TAKADANOBABA / WASEDA / MEJIRODAI
An area consisting of Takadanobaba Waseda and Mejirodai is located between Shinjuku, a new center of Tokyo, and Ikebukuro, a more traditional subcenter. The place name Takadanobaba meaning “a horse-riding place of Takada,” originated from a riding ground there in the early Edo period (1603-1867). The area is also famous as a students’ quarter thanks to the presence of Waseda University, one of the most prestigious private universities in Japan.
Fight at Takadanobaba
It is Horibe Yasube (1670-1703), a warrior who was one of 47 warriors of famous Chushingura story (Revenge of the Forty-Seven Ronin), that made the place famous.
On March 6, 1694, a duel occurred at Takadanobaba. Murakami Shoemon, a warrior of the Iyo-saijo domain, was defeated by Sugano Rokurozaemon. Shoemon, feeling spiteful, proposed a return fight to Rokurozaemon, who accepted. In the morning on the day of the grudge fight, Rokurozaemon, thinking he might be killed in the fight, stopped by Nakayama Yasube’s house (later Horibe Yasube) to say farewell on his way to the fight, as he and Yasube had exchanged bonds of uncle and nephew. However, Yasube was not there because he had drunk himself to sleep at another place. Rokurozaemon left a letter to him and went to Takadanobaba where he would duel a second time with Shoemon. In late morning, Yasube, who had sobered up and gone back home where he read the letter, was very alarmed and rushed to Takadanobaba from his home in Hacchobori, on the east side of Tokyo.
In fact, Shoemon intended to kill Rokurozaemon by underhanded means with his comrades, under the guise of a return duel. When Yasube arrived, Rokurozaemon was in trouble, surrounded by several warriors. Boldly backing Rokurozaemon up, Yasube reversed the situation. Thinking himself now at a disadvantage and fearing for his own life, Shoemon ran away. Yasube’s bold action gained renown and was told in stories and plays later. Horibe Yahe, a warrior of Ako domain, heard of Yasube and took Yasube into his family as his adopted son through marriage to a daughter. Eight years later, in 1702, the famous raid by 47 Ako warriors including Yasube occurred. Kokuraya at the corner of Natsume-zaka slope in Baba-shita is a liquor shop where Yasube stopped in on his way to the fight to fortify his spirit.
A black granite monument with an inscription indicating Natsume Soseki’s birthplace stands on the left side of Natsume-zaka slope near Waseda-ekimae junction (junction in front of Waseda station) where Kokuraya is located. Soseki, Japan’s most famous modern novelist, was born here in Yoko-machi, Ushigome Baba-shita, on January 5, 1867. With publication of “Wagahai wa neko de aru” (“I Am a Cat”) in 1905, he became a famous writer. While living in a rented house in Minami-cho, Waseda, he published “Sanshiro,” “Mon” (“The Gate”), “Kokoro,” “Michikusa” (“Grass on the Wayside”), and other famous novels one after another. He started to serialize the novel “Meian” (“Light and Darkness”) in May 1916, but he died of chronic gastric ulcer at the age of 50 before he finished the novel. Ruins of his old house became Soseki Park and his bust stands here.
Students’ quarter – Takadanobaba
Takadanobaba today has the atmosphere of a students’ quarter where large numbers of students, including those of Waseda University as well as many others from the area’s vocational and preparatory schools, enjoy after-school hours. BigBox, an imposing sports, amusement and shopping facility, and a large bookshop are located in front of the station, and there are many Japanese style izakaya pubs around the station area.
If you go east on Waseda-dori Street from Takadanobaba station, you will soon find Waseda University. The university has produced eminent figures in various fields. Especially, the Faculty of Literature has produced many famous writers – so-called “Waseda literature” – as well as outstanding scholars. There are various shops on both sides of Waseda-dori Street leading to the university. After crossing Meiji-dori Street, you will find second-hand bookstores where all kinds of used or old books in fields such as literature and history, as well as popular bunko paperbacks and hobby-related books can be found. Appearing in sight beyond the second-hand bookstore area is Ana Hachiman-gu Shrine. It is an old shrine built in the 11th century and known for spells to cure children’s tantrums. “Ichiyo-raifuku,” a charm given out to shrine visitors at the time of the winter solstice is famous as well.
With the shrine in view, turn left and there is Waseda University. The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum displays all kinds of exhibits and information about theater and its history, both in Japan and abroad. Okuma Kodo (lecture hall), named after the founder of the university, Okuma Shigenobu, is a symbol of the university. High-rise condominiums built as part of area redevelopment and RIHGA Royal Hotel Tokyo are located in and around Okuma Garden. The campus has been changing in appearance in recent years.
So-called “katsu-don” – pork cutlet on a bowl of rice, a unique blending of Japanese and Western elements – originated, interestingly, in Waseda. Toden Arakawa Line is the only streetcar remaining in Tokyo. It runs from Waseda to Minowabashi, which is about 12 km and offers passengers a variety of cityscapes from the center of the city to residential districts.
Go from Okuma Garden to Mejirodai, crossing Shin Mejiro-dori Street and the Kanda River. Shin-Edogawa Park is on the left, which is a park built on ruins of the Hosokawa residence. In the park there is a two-story wooden building and a circuit style garden with ponds against the backdrop of the hills of Mejirodai. Flowers such as plum tree blossoms, cherry blossoms and azaleas are worth seeing and make visitors forget the hustle and bustle of the big city. Eisei Bunko Museum, housing armor and swords and art works of the Hosokawa clan, is at the back of the park.
The Japanese garden restaurant Chinzan-so is close to the park. Chinzan-so offers weddings and good dining, and dining and accommodation are available at the adjacent Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo Chinzan-so. The hotel has a huge garden covering 66,000 square meters, in the past famous as a scenic beauty spot where camellias grew naturally, with a three-story tower and annexes. With cherry blossoms in spring, chirring of cicadas in chorus in summer and picturesque autumn leaves in autumn, it is surprising that there is such large oasis of nature in the big city.
Sekiguchi Basho-an, which is an old house haiku poet Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) lived in, is close to Chinzan-so. There is a steep slope leading from Basho-an to Mejirodai, Munatsuki-zaka slope. Going up the slope to Mejiro-dori Street, an eye-catching modern building, Tokyo St. Mary’s Cathedral, can be found. The 39.4 m high, towering cathedral is full of silence and anyone can stop in to pray or have a look around.
The Kanda River flows nearby. The area is noted as the place where the famous modern folk song “Kanda-gawa” was created in the 1980s. A row of cherry blossom trees along the river from Shin-Edogawa Park to Takato Bridge is breathtakingly beautiful in spring.
Walking around the Takadanobaba and Waseda areas is a short excursion, showing charms of Tokyo that are different from other places in the city. Why not stroll around to find “another Tokyo” if you have time?