Only in Tokyo: The red gate of Tokyo University (Akamon)

One of main gates of Tokyo University has a history that goes beyond the university’s history (established as the Imperial University in 1886). Its red gate at the main Hongo campus used to belong to the Kaga Domain Edo Mansion during the Edo period (1603-1868). This mansion housed the Maeda clan lord of the Kaga Domain (Kaga was partially covering the current Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures) and the red gate was built at the occasion of the marriage of one of the lords in 1827.

One of the things that is unique for Tokyo is its history as capital for over 400 years. During the Edo period there was a policy called sankin-kōtai that required each major feudal lord to reside every few years in Edo for a considerable amount of time, requiring him to build a residence worthy of his status in Edo, as well as in his own territory. There are unfortunately no fully intact feudal lord mansions in Tokyo left. In many cases the large mansions gave way for a large new facility, such as Tokyo University where the Kaga Domain had their mansion. The Kaga Domain Edo Mansion was very large and covered 267 acres (ca. 1 square kilometer) and housed 30.000 people.

This Kaga Domain is also know as the Kanazawa Domain, it was located in the current Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures, and a major force in feudal Japan. The Kaga Domain was ranked first as the largest domain in the Edo period with 1,000,000 koku (the domain size was not expressed in territory, but the total officially assessed agricultural output of the territory). This size and importance reflected in their mansion in Tokyo, which was more like a domain in itself as it had large warehouses and even schools within its borders. This was their upper mansion (they also had lower ranked mansions at various other places in Tokyo).

The red gate was built in 1827 to celebrate the marriage of Kaga lord Maeda Nariyasu (1811-1884) to Yōhime (Lady Yasu) (1813-1868), 21st daughter of Shogun Tokugawa Ienari (longest serving Shogun, in office 1787–1837). You read that right, 21st daughter, and yes, she was only 14 years old. In fact, Tokugawa Ienari fathered 75 children (he kept a harem of 900 women) and many of the children were adopted into various daimyō houses all over Japan.

The red gate in 1910 (photo public domain)

The red gate used to be known as goshuden-mon and is registered as Important Cultural Property. Goshuden is a direct referral to a daughter of the Tokugawa Shogun who married to one of the top 3 daimyō (name of the feudal lords during the Edo period), and mon means gate. As the gate is red, it became colloquially known as the akamon (literally: red gate).

It is built in the yakui-mon style, which is gate with a gable roof constructed with two square or rectangular main posts and two square or circular secondary posts set to the rear (source). The gate also features an arched gable with undulating bargeboards, a typical Japanese style called kara-hafu developed in the Heian period (794–1185). From the 16th century onwards, this type of bargeboard was added to daimyō’s mansions and castles.

In the Edo period, the Kaga Edo Mansion was not known for this red gate, but rather for its garden as it had the most beautiful garden in Edo. The garden was made even more famous afterwards by novelist Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) who called it Sanshiro Pond, a name that sticks even now. This garden is still there today and very close if you enter through the red gate. The red gate became famous as less and less Edo Mansions were preserved. Currently there are only 2 gates left.

In practice

7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo

Closest station:
Todai-mae Station – 7 minutes walk (Namboku Line)

Entrance fee: free

Web: http://www.u-tokyo.ac.jp/en/whyutokyo/hongo_hi_007.html

Name in Japanese:
original: 加賀江戸藩邸御守殿門 (Kaga Edo Hantei Goshudenmon)
current: 東京大学本郷キャンパスの赤門 (Tokyo Daigaku Hongo Camus Akamon)