“文”

It was about 35 years ago, in April of 1983, that I first entered the Faculty of Letters. I remember when I sat down at an antique desk in the General Library and took a thick, heavy book out of a shelf to turn its pages, feeling connections to a host of scholars and predecessors who had put their hands on this book, which filled me with an indescribable emotion. As I had been fascinated with Chinese characters and ancient Chinese culture since my childhood, the letter “文” in “文学部” (the Faculty of Letters) struck me as special.

“文” was a hieroglyph depicting a person with tattoos (“文身”) on his or her chest. The meaning of the character has expanded immensely from this. It has come to symbolize patterns, letters, documents written in letters, the contents of ideas written in documents, and cultural, spiritual and social activities of human beings. The studies pursued in the Faculty of Letters, whatever their field may be, investigate the foundations of people and society, spanning the activities humans have repeatedly carried out in their long history and are still performing in the present. No matter how far its subject may be from us both spatially and temporally, this inquiry is marked with liveliness and vividness in the sense that it is launched by the essential “Self” irreplaceable with any other who is here now, and at the same time, it leads to relativization of the self by locating it in a vast space and time. This can be regarded as a work to confirm the universality and uniqueness of human beings. Understanding wisdom accumulated in the massive literature which humankind have spun out, creating fresh wisdom, handing it over to the future by becoming a bridge connecting the past, the present and the future——these are the things that “文” symbolizes. 

The Faculty of Letters currently has 27 departments that have been increased and reorganized since its establishment in 1877 (Meiji 10). The main part of the education in themconsists of training in acquiring specific techniques that predecessors in each sphere have cultivated. The departments used to be organized into four major divisions, that is, philosophy, history, language and literature, behavior and society for more than half a century from 1963 on, which were integrated into a single whole named “人文学科” (the division of the Humanities) in 2016. “人文,” originating in a Chinese sacred book I Ching(周易), also means human cultural and social activities. We aimed at establishing an educational system in which students can gain a viewpoint to relativize their specialty by studying wide-ranging spheres, and obtain the capacity to tackle contemporary problems we must face as our own with deep specialized insights and well-balanced knowledge. 

The recent unimaginable progress of artificial intelligence is on occasions considered to destabilize the existential foundations of human beings. As machines getscloser to humans, however, differences of which we have not been aware will come into sight. Humans have “always” run up against unprecedented situations, and incorporated them into their own system of knowledge after all. The Faculty of Letters will continue to ask why and how humans are humans while keeping an eye on the changing times.

We find a phrase “大音希声“ in Lao zi(老子). This implies that truth is told in a quiet voice. Self-assertion in a loud voice makes it impossible for a real voice to be heard. Days in which you tranquilly reflect upon texts or data can be said to be the ultimate form of training in communication. I would like to invite you to join us, for two years spent in the Faculty of Letters, in contemplating on the past and the future and quietly meditating on your role as a bridge of history here and now, though I am not sure if we can find an answer.

Dean
Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology
Faculty of Letters