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  • Writer's pictureKomaba Times

Explaining the Inexplicable: Urban Legends in Todai


Gingko Avenue at University of Tokyo, courtesy of makitani | Flickr.

“Life is so much more interesting with monsters in it” says folklorist Mikel J. Koven to “It’s the same with these legends. They’re just good stories”.

Urban legends - almost everyone has one to share. From the Loch Ness monster to Bigfoot, the world is filled with stories of questionable authenticity. With a rich history and prestigious background, University of Tokyo has cumulated its fair share of urban legends. Here are some of the popular tales circulating in the university:

1. The Gingko legend

This one’s regarded a classic. Almost all freshmen upon entering the university are warned about this one. Based on the gingko tree avenue, the legend goes that if a female student does not get a boyfriend by the time all of the leaves fall off, you won’t get a boyfriend for the next four years at university. What’s interesting to notice is that this only applies to heterosexual women. Sakura legend, in comparison, suggests that boys who fail to find a girlfriend before the end of sakura season/spring won’t have a lover for a year. Thus the discrepancy between the consequences illustrates the unfairness of the gingko legend, as the repercussions are comparatively dire for women.

2. Ichi-nirou Lake

Commonly known as 一二郎池 (ichi-nirou lake) legend, many students believe that visiting the lonesome lake alone will bring dire consequences on the viewer’s academic life. For instance, university applicant would fail the entrance exam while current university students would delay graduation by a year or two. The nickname is said to be derived from Hongo campus’ very own 三四郎池 (san-shirou lake) where upperclassman who visit the lake are allegedly cursed to stay an extra year. While its seclusive nature offers a serene lunch spot under the luscious trees, perhaps one should avoid the area, especially if their academic life is on stake.

3. The Twin theory

Since the dawn of horror movies, twins have inspired phobias amongst those who already have a fear of the unfamiliar. In Todai, there is a legend that twins are accepted into university more easily than normal children. This is apparently because the university specifically recruits twins to become test subjects for their experiments. According to a graduate, there is a “special twins-only admission section”, in order to “the workings of a child’s mind while they attempt different studying styles”. Therefore, the doctor states that the reason they choose twins is because “it makes the experiment more reliable if they use twins that share similar genes” (mainabi). This story, however, is unlikely to be true as the entrance exam to Todai is done anonymously. Thus, the likelihood of finding a pair of twins amongst the sea of test scores suggests that this legend is merely a rumor.

Given the unreliable nature of these tales, people continue to spread, believe and even form conspiracy theories based on urban legends. So why does this happen?

“Urban legends form where common logic lacks”, suggests a Todai student. “They explain the inexplicable”

Like many myths and folklores, people often tell stories as solutions or explanations for phenomena that occur beyond our understanding (eg. ghost stories with simple solutions)

These stories also reflect the socio-cultural background as they reveal beliefs and fears of the general public during the time. Examples include the “Sewer Alligator” stories that originated around the 1920’s and 30’s, after multiple “sightings” in New York city. The theory is said to have formed after cases of owners flushing their pet reptiles down the toilet once it became too big to handle. Additionally, urban legends owe their popularity to their mysterious and fun nature; ‘word-of-mouth’ nature of most tales makes it hard to trace the original version, thereby adding to the fantastical element all great stories posses.

Oral traditions have long been responsible for the beliefs and traditions we uphold in society. Whether they are actually true or not, legends have and will continue to enthrall its listeners with its claws of mystique.

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