Decrepit Japanese university dorm still in use

Kyoto university has the last old-fashioned wooden dorm, a decrepit structure where Ethernet cable strung on the decrepit supports overhang robotics students working on the shattered floor.

Nearly a century old, and looking every day of it, Yoshida-ryo is very likely the last remaining example of the once common Japanese wooden university dormitory. This building was built in 1913. Organized from the very beginning to be self-administering through a dormitory association (寮自治会), the students themselves have been responsible for selecting new applicants for residency. This autonomy, however, came under full-scale assault in 1971, when the Ministry of Education began a policy of regulating or closing dormitories, which were seen as "hotbeds for various kinds of conflict." University authorities first tried to close Yoshida-ryo completely in 1979, and after failing to overcome opposition over the next 10 years finally closed the Western Yoshida-ryo across the street.

With the death of Japan's violent student activism, the campaign to close the dormitory subsided for a time, but in the aftermath of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake there were new calls to replace the poorly aged building, which had already seen its maintenance neglected for decades by a university that had wanted to demolish it.

At present, the future of the dormitory is unclear. While residents have performed some minor upgrades over the years, such as the haphazard stringing of Ethernet cables through the halls to each room, they have only recently begun discussing the possibility of performing serious repairs themselves. There has even been some discussion of bypassing the university and applying for historical building preservation funds, although the building may be considered too far gone for proper restoration, particularly while still being lived in.

Yoshida-ryo: Dilapidated, decrepit and downright dirty (Thanks, Marilyn!)

(Image: Roy Berman/CNNGo)


  1. My bohemian side wants to move in. My likes-to-leave-in-a-fairly-clean-environment side is speechless with horror.

    1. I love this line about Bldg. 20: “You might regard it as the womb of the Institute. It is kind of messy, but by God it is procreative!”

  2. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Kyoto University one of the most prestigious in Japan?
    I wonder what life at a mediocre university looks like.

    1. It is a well-renowned university, but Keio, Waseda, and Todai (Tokyo Daigaku) are probably the ones people are more likely to think of if posed the question.

      Student activism in Japan between the 60s and 70s is a fascinating topic – I’m happy to see it on BoingBoing, indirectly or otherwise.

      In case you ever wondered why Japanese never get together and demonstrate in large numbers, the student demos hold many of the answers.

      (Nerd Alert and Off Topic: Katsuhiro Otomo drew on much of his own experience during the student riots in Todai for the characters in his major manga work Akira.)

      1. Where can I read about it? I can barely find anything with Google.

        I would at least expect a wiki stub with minimal facts. But then again, maybe I need better keywords. Plz help.

  3. @13tales – *live :) and all i can think of are cockroaches and multiple fire hazards – i hope the residents are careful :(

    @Pantograph – yeah, Kyoto U is one of the top 3. i think it’s more like – there are many dorms and this happens to be an old one.

  4. Reminds me of Moscow State University main building (which houses the dormitories, too).

  5. Looking at the pictures, at the deterioration, the dirt, the piles of rubbish on the floor that one one is bothering to pick up, and one word comes to mind: squalor.

  6. It looks like the set from “Animal House”.
    Where’s John Belushi when you need him?

  7. Reminds me of… every Japanese horror game/movie ever. Still, better than the dorms in China. 20 stories of solid cement, buried in garbage.

  8. I’ve been there (at least, parts of it) when I did an exchange year at Kyoto U. It is as awesome as it looks! They’re totally active with cultural events and such, too. I’d probably have wanted to try living there if I’d found out earlier…
    And, Kyoto being the number two uni (after Tokyo) is exactly the reason they have these old buildings: it was founded a long time ago!

  9. It’s sad that the university won’t maintain the building, but the squalor is solely the occupant’s fault. A clean but run down building is a lot nicer to be in than a filthy run down building. (Trust me, I’ve moved into filthy decrepit buildings and brought them up to clean. It’s much, much nicer. And less mouse-filled.)

  10. very cool. My grandmother lived across the street from this building, but she never told me about it. I went to the junior high school across the street for half a year while my dad was working at Kyo-Dai.

  11. I’ve definitely seen undergraduate apartments in Hyde Park (U. of Chicago) approaching that level of squalor. Let’s not even mention the co-ops.

  12. Looks like the UC Berkeley co-ops (though Yoshida-ryo probably has fewer drugs).

  13. Regardless of the intentions of the school , students, or government the fact is that people live like this today…

  14. Barrington Hall, Berkeley, California, 1989

    “It’s all over now. We might as well piss on the floor.”

    – Ken Kundargi

  15. I lived in this neighborhood for five years in the 90s, and can attest to the existence of several University buildings in similar states of decrepitude. As others have said, Kyoto University is one of the top institutions in Japan, and people who go their either have brains or money, so this living in squalor struck me as a bit of an act on the part of privileged kids. I suspected that many of them had apartments, paid for by their parents, and squatted part-time. Still, there were always interesting things going on on campus, plenty of bright folks there.

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