Tokyo Geidai Kendo 東京芸大剣道

Geidai's sports center entrance 芸大スポーツセンター入口

Dojo Name: Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku Kuromon 東京芸術大学 黒門
Arts Practiced: Kendo
Location: Tokyo University of the Arts, Ueno/Uguisudani, Tokyo, Japan
Dojo Leader: Takahashi Toru 高橋 亨, kyoshi 7-dan
Construction Type: insitu-concrete frame; steel roof frame
Summary: A large semi-purpose built training hall that is part of a university’s facilities

Exterior View 外観

I’ve been fortunate to have been invited to the OB (alumni) kendo practice of Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku (Tokyo University of the Arts 東京芸術大学) or “Geidai” for short. This is one of Japan’s most prestigious arts universities. Though perhaps obscure to most non-Japanese, many famous artists, musicians and designers have passed through its doors either as students or teachers. The kendojo featured here is in Geidai’s gymnasium (tai’ikukan 体育館), near the Ueno main campus in a very green and leafy part of Tokyo.

Interior View 内観

Interior View 内観

University kendo clubs often host OB practices and given that the alumni attending the Geidai practices are almost all in the creative professions, I found myself in familiar company during post-practice nomikai (drinks). Although OB stands for “old boys”, there are “old girls” as well. This particular OB group call themselves Kuromon (黒門), which means black gate and is written on their zekken. Current students wear zekken bearing 東京芸大 (Tokyo Gedai).

The origin of the nickname comes from a tradition of major Tokyo universities having a ~mon nickname. Tokyo University for example is aka-mon (red gate 赤門), Waseda University is known as Ine-mon (rice gate 稲門, ‘ine’ is another reading of the kanji 稲 from Waseda 早稲田) and Chuo University is referred to as Shiro-mon (white gate 白門). Geidai did not originally have such a nickname and some jokingly wanted to take on the name Pokémon from the then (and still) popular anime, playing on the fact that Pokémon also ends in ‘mon’ albeit with a different meaning. However, ultimately (perhaps wisely) it was decided to make a reference to the original name of the area Geidai is located in, which was Ueno Kuromon-cho (上野黒門町). This in turn was a reference to the nearby Kan’ei-ji temple (寛永寺), a funerary temple of the Tokugawa family. The original Kan’ei-ji had a prominent black gate.

Interior View 内観

Interior View 内観

The OB practices are held roughly once a month. As well as Geidai’s regular student practices, these are lead by Takahashi Toru-sensei (高橋 亨), a very well known kyoshi 7-dan kendo sensei. This link gives a brief resumé of Takahashi-sensei.

In addition to Takahashi-sensei as shihan, there will often be another high ranking senior (usually hanshi 8-dan) kendo sensei in attendance. Though they are well known in the kendo world, I will refrain from dropping names since the practice is not open to the public. They are nevertheless, some of the most visible kendo sensei. On each of my visits, I make a point to get in at least one practice with Takahashi-sensei. If possible I also try to get in a practice with the guest sensei. Due to their popularity, it’s essential to get to the practice on time and join their queues as early as possible. Waiting times can be as much as 20 minutes. So during the typical 90 minute long OB practice, if I’m lucky, I’ll have a practice with Takahashi-sensei, the guest sensei, 2 or 3 other motodachi who are kodansha and then finish with a round of kirikaeshi followed by ippon-shobu (first to make an effective winning strike) with whoever happens to be available when “lasto pointo” (last point) is called.

Interior View 内観

Interior View 内観

The dojo itself is a large semi-purpose built hall on the second floor. What I mean by semi-purpose built is that while it was built with activities like kendo in mind, it is not exclusively a kendo hall and designed to allow for other activities as well. Judging by the other equipment lying around, gymnastics also takes place in this hall. Measuring roughly 19m long by 14m wide, not including a 2m wide side area, the training floor is generous. The floor is treated but does not stick too much so it is still fairly comfortable to practice on. My guess is it uses a modern spring floor system.

It might be interesting to note that the side area is not level with the training floor as it is about 15cm lower. This gives an indication as to where shoes must be removed (before the step). From a Western European and North American point of view, the shoe boundary step tradition does not readily lend itself to consideration for wheelchair users. The Tokyo Budokan, being exclusively for budo use and therefore does not have to mix shoe and non-shoe traffic, actually has this boundary right at the reception to the building along with wheelchair ramps so is mostly accessible to wheelchair users. Architects practicing in countries with significant accessibility regulations spend quite a bit of time during initial planning stages resolving this kind of issue.

common hallway 廊下

roof detail 屋根のディテール

Exterior View 外観

Directly under the dojo are the changing and shower facilities. The facilities management offices are also under this hall next to the main building entrance. In another wing of the building is a large sports hall for activities like basketball and volleyball that sits over another activities studio. Toilets are in a sort of outhouse area as the Japanese often do not put changing and bathing facilities in the same place as toilets. This partly has to do with a tradition of having outhouses when Japan was still an agrarian society and partly due to the Japanese view that one activity is clean while the other is dirty so the two shouldn’t be mixed.

In construction terms, the complex is an insitu-concrete frame with a steel roof structure. The pitch of the roof is actually in the concrete frame so the steel frame does not form open web joists to create the shape. The roof pitch appears to be too shallow and the span too long for an open web joist system so deep steel girders are used instead. The secondary steel beams (that run in-between the girders) are set vertical rather than perpendicular to the plane of the roof. This would make them more efficient for carrying loads but also makes the connection with the girders a bit more awkward.

The hall appears to be absent of any artificial climate control. Ventilation is achieved with vents under the roof line and with operable floor windows. By having a top and bottom arrangement, cool air can be drawn in from the floor windows and rising hot air gets carried out through the top vents.

Stylistically the gymnasium is recent modern. I could not find information about when it was built but my guess is sometime between 7-15 years ago. Overall it feels quite contemporary though the details and treatment of material is utilitarian rather than trying to be chic or funky.

My thanks goes to:
Takahashi Toru-sensei, for allowing me to attend these practices
Noda Tomohiro-san (野田 知宏), for introducing me to Takehashi-sensei and this practice
Kitada Takumi-san, Geidai’s kendo club student leader, and to other student kendo members for being gracious hosts

Plan 平面図

This entry was posted in architecture, construction, dojo, kendo and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.