Rediscovering KyotoU

Rediscovering KyotoU humanities Developing Asian humanities for the futureRediscovering KyotoU humanities Developing Asian humanities for the future

Humanities nurtured by a community of knowledge

Study of the humanities at Kyoto University has been carried forward and developed by study-centered learning and its own schools of thought. A representative example is Kitaro Nishida and the Kyoto School of Philosophical Thought, more details of which can be found here.

Torataro Shimomura, a pupil of Nishida’s, said that, compared to Tokyo, "Kyoto had a much closer-knit community of researchers." In Kyoto, a modestly sized university town, researchers were able to build much tighter relationships than elsewhere.

One of the "intellectual networks" that contributed to the development and sharing of knowledge in Kyoto was a group led by ecologist Kinji Imanishi. Imanishi undertook numerous "academic explorations" through the Academic Alpine Club of Kyoto and Kyoto Tanken Chiri Gakkai (Kyoto Geographical Exploration Society). These activities were forms of exploration-based fieldwork guided by teams of geographers, botanists, and researchers from other fields.

The Academic Alpine Club of Kyoto continues its activities today. This photo shows Takeo Kuwabara, a researcher of French literature and culture and a member of the Kyoto School, at a base camp looking up at Chogolisa

Beginning of unique joint research methods

Imanishi’s network of colleagues and pupils eventually pioneered a new form of joint research at the Institute for Research in Humanities, which was reorganized in 1949. One of the key achievements to come out of these collaborations was the fusion of conventional philology and fieldwork. Recently, researchers around the world have begun to apply fieldwork methods to philosophy, history, and other text-based disciplines; Imanishi and his collaborators can be regarded as some of the pioneers in this regard.

Another of the network’s notable achievements was its contributions to the advancement of area studies, the 1963 establishment of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) among them. CSEAS has incorporated a wide range of research fields, such as agriculture and soil studies, into its study of social sciences — an approach that was then largely absent from Western area studies — resulting in numerous ground-breaking ecological and environmental findings.

The promise of Asian humanities

With such a rich history, moving forward, what path will the humanities at Kyoto University take? Key to answering this question is understanding the essential role the humanities have in society.

Professor Emeritus Masakatsu Fujita, who studies the life and philosophies of Kitaro Nishida, says that the humanities have "opened our eyes to elements that we tend to be unaware of in our own cultural contexts, and shined a light upon observations and worldviews that are different to our own." He goes on to emphasize that as globalization advances, the world’s cultures must work to understand one another through communication, and that the humanities are now being called on to guide these developments.

Professor Deguchi, on the other hand, is focused on the humanities' role in proposing ways of living and building society. Looking ahead, he suggests that as we seek to incorporate life-changing technologies such as AI, robotics, and information tech into society, the humanities could aid the process by proposing ways to reconcile new and old values, or create entirely new ones.

The Unit of Kyoto Initiatives for the Humanities and Social Sciences (UKIHSS) is in charge of communicating a future vision for the humanities and social sciences to the world. It was launched October 2018 as part of the University's initiatives as a Designated National University, a status granted by the government the year before, with researchers from a wide range of humanities and social science fields taking part.

President Juichi Yamagiwa accepting a certificate of designation from the then Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, Hirokazu Matsuno

From a uniquely Asian perspective, UKIHSS supports the development of humanities and social sciences that can be appreciated worldwide, and works to communicate its findings globally. Its head, Professor Deguchi of the Graduate School of Letters, says "The unit acts as a hub where early-career researchers in Asia can come and go before heading out into the wider world. I hope it can contribute to creating a more open Asia and global community."

Academic disciplines that have developed primarily in the West have recently proven inadequate in certain respects, and scientific and technological advances have exposed the limitations of conventional outlooks on the world and nature. As such, researchers must now work with traditional, non-Western outlooks, including those of Asia, to develop new humanities and social sciences that are appropriate to our pluralistic world. Kyoto University has pioneered the study of Asian humanities, and thus holds a key role in creating a new future and generating new values to help its development.

Professor Deguchi took the chair at UKIHSS’ 1st HSS Symposium, held 27 April 2019 with around 500 attending

KyotoU humanities: key points
  1. A close-knit community unique to the university town that is Kyoto
  2. Pioneering joint research methods began at Kyoto University and developed in their own unique way
  3. Developing Asian humanities to contribute to the creation and development of a pluralistic world
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