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

On 12th April 1877, the Tokyo Kaisei School was reorganised to form three Faculties of Law, Science and Letters, and the Tokyo School of Medicine became the Faculty of Medicine. Thus the University of Tokyo was established, taking over two institutions of research and education that were founded in the Edo period. This was still a time when the civil war was being fought.
The Faculty of Letters at this point had two Divisions. To the first Division belonged studies in History, Philosophy and Politics; to the second Japanese and Chinese Literature. This indicates the intention to inherit and preserve the traditional studies while introducing new studies from the Occident. This ideal of fusing the studies of the East and the 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 the English Literature course for three years. At around this time, Masakazu Toyama taught Psychology, English Linguistics and Sociology, Masanao Nakamura taught Chinese Literature and Ernest F Fenollosa taught Philosophy, Aesthetics and Politics.

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

On 2nd March 1886, the government under Hirobumi Ito’s leadership issued the Imperial University Prescript and reorganised 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, integrating the former University of Tokyo which fell under the Ministry of Education, the School of Law under the Ministry of Law, the Engineering College under the Ministry of Engineering and the Tokyo School of Agriculture and Forestry under the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce.

The Faculty of Letters became the College of Letters, one of the five Colleges which were of Law, Medicine, Engineering, Letters and Science, and in addition to the first (Philosophy), second (Japanese Literature) and third Divisions (Chinese Literature), a fourth Division, that of Linguistics, was founded. After this, Divisions for History, English Literature, German Literature and French Literature were also established. At this period there were many prominent foreign professors such as Chamberlain in Linguistics, Riess in History, Koeber in Philosophy and Aesthetics, Lafcadio Hearn (Yakumo Koizumi) and Dixon in English Literature. This prominence of foreign professors reflects the atmosphere of the time when Japan was seeking to develop rapidly as an emerging ‘empire’, in every aspect including academic studies.

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

In April 1919, the government under Takashi Hara’s leadership changed the name of the College of Letters to the Faculty of Letters, under which 19 Divisions were placed: Japanese Literature, Japanese History, Chinese Philosophy, Chinese Literature, Oriental History, Occidental 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.

This period was the new era of Taisho and can be seen as the point where studies in 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 Occidental 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 the days of peace did not last long, and depression and war began to loom large over academic progress. The influence of materialism and its decline through thought control, and the rise of nationalistic tendencies, had deep impacts on the studies within 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 Occidental History.

As the war proceeded from the Japan-China War to 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 was also stopped. 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 to the number of students who entered the Faculty comes fourth after the Faculties of Medicine, Law and Economics.

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

The campus buildings in Hongo escaped serious damage even by the Bombing of Tokyo in March 1945. After the defeat of Japan, the Faculty came back to life with returning students who graduated provisionally or whose university term was shortened, and those who had joined the army under leave of absence from the university. 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 has continued to this day.