University of Tokyo

A Brief History of the Faculty of Letters, University of Tokyo*

(*quoted from the webpage of the Faculty of Letters, the University of Tokyo

U of Tokyo Campus

The Faculty of Letters, University of Tokyo (1877-1886)

On April 12, 1877, the Tokyo Kaisei School was reorganised in three Faculties: Law, Science and Letters, and the Tokyo School of Medicine that became the Faculty of Medicine. The University of Tokyo was established based on two institutions of research and education that were founded in the Edo period.

The Faculty of Letters had two Divisions. The first Division included History, Philosophy and Politics; the second, Japanese and Chinese Literature. This indicates the intention to preserve the traditional studies while introducing new disciplines from the Western world. This ideal of fusing the studies of East and West can also be seen in the curriculum that required students of the first Division to take Japanese and Chinese Literature courses for three years, and students of the second Division to take an English Literature course for three years.

The College of Letters of the Imperial University (1886-1919)

On March 2, 1886, the government under Hirobumi Ito’s leadership issued the Imperial University Prescript and turned the University of Tokyo into the Imperial University. In this prescript, it was stated that the Imperial University was to be an institution dedicated to “transmitting the studies and technologies that will fulfill the need of the state and their detailed research.” The University of Tokyo was placed on the summit of the educational system under the new state system as the sole Imperial University.

The Faculty of Letters became the College of Letters, one of the five Colleges that included Law, Medicine, Engineering, Letters and Science. In addition to the first (Philosophy), second (Japanese Literature) and third Divisions (Chinese Literature), a fourth Division – Linguistics – was founded. Following this, other Divisions were established for History, English, German, and French Literatures. At the time, there were many prominent foreign professors including Chamberlain in Linguistics, Riess in History, Koeber in Philosophy and Aesthetics, Lafcadio Hearn (Yakumo Koizumi) and Dixon in English Literature.

The Faculty of Letters of the Tokyo Imperial University (1919-1949)

In April 1919, the government led by Takashi Hara changed the name of the College of Letters into the Faculty of Letters. This included nineteen departments: Japanese Literature, Japanese History, Chinese Philosophy, Chinese Literature, Oriental History, Western History, Philosophy, Indian Philosophy, Psychology, Ethics, Religious Studies, Sociology, Education, Aesthetics and History of Art, Linguistics, Hindu Literature, English Literature, German Literature, and French Literature.

During the new era of Taisho, studies at the Faculty of Letters attained their independence and maturity. Professors who supported this prosperous period were Masaharu Anezaki in Religious Studies, Katsumi Kuroita and Zennosuke Tsuji in Japanese History, Sanjiro Ichimura and Kurakichi Shiratori in Oriental History, Genpachi Mitsukuri and Kengo Murakawa in Western History, Yoshito Harada in Archaeology, Seiichi Taki in Aesthetics, Shinkichi Hashimoto in Japanese Linguistics, Tsukuru Fujimura in Japanese Literature, Sanki Ichikawa and Takeshi Saito in English Literature, Kinji Kimura in German Literature, Yutaka Tatsuno and Shintaro Suzuki in French Literature, and Tongo Takebe and Teizo Toda in Sociology.

But peace would not last for long, and depression and war began to loom large over academic progress. The influence of materialism and the rise of nationalistic tendencies had a deep impact on the studies at the Faculty of Letters. In April 1938, Kiyoshi Hiraizumi of the Japanese History Office started his lectures on the history of Japanese thought. On the other hand, numerous professors continued their liberal studies, such as Tetsujiro Inoue and Genyoku Kuwaki in Philosophy, Tetsuro Watsuji in Ethics, Yoshinori Onishi in Aesthetics, and Toshiki Imai in Western History.

As the Japan-China War turned into the Pacific War, the extension granted to university students by the Conscription Act was abolished, and in October 1943 the extension granted to the humanities students had the same fate. According to “Mobilisations and Departures to the Front from the University of Tokyo” compiled by the Record Office of the History of the University of Tokyo, 269 students died in service. The ratio according to the number of students who entered the Faculty comes fourth after the Faculties of Medicine, Law, and Economics.

U of Tokyo Campus

Faculty of Letters of the Post-war University of Tokyo (1949-)

Luckily, the campus buildings in Hongo weren’t seriously damaged during the Bombing of Tokyo in March 1945. After Japan’s defeat during WWII, the Faculty came back to life as students who graduated provisionally or whose university term was shortened, and those who had joined the army under leave of absence from the university returned to classes. In 1947, the School Education Act was issued and the post-war university became open to anybody who finished secondary education. After a series of education reforms, the post-war University of Tokyo was established in 1949 and continues to this day.

What is “Gendai Bungeiron Kenkyushtsu,” or the Department of Contemporary Literary Studies

“Gendai Bungeiron Kenkyushtsu” (GB) or the Department of Contemporary Literary Studies (CLS) has the honor to host the 2018 IWL session. GB is a young department which was established in 2007 by Professor Motoyuki Shibata and Mitsuyoshi Numano within the framework of the traditional Faculty of Letters where the classification of literature according to language and nation used to be the norm.

One quick way to provide a rough idea of the nature of this new department would be to say that we are a world literature department in miniature. With only three full-time faculty members, we cannot claim to cover the whole scope of world literature, but we do offer courses on literatures written in various languages, including English, Spanish, Russian and Slavic languages, with an emphasis on contemporary literature. We focus on transnationalism and translingualism, and we also offer courses on literary theory and translation. Foreign students are encouraged to study Japanese literature in an international context, and our courses are tailored accordingly. These are conducted almost entirely in Japanese, and proficiency in reading, speaking, and writing in Japanese is required. We have both undergraduate and graduate programs. Graduate students usually enroll in the MA program and then in the PhD program, but we also accept PhD candidates who have completed their MA elsewhere. We welcome students who are passionate about literature, and keen to learn about the world of literary studies.

Faculty of Letters Overview:

Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology Overview:

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