A walk in the past in Okuma Garden

A walk in the past in Okuma Garden

Wed, Oct 17, 2018
A walk in the past in Okuma Garden

Okuma Garden in autumn

Past the Waseda’s iconic Okuma Auditorium lies the Okuma Garden, where colors change as seasons pass. It is a popular spot today not just for students, but also for visitors and tourists as well. During lunch time, this peaceful and quiet garden would turn into a cheerful one, and people can be seen enjoying picnic and sunbath on the lawn. Many know about the garden, but just how many of them actually knew that it was once the backyard of the residence of Shigenobu Okuma, the founder of Waseda University? If one were to pay close attention to the surrounding of the Okuma Garden, they would also find many interesting structures and statues that do not seem to have any relevance to Waseda or the Japanese culture. What are they and what significant meanings do they hold?

History of Okuma Garden

Photo of Shigenobu Okuma’s residence and garden taken in 1900

The Okuma Garden that we know today was originally part of the suburban residence owned by the Ii and Matsudaira samurai clans, first built during the Tenpo era (1830 – 1844) within the Edo period (1615 – 1868). It is a Chisen Kaiyu style garden with a pond in the center, heavily inspired by the Eight Views of Omi. After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the owner of the land had changed multiple times before finally landing in the hands of Shigenobu Okuma, who bought the land to serve as his villa in 1874.

(left) Photo of Okuma Garden taken in 1900
(right) Photo of Okuma Garden taken in 1910. The building on the right is a greenhouse built to grow various kinds of plants and fruits.

Inside the greenhouse

In 1882, eight years after the acquisition of the garden and residence, Shigenobu Okuma purchased the piece of land right next to them to set up Tokyo Senmon Gakko (Tokyo College of Technology), later known as Waseda University in 1902 and has since retained the name. At that time, Okuma’s main residence was in Kudanshita (currently three stations away from Waseda) but he later moved permanently in 1884 to his villa where the current Okuma Garden is.

After moving to his new residence, the Okuma Garden slowly transformed in the hands of the late Okuma, from a garden that reflects the Edo period to one that gradually incorporated elements of humanity. For example, he set up a greenhouse and a gardening space where he planted various kinds of plants, flowers and fruits such as orchid, chrysanthemum, palm tree and melon. To commemorate the opening of Waseda History Museum in March 2018, a melon grown in the Okuma Garden was also given out to the 10,000th visitor of the museum.

When Okuma passed away in 1922, the Okuma Garden and his residence were all donated to Waseda University and had become a tourist attraction in Tokyo. Unfortunately, the garden was heavily damaged by air raids during World War II in 1945 and had to be abandoned, leaving it lied in ruins. Nevertheless, thanks to many who later came together to restore the garden to its previous form, visitors now can still indulge themselves in the Okuma Garden we knew before.

Statues and structures around Okuma Garden

Besides brimming with flowers and plants, there are also monuments, structures as well as statues made of stone and copper all around the garden which you might have noticed if you have visited the garden. They might seem irrelevant in the present day, but many of them hold significant meanings.

Chinese guardian lions

If you were to walk past the Okuma Auditorium and turn right to the path that leads to the Okuma Garden House, you will see two lion statues, known as the Chinese guardian lions, standing before the gate. The two statues were donated by the Waseda University’s Taiwanese Alumni Association to celebrate Waseda University’s 100th anniversary of founding. In China and Taiwan, lions are considered to be scared beasts and a pair of lion statues can often be found before gates or entrances to buildings. Lions were first introduced to China through India. The image of the lions was then merged with Kirin and the Azure Dragon, both ancient mythical creatures of Chinese culture, to form the image of Chinese guardian lions. These Chinese guardian lions were then introduced to Japan during the Tang dynasty (618 – 907 CE), but gradually changed in appearance from that of a lion to a lion-dog, commonly known as Komainu in Japan. While there may be some obvious differences in terms of appearance between a Chinese guardian lion and Japanese Komainu, both share the same symbolic meaning of having the ability to ward off evil spirits. As such, the Taiwanese Alumni Association presented the Chinese guardian lions as gift to Waseda University in hope that they would protect the University into the future.

Korean temple bell and belfry

If you were to walk straight through the entrance of Okuma Garden, you will soon see a huge Korean temple bell and in a belfry or bell tower slightly to your right. It is a national treasure of South Korea said to be the bell of the 36th ruler of Silla, a Kingdom in the Korean Peninsula from 57 BCE to 935 CE. Waseda University received the Korean temple bell in 1983 from Waseda University’s Korean Alumni Association as a gift to commemorate the 100th year founding of Waseda. It was originally on display inside the Okuma Auditorium, but the University decided to place it in the Okuma Garden together with the belfry after receiving it from the Korean Alumni Association in 2004 when Waseda celebrated its 125th anniversary.

Dojiseki and Dol hareubang

Walking through the Chinese guardian lions by the gate that leads to the Okuma Garden House, you will be able to see stone statues such as the dojiseki and dol hareubang by the pavement. Dol hareubang statues are stone statues originate from Korea that date back to the 15th century. They serve as guardian and caretaker for the dead and can frequently be found at the cemeteries. Dojiseki statues, on the other hand, originate from the early 19th century but serve the same purpose as the Dol hareubang statues. When Waseda University celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2007, the former president of Korean University Alumni Association Chun Shin-il donated four pair of stone statues including the dojiseki and dol hareubang to Waseda.

Confucius statue

Right beside the Korean temple bell and belfry stood the Confucius statue, donated by the government of the People’s Republic of China in 2008. As the Confucius statue at Waseda University is the first ever of its kind donated by the Chinese government, the statue was specially designed and crafted by the Shandong province of China, where the largest and most renowned temple of Confucius in East Asia is located. Waseda University has a long and deep relationship with Asia, particularly China. The century-long relationship with China can be dated back to 1899 when Waseda took in its first Chinese international students. Currently, more than 3,000 Chinese international students are studying at Waseda University.


At the back of the Okuma Garden lies a building against the Rihga Royal Hotel called Kanshiso. The building, completed in 1952, was a gift by an alumnus named Fusazo Okura whose pseudonym or pen name was Kanshi. The building was thus named after Okura’s pseudonym and Kanshiso meaning “Kanshi’s manor” in Japanese. The Kanshiso in Okuma Garden is said to be built near the tea house of where Okuma’s residence was. The pillars used to support the building are made of natural chestnut and the building itself stands on foundation stones above ground. Even today, the Kanshiso serves as an important and valuable structure in architecture.

Former gatehouse of Okuma’s residence

The small building painted in pink and white in front of the Uni. Shop & Café 125 near the entrance to Okuma Garden was the former gatehouse of Okuma’s residence. It was completed in 1902 and is currently the oldest building of Waseda University. When Waseda was bombed by air raids in 1945 during the World War II, most of Okuma’s residence was completely destroyed but fortunately, the gatehouse survived in one-piece till today.

Bronze statues

The two bronze statues in the Okuma Garden are the statues of Hozumi Tanaka (1876 – 1944) and Ayako Okuma (1850 – 1923), fourth president of Waseda University and wife of Shigenobu Okuma respectively and both craved and designed by Fumio Asakura. The statue of Hozumi Tanaka was donated by the Waseda’s Alumni Association in 1957 to commemorate the University’s 75th founding whereas the statue of Ayako Okuma was donated by Fumio Okuma, Shigenobu and Ayako’s adopted child, to commemorate the 45th.

Access to Okuma Garden

Link to Waseda Campus map:

Opening hours: 9:00 – 17:00 (April to September) & 9:00 – 16:30 (October to March)

Note: Okuma Garden may close without notice during bad weather or other special occasions

Virtual Campus Tour

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