Cultural Properties of Tohoku University

Seek out historic treasures at Japan's top university

By Justin Velgus    - 3 min read

Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Stanford, Cornell. These iconic universities concentrated in the UK and USA are world-famous not only for their high-quality education, but also long history, visibly represented in archives, architecture, and ruins. When it comes to Japanese universities, names such as Waseda, Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto may jump to mind. However, in this article I would like to shine light on a different location: Tohoku University in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture. With the perfect blend of philosophy, history, and education, the university not only stands out among Japanese universities, but deserves to be worthy of global attention.

The courtyard facing entrance features towering pillars and various square window sizes.
The courtyard facing entrance features towering pillars and various square window sizes.

Simply walking the university’s original Katahira campus will allow you to feel the history, become inspired, and lead to sense of enlightenment—or least to a feeling of being smarter than when you arrived! With an impressive 13 “Registered Tangible Cultural Properties”, abundant greenery, and easy-to-access downtown location, the campus is ideal for a leisurely morning or afternoon stroll.

A statue of Japan's first international student Lu Xun contemplates at the edge of the garden courtyard. The classroom where Lu Xun studied (not pictured), is also a cultural property located nearby.
A statue of Japan's first international student Lu Xun contemplates at the edge of the garden courtyard. The classroom where Lu Xun studied (not pictured), is also a cultural property located nearby.

Tohoku University was established as the third imperial university of Japan in 1907, though its educational roots go back even further. The university evolved from the previous Sendai Medical College, while it had a ready supply of smart students from the now defunct adjacent Second Senior High School—the second high school built in Japan after the first in Tokyo. The university focuses on research, practical education, and an open-door policy for students and faculty. Tohoku University was the first in the country to accept female students and the first to accept an international student. The university offers a range in curriculum, but is particularly strong in medical, material science, computer engineering, and, more recently, disaster prevention research. Inventions and improvements to technologies used every day were born at Tohoku University; for example, fiber optics, flash memory, the Yagi antenna, and the split-anode magnetron, an essential component of the microwave oven!

Formerly Faculty of Science’s Biology Lecture Rooms at Tohoku Imperial University.
Formerly Faculty of Science’s Biology Lecture Rooms at Tohoku Imperial University.
The entrance is striking in design, detail and color.
The entrance is striking in design, detail and color.

Tohoku University is comprised of 4 campuses: the newest hilltop “Aobayama”, medical-focused “Seiro” clustered around Tohoku University Hospital, “Kawauchi” built on the former second compound of Sendai Castle, and “Katahira”, the original campus with all these lovely historic buildings and relics.

Former Tohoku Imperial University Main Gate, with original granite pillars.
Former Tohoku Imperial University Main Gate, with original granite pillars.
The former multi-floor library stack is now used to store university artifacts (not open to the public), and is a shady spot for students to park their bicycles.
The former multi-floor library stack is now used to store university artifacts (not open to the public), and is a shady spot for students to park their bicycles.

In order to be considered a “Registered Tangible Cultural Property”, the building or monument has to be at least 50 years old, contribute to the historical landscape of Japan, serve as an example of formative design, and be such that it would be difficult to reproduce. Intricate brick work and wood work certainly qualify.

Formerly Second Building of the Faculty of Law and Literature at Tohoku Imperial University [Accounting School Research Building].
Formerly Second Building of the Faculty of Law and Literature at Tohoku Imperial University [Accounting School Research Building].

Tohoku University continues to make history as it was recognized as the top university in Japan for the third consecutive year (as of 2021) by “Times Higher Education”. See where the legacy of education all began at Katahira Campus, Sendai. To see the full list and locations of the properties, visit the official website linked to this article.

Do you love old buildings? See more in Sendai's Kawaramachi neighborhood.

Getting there

A 5-minute walk from Itsutsubashi Sation, Aoba-Ichibancho Station, or The Westin Sendai Hotel. 15-minute walk from JR Sendai Station.

Was this article helpful?

Give us feedback

109
8
Justin Velgus

Justin Velgus @justin.velgus

Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is the Miyagi Prefecture Partner for Japan Travel and a longterm contributor since 2012 with a focus on the Tohoku region.  Justin has written extensively for JT, and other publications such as VisitMiyagi and Sake Today, amassing over 350 published articles introducing the travel and culture of the region. Justin's wealth of experience and knowledge comes from studying in Akita, teaching English in Miyagi through the JET Program, and promoting sake overseas for the government of Fukushima. Now Justin helps with inbound tourism and regional promotion while also enjoying his role as a volunteer tour guide in Sendai, the gyutan capital of the world.