Waseda Clocktower, Waseda

Mike GristArchitecture 6 Comments

Waseda University, also affectionately known as ‘So-dai’, is one of the top private universities in Japan. Built in 1882, it has since serviced up such cultural and historical giants as the writer Haruki Murakami and the ex-Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda (he was PM for not quite a year 07-08 before wimping out). It was founded by samurai scholar and ex-PM Okuma Shigenobu, upon whose death the Okuma auditorium, AKA Waseda clocktower, was built.


Waseda Clock-tower.

This clock-tower is only 10 minutes by bike from where I live, but I never would have learnt about it had it not been for Su Young. After one of our earliest dates, which we ended by hanging out (innocently, sweetly) talking about evolution on a street corner til late, I walked her back to her place past this great edifice.

Up one of the big arches.

After that we both shared an interest for it, often seeing student’s hanging out on its steps later at night as we cycled back and forth between each other’s places. We decided to have a picnic there ourselves one night, and did so- she made hot-dogs with some wicked relish and I made tuna sandwiches. We drank beer and ume-shu, and the security guard kicked us off at 10pm. Ho hum.


The 7-story clock-tower, full body.

Ever since then, we’ve both been keen on it, and keen to learn more. Those keenings were realized a few weekends ago when Su Young booked us both on a freshman’s tour of the campus, including a section inside the clock-tower, photographs OK.




We cycled down there on a windy-as-heck Saturday morning, meeting up with a group of fellow University entrants, a bunch of high school students with their parents. We grinned and got out our cameras.

Out the side, a brazier/lamp against the trees.

The guide, a young girl clearly still an under-grad herself asked us were we thinking of studying. It seemed too embarrassing to admit we just wanted to see inside the clock-tower, so I spoke up saying yes, Su Young was thinking about studying there. I left her to come up with the details.

The guide took us up to the gates, explained some stuff I couldn’t really follow, then we went inside.


There was a nice musty vibe inside, something you rarely if ever experience in Japanese buildings- something actually old. Normally they tear down anything old, they have very few protected buildings and a magpie-like fascination for anything new and shiny, but somehow this clock-tower got onto a list of ‘Tokyo Metropolitan Historic Buildings’ as the first entry, and so is protected from such ‘out-evolution’.

Old, but still cool.

The smell and aura of the place reminded me of my old school- Bolton School for Boys, an old and gorgeous sandstone building- with a definite weighty aura about it. It’s one of the things I miss being able to seek out in Japan- part of why I go to haikyo I imagine.


Heading up to the clock-tower was happily the first order of business, though we didn’t have much time up there as the tour guide hustled us through, and so little chance to get a decent wide-shot as all the others were crowded around inside. It was neat though. According to the web, four bells were carried over the Panama Canal from Baltimore (and across the Pacific I suppose), and were used for the first time ever in concert in Japan. The bells ring six times a day, to the same tolling pattern as Westminster Abbey in London.

SY and I on a stage in front of the clock-face.

After that we had to race to catch up to the rest of the group, who were busily moving on with the tour.

Down the side, cloistered walkway with church-like windows.

Stained glass window.

Cloister again.

List of graduates.

We went into the main auditorium, where the guide told us the place had been designed by the same architect who designed Tokyo Tower- Tachu Naito. I’m not sure if that’s really true, but he definitely was a professor at Waseda, so easily could be.

Main auditorium.

The window in the roof is supposed to represent the solar system, and the lights around it all the stars. The auditorium was opened in 1927.

Solar system.


Chairs in the auditorium.

Number and dedication of a chair.

Iron gates on the way out, closed and locked behind us.

After the clock-tower there wasn’t much else to see, we’d already wandered around the Waseda grounds before and found little of real interest, but we tagged along anyway to see what they could show us. In the main library building was a cool painting of the clock-tower from an earlier era:

Constellations, awesome.

We ended up following the tour through to the end, taking in a museum to plays which was built in the style of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, and ending at the statue of Okuma Shigenobu looking sternly onto his monument clock-tower, and staring down all incoming students.

Okuma Shigenobu psyches out future students.


Location – Waseda

Entry – Get on a tour.

Facts – Completed in 1927.

Architect -Naito Tachu, the same guy who built Tokyo Tower.

Highlights – Clock-tower, SY turning red saying she was considering studying here.


You can see all MJG’s Tokyo content here:

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