A school’s symbols embody its spirit and tradition. These symbols first gain recognition from the students, faculty and alumni and, many times, eventually come to be widely recognized in broader society as an identifier and source of pride for the school. Here we will look into the origin and meaning of the most recognizable symbols of Keio: the Pen Mark, Keio Emblem, and Sanshokuki (Keio’s school flag).
The Pen Mark is a well-known symbol of Keio University. As for its origin, Keio students began using the symbol among themselves, and somewhere along the way the university officials began endorsing it. In 1900, Keio notified its students to wear caps with the Pen Mark, and the emblem has been in use at Keio ever since. This is a typical episode that captures the magnanimity of the Keio spirit. According to recollections of those who claim to have created the Pen Mark, the symbol goes back to 1885 when a few students proudly strutted through the streets of Tokyo in their matching, newly-tailored Western clothing and caps. However, this was a time when such style of dress was still extremely rare in Japan which led to an amusing episode in which the students were mistaken as international students. Upon this, the students realized the necessity to attach a mark on their caps that would identify them as Keio students. They came up with the Pen Mark, inspired from a phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword” from one of their textbooks, because it seemed most suitable for a school emblem. Today, the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword” also stands as the motto of Keio, and the stained glass window in the old School Library that expresses this phrase is also one of Keio’s symbolic features.
The origin of the Keio University emblem is fairly recent. In 1989, Keio University accepted a request from the University of Queensland, Australia, to make an emblem to be engraved in the University’s Great Court among the coats of arms from many other top universities from around the world. The emblem’s design is believed to be modeled after a pen-engraved shield that adorns the wall of the Memorial Room of the Old University Library.
The school flag of Keio, called the Sanshokuki (meaning tri-colored flag), is actually two colors in three stripes of blue, red and blue. The meaning behind these colors is not clear. The exact date of establishment is not clearly known. However, in the newspaper Jiji Shimpo dated November 28, 1894, there is an article about Keio University students joining in the first “Kandelaar March” parade two days earlier to celebrate the fall of Lushunokou in the Sino-Japanese War, and the Keio flag was flown during the procession. In Issue 82 of magazine Fuzoku Gaho volume 82, published in December of the same year, was the same news along with a picture of a three-striped flag with the Pen Mark, although the colors cannot be distinguished. Up until around 1897, the Sanshokuki seems to have used the combination of light blue and red. However, as the shape and colors were not standardized, on February 14, 1964, the size, colors, and the placement of the Pen Mark were officially standardized, becoming the flag we know today.