Shichitokudō 七徳堂

north side 北の方

Dōjō Name: Shichitokudō (七徳堂 Hall of Seven Virtues)
Arts Practiced: Kendō, Jūdō, Shōrinji Kempō, Aikidō, Karate
Location: Tōkyō University, Hongō Campus, Bunkyō-ku, Tōkyō, Japan
Construction Type: concrete
Completion Date: Shōwa/昭和 13 (1938)
Summary: Tōkyō University’s purpose built budōjō mixing traditional Japanese and Western institutional architectures


Tōdai’s Red Gate “Akamon” 東大の赤門

Located in the Hongō area of Tōkyō’s Bunkyō-ku is the main campus of Tōkyō University, considered Japan’s most prestigious institution of higher learning (certainly the most selective one). As mentioned previously in the post about Tōkyō Gedai Kendo, Tōkyō University, affectionately known as “Tōdai” (東大 short for 東京大学/Tōkyō Daigaku), is referred to as “Akamon” (赤門) for its distinctive red entry gate, an Edo Period remnant from when the land that now makes up the Hongō campus belonged to the Maeda clan of Kaga Province. Tōdai students have a number of martial arts clubs they can participate in through the university. The Hall of Seven Virtues or Shichitokudō (七徳堂) is home of the kendō, jūdō, Shōrinji kempō, aikidō and karate clubs. There is also a separate dōjō for kyūdō nearby, which will be described in a subsequent post.

southeast corner 南西の角

northeast corner 北東の角

The Shichitokudō was completed in Shōwa/昭和 13 (1938). It was designed by Uchida Yoshikazu (内田祥三), Tōkyō University’s (at the time called Tōkyō Imperial University/Tōkyō Teikoku Daigaku/東京帝国大学) 14th president who was also an architect. Uchida Yoshikazu’s architectural style is referred to as “Uchida Gothic”. This is perhaps more obvious in his other Tōdai buildings such as the iconic Yasudakōdō (安田講堂). Since gothic architecture tends to emphasize verticality, my initial impression was that Shichitokudō, with its slightly more horizontal massing, is more of a melange between traditional Japanese temple architecture with Neo-Classical sensibilities. Neo-Classical and Neo-Gothic sensibilities, however, do overlap.

The meaning of the name Shichitokudō will strike a chord with anyone knowledgeable with samurai culture. Depending on the source (sensei or tradition), there is said to be seven or five martial virtues. These are represented by the pleats of the machitaka-bakama (まちたか袴)/umanori-bakama (馬乗り袴), the divided hakama suitable for horse riding1, with its five front pleats and two rear pleats, with the rear ones ignored by those in favor of the five virtues interpretation. Which virtues make up the seven or five martial virtues also vary slightly depending on the tradition cited. Generally they are the ones below.

portico / genkan 玄関

grand entrance doors 正面玄関

Jin (仁) – benevolence

Rei (礼) – respect (lit. politeness)

Gi (義) – righteousness

Yū (勇) – courage

Chū (忠) – loyalty

Makoto (誠) – honesty

Meiyo (名誉) – honor

Background research into Shichitokudō also turns up an explicit reference to the Zou Zhuan (春秋左氏伝 Spring and Autumn Zou Records or Chronicles of Zou). Zou Zhuan (Shunjūsashiden in Japanese) is an important work with regards to the history of China’s Spring and Autumn Period (771 B.C. – 403 B.C.). This historic narrative also mentions the seven martial virtues. The name for the hall was proposed by Shionoya On (塩谷温), a professor of Chinese Classics at Tokyo Imperial University.

Architectural Description

keikojō looking south 稽古場南へ向かって

keikojō looking south 稽古場南へ向かって

keikojō looking south 稽古場南へ向かって

Shichitokudō is arranged on two levels. It is situated on a slope such that the lower level is mostly bermed into the earth with only the north side principally exposed. The upper level, where the keikojō is located, is slightly raised off the upper part of the slope such that there is a base readable from all around the building as a plinth2.

The structure is made of in-situ concrete. The lower level, which reads as the base or plinth of the building, is only really exposed on the north side. This is done in a Western Neo-Gothic/Neo-Classical style with a stone masonry facing. The upper level is of traditional Japanese post and lintel style but done in concrete with a plaster render finish. The roof is also concrete though replicating the elements of a traditional Japanese heavy timber roof with the distinctive irimoya (入母屋) form. The ceramic kawara (瓦 roof tiles), however were made and laid out in the traditional way.

There are a number of different entrances into the dōjō’s main hall. On the west side of the building is the grand entrance portico/genkan (玄関) with three sets of wooden double doors. Over the portico is a balcony but there is no obvious way to reach this and there is certainly no corresponding floor level. A set of steps lead up to the plinth just before these doors. Before this is a few meters of lawn where a long shrub now blocks any sense of procession to this grand entrance. Judging from aerial photos of the building, this was not always the case with a path leading up to these steps. Today, entry into the building lacks any sense of hierarchy. If one were to enter through this grand entrance however, one would step in under the kamidana (神棚) and directly face a kanban (看板 signboard) with the name of the dōjō written in calligraphy.

raised hikaenoma 控えの間

To the south is the secondary entrance, employing wooden sliding doors, which can be reached by a pair of smaller steps up to the plinth. Since the grand entrance does not appear to have been opened since a long time, I imagine most visitors are received from this secondary entrance. On the north side is a set of sliding wooden doors leading to the north balcony. At the northeast corner of the building is a staircase that connects to the lower level and serves as the entrance from the changing facilities.

The keikojō dominates the upper level. It measures 14m wide x 26m long. The dimensions of the keikojō are modular to the standard size competition jūdō mat (1m x 2m). Thus if the entire keikojō were to be covered by these mats it would take 182 mats. When I visited, exactly half of the keikojō was covered by mats while the other half was left open with a full kendō shiaijō (試合場 competition court) marked out in tape. Judging from the bounce, or lack there of, the floor likely uses a rubber shock absorption system. The ceiling of the keikojō is of gōtenjō (格天井) or coffered style.

keikojō looking north 稽古場北へ向かって

keikojō looking north 稽古場北へ向かって

Along the long sides of the keikojō are the hikaenoma. The hikaenoma on the east side of the keikojō flank the grand entrance and are raised a step above the keikojō. These hikaenoma are now cluttered with various equipment related to the clubs that use the space such as weight training equipment, extra mats, a kendō dummy and a large taiko.

The hikaenoma on the west side only has a slight lip compared to the keikojō to keep the jūdō tatami in place. It is otherwise level with the keikojō. However, a semi-permanent partition now encloses this hikaenoma. It is quite probably that this is now used for additional storage or support functions.

Off the west hikaenoma, with a un-partitioned corner left open for access, is an internal staircase leading to the lower level. The lower level houses support facilities such as changing rooms, showers and offices for the martial arts clubs. There is direct access to this level from outside where the lower level is on grade on the north side. Judging from the fact that there are more shoes at the lower floor’s north entrance than at any of the other entrances, it looks like most of the students using the dōjō would enter the building from here. Students use the area just in front of the north entrance to lower level for bicycle parking. There is also a rear external access via a lower sunken patio accessible by a narrow external staircase.

lower patio at rear 後ろの1Fのパティオ

To the north of the keikojō is a balcony, accessible via wooden sliding doors. This is now mostly used now for hanging out keikogi and kendō bōgu (protective armor). It overlooks the pathway leading to the lower level’s north entrance as well as Tōdai’s football pitch (soccer field).

Shichitokudō is an example of a dōjō as a stately, perhaps palatial, institutional building. In this is it similar to various Butokuden, which were built during roughly the same era. In particular the surviving Butokuden in Tainan, Taiwan features a similar mix of traditional Japanese forms with Western Neo-Classical construction techniques and sensibilities.

Though Shichitokudō’s building fabric seems to be sound, overall it looks like it could do with some repairs and renovation. Plaster and paint is flaking everywhere and unwanted vegetation grows on the roof. The keikojō is kept in good condition but the partitioning of the western hikaenoma is, architecturally speaking, quite unfortunate. The facilities in the lower level could do with an overhaul while preserving as much of the original fenestration and any particular interior details as possible to preserve the original architectural character. It would also be nice to see an axis leading to the portico restored to bring back some clarity to the building’s hierarchy. The place could also generally be kept a bit more tidy but these are university students after all so that might be too much to ask. Tōdai is a public national university and receives funding from the government. Therefore, it would not be surprising if funding priorities are on other areas of university activities.

plan 平面図

My thanks goes to:
Manou Kazuhiko-sensei, of Noma Dōjō, for first bringing this dōjō to my attention

1 There are other kinds of hakama such as the ones worn by miko (巫女), or the shrine maidens of Shintō shrines, which do not have the stiff koshi’ita backing plate. Other kinds of hakama also vary in the number of pleats present, whether they are divided or not and length of the hem among other variations in detail.

2 Classical architecture included the sensibility to divide a building and parts of a building into three layers: the base at the bottom, the mid-section and the capital.

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