1992 / 3月
Laura Li /photos courtesy of Huang Lili /tr. by Peter Eberly
Waseda--one of Japan's four top universities--means "morning rice paddy" in Japanese. The name derives from the fields the school was built in as well as symbolizing its ties to the countryside and its roots in the common people. Today, following a century of urban development, Waseda has found itself right in the midst of downtown Tokyo. And as its traditional "grassroots" spirit diminishes, Waseda University has been striving to blaze a new trail for itself.
In late fall and early winter Tokyo is swept by chilly winds, but Waseda University is caught up in a welter of heated activities. It all starts off with the Waseda Festival, the anniversary of the school's founding, in early November. During a short three or four days, the campus is packed with over 100,000 people. In order to cut back on the crowds, the price of admission is a flat 400 yen (NT$80 or US$3.20) to students and outsiders alike. In addition to campus festivities and official events, the university's student clubs, of which there are nearly 1,000, pull out all the stops in putting on programs that have been a year in planning--laser music shows, symphony concerts, Noh drama, stage plays, kendo sword demonstrations, photography exhibitions and so on and so forth--adding further color and excitement to the festivities.
Shortly afterwards, in early December, comes the Wa-Mei Battle (the rugby game between Waseda and Meiji University), which has a history of 68 years and which, along with the Wa-Kei Battle in June (the baseball game between Waseda and Keio University), symbolizes a traditional friendly rivalry. The day before tickets go on sale, enthusiastic students line up overnight, bringing along tents and packs of instant noodles to brave the wind and snow. Student tickets cost 1,000 yen each, but by game time they may have passed through several hands and climbed in price to ten times that. More than 60,000 spectators squeeze into the stadium to watch the game, and programs and memorabilia are on sale at every bookstore on campus.
Defiance and Integrity: The excitement and agitation have been more intense and protracted than ever this year. The Law on Peace-Keeping Operations of the United Nations (the law about the Japanese Self-Defense Forces being dispatched overseas), which has stirred considerable controversy because of concerns about the revival of militarism, has become a target of heated protest by several student organizations. Just inside campus, a student is shouting into a microphone for his fellow students to stand up and be counted, and the slogan "Oppose the New World Order," which appears all over campus, became one of the themes of the Waseda Festival this year. Not far from the main entrance, students lie in tents on the cold, hard ground, taking part in a relay fast. When the law was forced through the lower house of the Japanese Diet in late October, the students' protests proved ineffective, but the fasting will continue and their valiant efforts were broadcast around the world. In fact, their protest against a "wicked law" is a renewed embodiment of the traditional Waseda spirit.
That spirit, people at Waseda clearly and proudly point out, is one of opposition, defiance, rebelliousness and keeping close to the grassroots. Indeed, this point alone highlights its unique position among the country's four major universities: Tokyo and Kyoto are state-owned "schools for officials," rigidly conservative, while Keio, which is private like Waseda, is a place for the pampered elite, out of touch with the general public. Only Waseda, which prides itself on being "a school for the rural poor from around the country," can grasp the pulse of the people and speak with their voice.
Katsumi Ito, a professor in the school of economics and political science who graduated from Waseda and is president of the Foreign Students Association, recalls what it was like when he entered the school 46 years ago: "There were a lot of kids from the country who were dressed poorly and acted like real hicks. I remember it was popular to smoke Golden Bat cigarettes, which were just seven sen a pack, but if you smoked those at Keio, you'd be laughed at. They smoked high-class Cherry cigarettes, which were 18 sen a pack!"
Even though most of his high school classmates went to Keio, Professor Ito didn't envy them. Like many other young people back then he was set on going to Waseda because he admired its opposition, grassroots character. It was a symbol for them of individuality and the rejection of ossified values.
Catching Up to the West: Waseda's traditional spirit is inseparably bound up with its founder--Shigenobu Okuma.
Okuma, who is hailed as the architect of modern Japan, came from a remote area himself, Saga Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, and went his own way ever since he was a youth, being expelled from school for encouraging his fellow students to oppose the antiquated neo-Confucian education of the time. A worshiper of Western democracy, he opened an English-language school in Nagasaki and then parlayed his linguistic and diplomatic skills into a career in the government. Promoted by the Meiji Emperor to minister of finance in 1870, he put his world view with its admiration of the West into practice, laying the foundation for the country's capitalist economy and modernization during a time known to Japanese historians as the Okuma administration.
He was forced to step down in 1881, when he was at the peak of his power, for advocating the immediate adoption of the British parliamentary style of government. The next year, he set up the Kaishinto, or Constitutional Reform Party, and founded Waseda University, which was then called Tokyo Semmon Gakko. Because of his defiant personality, the school was suspected of being a "hotbed of radicals" and met with considerable surveillance and pressure from the government. The traditional spirit of opposition and resistance that Waseda is known for originates from that time.
Given Okuma's fervor for the West, it is hardly surprising that the Tokyo Semmon Gakko was noted as being the first academic institution in Japan offering an English-style education, striving for academic freedom and campus democracy, emphasizing "a mixture of Eastern and Western civilizations." It had four departments to begin with--political science, law, English and physical science. Four years later, the physics department was dropped and departments were added in English political science and English law, indicating something of the reverence in which Okuma held the West.
"Academic research at Waseda has a special feature, too--it's practical," Professor Ito says, pointing to another belief on which the school was founded in order to "enrich the nation, strengthen the military and catch up to the West." "The best department in the school of commerce is accounting; the school of science and engineering is famous for its department of architecture; and the most productive department in the school of social sciences is applied psychology. . . . "
Out of Touch with the Grassroots? Owing largely to Okuma's personal charisma, Waseda was unusual and received a great deal of attention when it was founded. Even though he was out of favor for a time, his talents were so extraordinary that the Meiji Emperor, a vigorous and effective ruler, eventually called him back into government service, appointing him minister of foreign affairs in 1896. In 1898 (the 31st year of the Meiji era), he formed the first party government in the history of Japan. It was short lived, but he formed a second cabinet in 1914 (the third year of the Taisho era). When the First World War broke out, it was his government that declared war on Germany in the name of Japan.
The revival of Okuma's political fortunes did nothing to diminish the school's heritage of opposition and resistance. The most famous instance involved the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, which was forced through the Japanese Diet, giving rise to condemnations from all quarters. Three hundred twenty-eight Waseda professors, led by the university's president at the time, issued a joint declaration demanding the resignation of the cabinet and the dissolution of the Diet.
That struggle and the protest over the law on U.N. peace-keeping operations thirty years later show many points of similarity. Comparing the two, however, many older alumni can't help sighing that "the Waseda spirit of defiance is fading away!" Back then faculty and students were united in spirit and the whole university was in turmoil, while today only a few students fast in cold, lonely tents. Most of the other students walk by without really seeing them or cast an apathetic glance implying, "What's the use?"
"The megaphones may be cranked up loud, but there are never more than 50 people at the demonstrations!" says an American political science student who studied in South Korea for four years, speaking with the clear vision of an outsider, free of the historical baggage of a true Wasedan.
The Waseda Old School Tie: The fading away of the "spirit of defiance" may be related to changes in the composition of the student body.
"The biggest change in Waseda over the past 40 years is the improvement in the students' financial status," Professor Ito points out. The tuition is 500,000 yen a year now--up to 700,000 or 800,000 yen for science and engineering students--which is even higher than that of elitist Keio University, and most lower and middle income families simply can't afford it.
As a result, even though "belonging to the grassroots" and being "a school for the rural poor from around the country" are still touted as the Waseda school spirit, in actual fact, two out of every three students last year came from the Kanto region around Tokyo. And what sort of grassroots spirit can be expected of upper middle class children brought up in the rootless atmosphere of the city?
Having been founded by an outstanding statesman, Waseda is still, over a century later, most noted for its schools of law, political science and economics. Tokyo University may produce many top government officials and Keio many corporate executives, but Waseda dominates the political scene. More than half the members of the current Diet are Waseda alumni, and the school has turned out four prime ministers, including Noboru Takeshita and Toshiki Kaifu. The Waseda "old school tie" network helps its own and wields tremendous clout.
Besides featuring new academic concepts, the research center combines the latest art and technology in its architecture--spacious, attractive buildings nestled in the hills. The big lecture halls, which can seat hundreds, are equipped with five or six television screens hooked up to the podium. Besides complete audio-visual equipment and more than a hundred computers for student use, there is a comfortable lobby like that of a luxury hotel for students to relax in and watch information terminals. Outside the buildings are rolling green lawns, something not to be seen in downtown Tokyo. Sports sciences being one of the main departments, the 2,300 or so students can enjoy the use of an excellent athletic field and a swimming pool open round the clock.
First-Rate Students: First-time visitors to the Advanced Research Center for Human Sciences are inevitably awed by its well-planned, state-of-the-art and downright luxurious design. Unfortunately, judging by how deserted the large computer room is on Saturday afternoons, the popular saying on campus that "the students are first rate, the equipment is second rate and the professors are third rate" may need to be slightly revised.
There's no question that Waseda students are first rate to begin with. In late February, when entrance exams are held at universities in Japan, the Takadanobaba train station near Waseda goes into full mobilization to handle the nearly 16O,000 candidates who swarm in from around the country. More than 60 percent of them are ronin (students retaking the exam), mostly yichi-ro (students retaking the exam for the first time) but quite a few ni-ro and san-ro (students retaking the exam for the second or third time) as well. Of the 160,000 candidates only 14,000 are accepted (around 7,600 actually enter), which means each of them has "bested ten"--they have their reasons for pride. "When you get right down to it, there's nothing particularly special about Waseda. Actually, the students are more exceptional than the teachers." That is the startling comment of a student in the School of Literature I, who turns her remark in another direction, "But you can look all over the country and not find a school any better."
The same as at other major Japanese universities, Waseda is full of talented whiz kids who have passed all sorts of exams, but that's often as far as they go. There are many notable exceptions, but Japanese university students, generally speaking, are notorious for preferring to play around rather than hit the books. One reason is that the pressure to get into college is so great they lose all enthusiasm for the pursuit of knowledge once they get in. Another caused by the Japanese social environment.
If Not Now, When? First, since almost all of them hope to work in a large corporation, employment criteria in the corporate world have a decisive effect. "Japanese corporations usually just look at which university you're from, and they don't care a nickel about what you majored in or how good your grades were," says Chang Chia-hao, a fourth-year education major from Taiwan, who provides the perspective of an outsider. "Actually, they prefer a blank piece of paper to work on, and they'll give you all the training you need after you join the company." Since acceptance to a famous, highly competitive university like Waseda means guaranteed employment on graduation, many students have already lined up a company by their third year and report for work as soon as they graduate, setting out at once on arduous careers. In Japan, where everything has to be done just so, switching jobs and moving to another company is considered a grave transgression. Think about it: You've had to toil away the first part of your life to get into a good college and you're going to toil away the rest of it at your career. If you don't lay back and have a little fun during your four years in college, when can you?
In addition, Japanese corporations place little value on graduate degrees, so master's and doctoral programs contain more foreign students than Japanese, making it difficult to build a solid academic foundation for the undergraduate program. Junko Nakadai, a third-year education major who studied for a year in the United States, says no one wants to spend four or five years studying for a master's or a Ph.D. and then wind up starting out at the bottom in a corporation that emphasizes experience. As a result, many people do the next best thing and spend a year abroad to fulfill their dreams of studying a little more and seeing the world. What's more, if women go on to graduate school, "it's not only hard to find a job, it's sometimes hard to find a husband as well!" she says with a smile.
The students' aversion to studying, large classes and the rigid lecture method of instruction make many Japanese professors, whose learning goes unappreciated, lose interest in teaching. Instructors are poorly paid in Japan and young professors can't earn enough to get by unless they teach at several different places, limiting professor-student interaction to practically nil. By the time they're older, nore secure in their position and able to concentrate on teaching and research at a single school, they're separated from the students by a generation gap.
Waseda alumni also monopolize the media, occupying important positions al the Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun and the government-owned broadcasting network NHK. As the fourth estate, outside the administrative, legislative and judicial branches of the government, the media serve as a watchdog for the opposition. Most of the discussion in the Japanese media in recent years about environmental, legal and minority right issues has come from the hands of Waseda alumni, another manifestation of the school's opposition spirit.
Sterling Honors: Another field that Waseda remains strong in is literature. Its strength can be judged from Japan's top two literary awards--the Naoki Prize and the Akutagawa Prize. Waseda alumni have captured 22 out of 106 Naoki prizes and 23 out of a hundred or more Akutagawa prizes, a record that other universities can scarcely match.
If Waseda is strong in literature, it is even stronger in drama. The Elizabethan-style Tsubouchi Memorial Theater Museum, built in commemoration of the dramatist Shoyo Tsubouchi, is one of a kind in the entire country. Dr. Tsubouchi translated the complete works of Shakespeare into Japanese and introduced audiences to the works of Ibsen, Gorky and other European playwrights. Japan was very conservative at the time, and staging these early 20th century pieces, which were defiant of social taboos and convention, was daring and sensational.
Dr. Tsubouchi taught at Waseda for many years, and due to his influence drama remains very popular on campus, with more than 20 student dramatic clubs. Every evening in front of the Okuma Lecture Hall, across from the main entrance, you can see people declaiming and waving their arms about -- they're just doing their "acting homework."
Another star department, outside the humanities, is architecture, in the school of science and engineering. The 18-story-high Science and Engineering Building, completed in 1967, was designed and constructed by architects from Waseda under a special exemption from the building code, becoming the tallest building in Japan at the time. The great Kanto earthquake of 1923 and the ensuing fire were terrible catastrophes, but people at Waseda boast that "the buildings on campus are all built by 'our folks' now, so there won't be any problem."
The school of science and engineering is filled with the latest computers and information equipment. Even though the university's buildings are old, the corridors are lined with computerized information screens (called moji-hoso in Japanese), showing at a glance which classes have been cancelled in the days to come, which will be held in a different location and so forth. And if the students want to find out about job opportunities or rooms for rent, they can get the information at the touch of a button. A free flow of information has been one of the keys to the rapid development of Japanese industry, and at Waseda this sort of training is a part of student life.
Research Center for Human Sciences: Waseda has schools in literature, law, political science, economics, commerce, science and engineering, education, sociology and human sciences, but it lacks art and medicine, so it can't strictly be considered an all-round university. In recent years, its annual deficit has climbed to several billion yen, leading the administration to rack their brains looking for other sources of revenue. Word has it they tried to buy the medical school at Nihon University (med school is one of the few cash cows for a university, since the tuition is so high) but were turned down. Some have suggested the university sell off its campus in downtown Tokyo, which is terribly crowded, and move to the suburbs. The authorities still haven't decided which way to go, but they have provided a parcel of land to a major corporation to build a luxury hotel, and the sizeable rent has gone some way to offsetting losses.
Despite being pinched for funds, Waseda was ambitious enough to lay out a big sum of money recently to set up the Advanced Research Center for Human Sciences, which it proudly describes as a model for the 21st century, in Tokorozawa, about an hour's drive from the main campus.
Opened in 1987 as one of the showcase items for the school's centennial, the Advanced Research Center currently has three departments, in basic human sciences, human health sciences and sports sciences. As you can see at a glance, the names are far from conventional, and the departments do indeed break through the confines of traditional disciplines, integrating ecology, environmental protection, social anthropology, psychology, medicine, culture, archeology and other fields. Rather than focusing on a certain academic discipline, it adopts a well-rounded, integrated approach to explore the topic of Man as a whole, another attempt by Waseda to go its own road.
"It's not until graduate school that many students realize their professors are actually quite learned," an American student says. "Unfortunately, all too few of them want to go there."
Still a Long Way to Go: Even at a leading university like Waseda, students frequently skip classes and the more often teachers cancel class because of outside commitments, the more eager students are to take their courses. You have to spend a lot of money to buy your way into them, don't you? A Japanese student blithely chirps. "But if you don't have to go to class, you can make the money back with a part-time job, can't you?"
"That's more or less related to the poor conditions for studying at a Japanese university," observes Takashi Ito, who is in charge of overseas student affairs at the Waseda International Exchange Center. Japan is one of the few advanced countries in the world without university dormitories, and rents in Tokyo are sky high--a 972 sq. ft. room can go for 40,000 or 50,000 yen a month. Add in expenses for food, clothing, transportation, overseas trips ("if everyone else is going, you'd be embarrassed not to go along"), club activities and so forth and so on, and it's little wonder that Japanese students, who are money-oriented to begin with, spend most of their energy trying to earn money and have a good time and are content to muddle through their classes.
Aware that Japanese higher education has many drawbacks but has little room to maneuver in the structure of society as a whole, Takashi Ito believes that, despite the goal once set by former prime minster Nakasone of Japanese universities attracting 100,000 foreign students by the year 2000 and truly joining the ranks of the world's best, "Japanese universities are too ossified and homogeneous. I'm afraid there's still a long way to go for them to reach the level of the best universities in Europe and North America."
Catching up with the West was one of the guiding ideals of Shigenobu Okuma, Waseda's founder. Japan is now an economic superpower, but in terms of academics and education, which require generations to cultivate, it still needs to work harder. Waseda University, which recently celebrated its 109th anniversary, is still a youngster among world universities and its future lies all before it.
There isn't much special about the architecture at Waseda, but the gingko trees that line the streets and give off a rich, strange scent are rather noteworthy.
(Left) Waseda students, having passed through hurdle after hurdle of competitive exams, are all haven't favored children.
The student cafeteria, refined and inexpensive, is a popular place for socializing.
Even though awareness of women's rights is on the rise in Japan, there is still a large discrepancy in the proportion of male to female students at Waseda, as at other firstrate universities--about four to one.
(Below) Waseda's school badge, symbolizing its long tradition of excellence, is much respected in Japan.
The demonstrations and fast held in protest of the UN Peace-Keeping Operations law are a renewed embodiment of Waseda's spirit of opposition.
(Above) Clubs are active, with fans in areas from traditional kendo and Noh drama to the latest heavy metal.
Three or four friends get together outside and practice Christmas carols in preparation for Christmas Eve.
The new library contains more than 1.5 million volumes and the latest in audiovisual equipment.
Waseda St. is flanked by quaint little used bookstores.
(Below) Shih Po-jen, of Taiwan, was fortunate enough to win a spot in a dormitory furnished by a large corporation. Room and board is about a tenth of what it costs on the outside.
The statue in front of the new Advanced Research Center for Human Sciences represents "heading toward the future."
A 72-sq.-ft. room is hardly big enough to hold chairs, so if you want to hold a meeting you've got to sit on the floor.