS days get together for a meal.
However, as a student, I was oblivious to my university and its history. At the time I was not interested in history and culture of Japan. It was only after spending 30 years in the United States, I found myself curious about the place and history of my alma mater. I even felt guilty about not paying attention to the university — including all of the classes I skipped — when I was a student.
It is without a doubt the four years at Keio University have shaped who I am today. So I got up early in the morning to explore the campus and its neighborhood.
Over the years, the campus I knew has been remodeled and there are many interesting and beautiful new buildings. The student dining hall, where we, the members of the ESS, used to gather between classes — or even during classes — has a new clean look. Its menu is more diverse and sophisticated and there are even more kinds of rāmen available. Even the students look cleaner and more self-assured than when I was there.
The building named “Raiōsha,” where the conference was held, has a marvelous performance space that overlooks, through large glass windows, a lawn with stone structures. A sign there explains that “raiōsha,” means “a place for coming and going.” This is derived from a poem by the founder of the university Fukuzawa Yukichi. The poem celebrates the beauty of gathering, developing friendship, and conversation, which I believe is the core of this university.
The founder of Keio University was Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901) who was one of the most influential people during the tumultuous period of Japan’s transition from a feudal to a modern society.
Born to a lower Samurai class in northern Kyushu (the southern island of Japan) he had little prospect for advancment in a military career, and so chose to be a scholar. He went to Nagasaki in Kyushu, one of only few cities that allowed people to have contact with foreigners. There, Fukuzawa studied Western military techniques until he moved to Osaka where he studied Dutch. The rangaku, or Dutch studies, was popular because they had been Japan’s only foreign contact over 300 years, from the sixteenth century through the arrival of Commodore Perry in July 1853.
In 1858 Fukuzawa moved to Edo (now Tokyo) as an instructor at a ranjuku, a Dutch School run by the Nakatsu clan, which hailed from Fukuzawa’s hometown located in the Tsukiji district in Tokyo.
While in Tokyo, Fukuzawa realized that English would become more important than Dutch. In 1860 Fukuzawa joined the first diplomatic mission to the United States and sailed to San Francisco in the famous ship Kanrin Maru. One of the gifts he brought back from the United States was a Webster’s Dictionary, which he used to improve his English.
Then in 1862, Fukuzawa again sailed, this time, to Europe, as one of the two translators in a 40-man diplomatic delegation.
After returning to Japan, he wrote “Conditions in the West,” describing different aspects of Western society. Fukuzawa also introduced Japan to Western economic systems, architecture, arts, and literature in his writings.
In 1868, Fukuzawa changed the name of the Dutch school where he taught to Keio Gijuku. Keio is the Japanese name for the era that spans 1865-1868, under the reign of the Komei Emperor; the name Gijuku is derived from cram schools that prepared people for exams in Imperial Japan.
From 1868 through his death in 1901, Fukuzawa devoted himself to the advancement of the university and education through writing, teaching, and lecturing.
Fukuzawa is part of everyday life of the Japanese because his portrait is printed on the 10,000-yen bill,which is equivalent to $90 but comparable to Benjamin Franklin on the current American $100 bill. While all other figures appearing on Japanese banknotes are changed every time a redesign of the bills is released, Fukuzawa has always remained on the 10,000-yen note.
The university’s symbol is two pens crossing and was inspired from a phrase by the English novelist and playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) which states:“the pen is mightier than the sword.” Whenever I write, I remember my alma mater’s symbol.