Kyoto University was founded as the second national university in Japan. In 1906, this new university added the College of Letters (Bunka Daigaku) as its fourth college, and accepted 16 degree students in the first year. This was the origin of our Faculty of Letters (Bungaku-bu) / Graduate School of Letters (Bungaku Kenkyūka). It was 9 years after the establishment of Kyoto University.
In its early days, the College of Letters had three divisions: philosophy, history and literature. These three divisions had 16 majors in 1908: philosophy, ethics, psychology, pedagogy, philosophy of religion, sociology, aesthetics and art history, Japanese history, Eastern history, Western history, geography, Japanese language and literature, Chinese language and literature, Western literature, philology and linguistics, as well as Sanskrit literature. As of spring 2016, the Faculty of Letters / Graduate School of Letters has developed into 5 divisions and 32 majors, and enrolled 1,010 undergraduate and 449 graduate students.
In the process of planning this new faculty, it was emphasized that “the core concept of the Faculty of Letters should be Academic Freedom, and that all teachers and students should be unconstrained and independent, going into the heart of scholarly study to ‘make manifest what is minute, and bring to light what is obscure.’” In other words, the mission of this faculty has been to foster students who can find and investigate subtle problems through their own ability. The teaching staff has encouraged students to take responsibility for their own learning, affirmed that “[classroom] lessons are not an essential part of a university,” only a kind of guidance for or complement to students’ self-study.
Kyoto was Japan’s capital from 794 to 1868. This long history nurtured Kyoto’s cultural tradition, and old traditions were transformed into intellectual innovations. For example, Jinsai Itō (1627-1705), a leading Japanese Confucian scholar, wrote the following paragraph in Kyoto.
To read books, to reason from facts, to raise ones cultural level through studying the works of predecessors and historical events ― the objective of this conduct is not simply an intellectual exploration of how the world is. It should be to seek a well-balanced optimatization. (Dōjimon)
Thinking in this way, Jinsai Itō questioned the authority of established intellectual frameworks, which he had once mastered thoroughly. He subsequently began to seek a well-balanced state for human beings, and his thoughts have influenced Japanese intellectuals since the 17th century. Kyoto’s cultural tradition of developing a critical stance while building on what came before, is one of the foundations of our university’s academic research.
When you arrive for your first campus visit, you will find the Faculty of Letters located in urban Kyoto, but you can look out toward the forests of gently-sloped hills from our windows. There are many historic sites, beautiful gardens, and “sacred places”―sites of cultural pilgrimage (seichi-junrei)―around the campus. In all seasons, everyone can take a walk to the well-known Tetsugaku no Michi (Philosopher’s Walk), the Kamo-gawa Delta Area, and the Tadasu-no-Mori forest. We strongly welcome students who are willing to study ambitiously and sympathize with our core principle of Academic Freedom. Develop your limitless potentialities, enjoying both the natural and the intellectual environment of Kyoto.
Dean of the Faculty of Letters / Graduate School of Letters
 Originally named Kyoto Imperial University (until 1947).
 Transferred to the Faculty of Education / Graduate School of Education in 1949.