Kyoto School

The Kyoto School (京都学派 Kyōto-gakuha) is the name given to the Japanese philosophical movement centered at Kyoto University that assimilated western philosophy and religious ideas and used them to reformulate religious and moral insights unique to the East Asian cultural tradition.[1] However, it is also used to describe postwar scholars who have taught at the same university, been influenced by the foundational thinkers of Kyoto school philosophy, and who have developed distinctive theories of Japanese uniqueness. To disambiguate the term, therefore, thinkers and writers covered by this second sense appear under The Kyoto University Research Centre for the Cultural Sciences.

Beginning roughly in 1913 with Kitarō Nishida, it survived the serious controversy it garnered after World War II to develop into a well-known and active movement. However, it is not a "school" of philosophy in the traditional sense of the phrase, such as with the Frankfurt School or Plato's Academy. Instead, the group of academics gathered around Kyoto University as a de facto meeting place. Its founder, Nishida, steadfastly encouraged independent thinking.

According to James Heisig, the name "Kyoto School" was first used in 1932 by a student of Nishida and Hajime Tanabe. Jun Tosaka (1900–45) considered himself to be part of the 'Marxist left-wing' of the school.[2] Afterwards, the media and academic institutions outside Japan began to use the term. By the 1970s it had become a universally accepted term.


Masao Abe writes in his introduction to a new English translation of Nishida's magnum opus that if one thinks of philosophy in terms of Kant or Hegel, then there is no philosophy taking place in Japan. But if it is instead thought of in the tradition carried out by Augustine and Kierkegaard, then Japan has a rich philosophical history, composed of the great thinkers Kūkai, Shinran, Dōgen, and others.[3]

The group of philosophers involved with the Kyoto School in its nearly 100-year history is a diverse one. Members often come from very different social backgrounds. At the same time, in the heat of intellectual debate they did not hesitate to criticise each other's work.

The following criteria roughly characterize the features of this school:

  1. Teaching at Kyoto University or at a nearby affiliated school.
  2. Sharing some basic assumptions about using Asian thought in the framework of Western philosophical tradition.
  3. Introducing and rationally investigating the meaning of "nothingness" and its importance in the history of philosophical debate.
  4. Expanding on the philosophical vocabulary introduced by Nishida.

Generally, most were strongly influenced by the German philosophical tradition, especially the thought of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. In addition, many employed their cultural resources in formulating their philosophy and bringing it to play to add to the philosophical enterprise.

While their work was not expressly religious it was informed significantly by it. For example, Tanabe and Keiji Nishitani wrote on Christianity and Buddhism and identified common elements between the religions.[4] For this reason, some scholars classify the intellectual products of the school as "religious philosophy."

Although the group was fluid and largely informal, traditionally whoever occupied the Chair of the Department of Modern Philosophy at the University of Kyoto was considered its leader. Nishida was the first, from 1913 to 1928. Hajime Tanabe succeeded him until the mid-1930s. By this time, Nishitani had graduated from Kyoto University, studied with Martin Heidegger for two years in Germany, and returned to a teaching post since 1928. From 1955 to 1963, Nishitani officially occupied the Chair. Since his departure, leadership of the school crumbled — turning the movement into a very decentralized group of philosophers with common beliefs and interests.

Significance of its notable members

The significance of the group continues to grow, especially in American departments of religion and philosophy. Since the mid-1980s, there has been a growing interest in East/West dialogue, especially inter-faith scholarship. Masao Abe traveled to both coasts of the United States on professorships and lectured to many groups on Buddhist-Christian relations.

Although Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki was closely connected to the Kyoto School and in some ways critical to the development of thought that occurred there — he personally knew Nishida, Tanabe, and Nishitani — he is not considered a true member of the group.[5]

Kitaro Nishida

Nishida, the school's founder, is most known for his groundbreaking work An Inquiry into the Good and later for his elucidation of the "logic of basho" (Japanese: 場所; usually translated as "place," or the Greek τόπος topos). This brought him fame outside Japan and contributed largely to the attention later paid to philosophers from the Kyoto School.

Nishida's work is notable for a few reasons. Chief among them is how much they are related to the German tradition of philosophy since Schopenhauer. The logic of basho is a non-dualistic 'concrete' logic, meant to overcome the inadequacy of the subject-object distinction essential to the subject logic of Aristotle and the predicate logic of Kant, through the affirmation of what he calls the 'absolutely contradictory self-identity' — a dynamic tension of opposites that, unlike the dialectical logic of Hegel, does not resolve in a synthesis. Rather, it defines its proper subject by maintaining the tension between affirmation and negation as opposite poles or perspectives.

Nishitani describes East Asian philosophy as something very different from what the Western tradition of Descartes, Leibniz or Hume would indicate.

It is 'intuitive and practical,' with its emphasis on religious aspects of experience not lending themselves readily to theoretical description. True wisdom is to be distinguished from intellectual understanding of the kind appropriate to the sciences. The 'appropriation' of Nishida's thought,...'embraces difficulties entirely different from those of intellectual understanding'...and those who 'pretend to understand much but do not really understand, no matter how much they intellectually understand' are the object of his scorn.[1]

Nishida wrote The Logic of Place and the Religious Worldview, developing more fully the religious implications of his work and philosophy through "Absolute Nothingness," which "contains its own absolute self-negation within itself."[6] By this Nishida means that while the divine is dynamically paradoxical, it should not be construed as pantheism or transcendent theism.

Nishitani and Abe spent much of their academic lives dedicated to this development of nothingness and the Absolute, leading on occasion to panentheism.

Keiji Nishitani

Nishitani, one of Nishida's main disciples, became the doyen in the post-war period. Nishitani's works, such as his Religion and Nothingness, primarily dealt with the Western notion of nihilism, inherited from Nietzsche, and religious interpretation of nothingness, as found in the Buddhist idea of sunyata and the specifically Zen Buddhist concept of mu.

Shizuteru Ueda

A disciple of Keiji Nishitani.

Eshin Nishimura


Today, there is a great deal of critical research into the school's role before and during the Second World War.

Hajime Tanabe bears the greatest brunt of the criticism for bringing his work on the "Logic of Species" into Japanese politics, which was used to buttress the militarist project to formulate imperialist ideology and propaganda. Tanabe's notion is that the logical category of "species" and nation are equivalent, and each nation or "species" provides a fundamental set of characteristics which define and determine the lives and outlooks of those who participate in it.



  1. ^ a b D.S. Clarke, Jr. "Introduction" in Nishida Kitaro by Nishitani Keiji, 1991.
  2. ^ Heisig 2001, p.4
  3. ^ Masao Abe, "Introduction" in An Inquiry into the Good, 1987, (1921).
  4. ^ Tanabe in Philosophy as Metanoetics and Demonstratio of Christianity, and Nishitani in Religion and Nothingness and On Buddhism.
  5. ^ Robert Lee, "Review of The Buddha Eye: An Anthology of the Kyoto School," in The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol.42, No.4 (Aug.,1983).
  6. ^ The Kyoto School (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Suggested reading

Scholarly books
  • The Buddha Eye: An Anthology of the Kyoto School. Edited by Frederick Franck. New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1982.
Seventeen essays, most from The Eastern Buddhist, on Zen and Pure Land Buddhism.
Anthology of texts by Kyoto scholars themselves, with additional biographical essays.
  • The Thought of the Kyoto School, edited by Ohashi Ryosuke. 2004.
Collection of essays dealing with the history of its name, and its members contributions to philosophy.
  • Philosophers of Nothingness by James Heisig. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8248-2481-4
Excellent introduction to the School's history and content; includes rich multilingual bibliography.
  • Absolute Nothingness: Foundations for a Buddhist-Christian Dialogue, Hans Waldenfels. New York: Paulist Press, 1980.
Good early work, focuses mostly on Nishitani's relevance for the perspective of Buddhist-Christian dialogue.
  • James W. Heisig, John C. Maraldo (Ed.): "Rude Awakenings. Zen, the Kyoto School, & the Question of Nationalism", Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.
Journal articles
  • "The Religious Philosophy of the Kyoto School: An Overview," by James Heisig. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies Vol.17, No.1, (1990), p51-81.
  • "Heidegger and Buddhism," by T. Umehara. Philosophy East and West, Vol.20 (1970), p271-281.
  • "Nishida's Philosophy of 'Place'," by Masao Abe, International Philosophical Quarterly Vol.28, No.4 (Winter 1988), p. 355-371.
  • "In Memoriam: Keiji Nishitani (1900-1990)," by E. Kawamura-Hanoka. Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol.12 (1992), p241-245.

Readings by members

For further information, see the Nanzan Institute's Complete Bibliography for all Kyoto School members
  • Kitaro Nishida, An Inquiry into the Good, translated by Masao Abe and Christopher Ives. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987 (1921).
  • ——, Art and Morality, translated by D. Dilworth and Valdo Viglielmo. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1973.
  • ——, Intelligibility and the Philosophy of Nothingness, translated by Robert Schinzinger. Westport: 1958.
  • Tanabe, Hajime, "Demonstratio of Christianity", in Introduction to the philosophy of Tanabe: According to the English translation of the seventh chapter of the demonstration of Christianity, translated by Makoto Ozaki, Rodopi Bv Editions, January 1990, ISBN 90-5183-205-2,ISBN 978-90-5183-205-1, ASIN B0006F1CBU.
  • --, "The Logic of The Species as Dialectics," trns. David Dilworth; Taira Sato, in Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 24, No. 3, 1969, pp. 273–288. [Available as pdf through JSTOR]
  • --, Philosophy as Metanoetics (Nanzan studies in religion and culture), Yoshinori Takeuchi, Valdo Viglielmo, and James W. Heisig (Translators), University of California Press, April 1987, ISBN 0-520-05490-3.
  • Keiji Nishitani, Religion and Nothingness, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982. ISBN 0-520-04946-2
  • ——, The Self-overcoming of Nihilism, translated by Graham Parkes and Setsuko Aihara. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990.
  • Yoshinori Takeuchi, The Heart of Buddhism, translated by James Heisig. New York: 1983.

Secondary sources on members

  • Nishida Kitaro, by Nishitani Keiji, translated by Yamamoto Sesaku and James Heisig. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
  • The Religious Philosophy of Tanabe Hajime, edited by Taitetsu Unno and James Heisig. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.
  • The Religious Philosophy of Nishitani Keiji, edited by Taitetsu Unno. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

External links

An Inquiry into the Good

An Inquiry into the Good, also known as A Study of Good, (Japanese: 善の研究, Zen no kenkyū) is a 1911 book by the Japanese philosopher Kitaro Nishida. The work has been described as a masterpiece.

Buddhism and Western philosophy

Buddhist thought and Western philosophy include several parallels. Before the 20th century, a few European thinkers such as Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche had engaged with Buddhist thought. Likewise, in Asian nations with Buddhist populations, there were also attempts to bring the insights of Western thought to Buddhist philosophy, as can be seen in the rise of Buddhist modernism.

After the post-war spread of Buddhism to the West there has been considerable interest by some scholars in a comparative, cross-cultural approach between Eastern and Western philosophy. Much of this work is now published in academic journals such as Philosophy East and West.

Hajime Tanabe

Hajime Tanabe (田辺 元, Tanabe Hajime, February 3, 1885 – April 29, 1962) was a Japanese philosopher of the Kyoto School. In 1947 he became a member of Japan Academy, in 1950 he received the Order of Cultural Merit, and in 1957 an honorary doctorate from University of Freiburg.

He was born in Tokyo. His father was the school principal of Kaisei Academy. He enrolled in the university of Tokyo first as a natural sciences student, then moved to literature and philosophy. After graduation, he worked in Tohoku University as a lecturer.

Keiji Nishitani

Keiji Nishitani (西谷 啓治, Nishitani Keiji, February 27, 1900 – November 24, 1990) was a Japanese philosopher of the Kyoto School and a disciple of Kitarō Nishida. In 1924 Nishitani received a Ph.D. from Kyoto University for his dissertation "Das Ideale und das Reale bei Schelling und Bergson". He studied under Martin Heidegger in Freiburg from 1937-9.

Kitaro Nishida

Kitarō Nishida (西田 幾多郎, Nishida Kitarō, May 19, 1870 – June 7, 1945) was a prominent Japanese philosopher, founder of what has been called the Kyoto School of philosophy. He graduated from the University of Tokyo during the Meiji period in 1894 with a degree in philosophy. He was named professor of the Fourth Higher School in Ishikawa Prefecture in 1899 and later became professor of philosophy at Kyoto University. Nishida retired in 1927. In 1940, he was awarded the Order of Culture (文化勲章, bunka kunshō). He participated in establishing the Chiba Institute of Technology (千葉工業大学) from 1940.

Nishida Kitarō died at the age of 75 of a renal infection. His cremated remains were divided in three and buried at different locations. Part of his remains was buried in the Nishida family grave in his birthplace Unoke, Ishikawa. A second grave can be found at Tōkei-ji Temple in Kamakura, where his friend D. T. Suzuki organized Nishida's funeral and was later also buried in the adjacent plot. Nishida's third grave is at Reiun'in (霊雲院, Reiun'in), a temple in the Myōshin-ji compound in Kyoto.

Kiyoshi Miki

Kiyoshi Miki (三木 清, Miki Kiyoshi, January 5, 1897 – September 26, 1945) was a Japanese philosopher.

Kyoto school (art)

The Kyoto school (京都派 -ha) was a collection of several styles and schools of Japanese painting of the late Edo period. Though there are many broad similarities between the styles within the school, these styles display key differences that separate them. Many were in fact reactions to one another, an artist or group of artists seeking to express themselves differently from those around them. Those subscribers of the Kyoto school found themselves at odds with the state sanctioned Kanō school, thus contributing to the vague nature of the former.

Kakuzo Okakura, predominant Japanese art historian of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, traced the origins of the Kyoto school to the schools of both Manchu-shin and Ming dynasties in China. The two latter schools focused on the power of the artist as a lay person or scholar, as opposed to a professional. Okakura is swift with a critique of the Kyoto school's attempts to repurpose the Japanese tradition of copying works from other (predominantly Chinese) cultures, a technique known as utsushi.One of the more prominent schools under the Kyoto school umbrella was the Shijō school, named after the street where many of the artists had their studios. Shijō (四条) literally translates to 'fourth avenue.' This school sought to produce a synthesis of the more realistic style of Maruyama Ōkyo with that of the nanga or Southern School styles. Mori Sosen was one of the more prominent painters in the Shijō school.

The nanga or Southern School, meanwhile, rebelled against the realism of Ōkyo and the Shijō artists, seeking to return to the inspiration and style of China's Southern School.

List of Japanese artists

This list is intended to encompass Japanese who are primarily fine artists. For information on those who work primarily in film, television, advertising, manga, anime, video games, or performance arts, please see the relevant respective articles.

Naitō Torajirō

Naitō Torajirō (Japanese: 内藤 虎次郎, August 27, 1866 – June 26, 1934), commonly known as Naitō Konan (内藤 湖南), was a Japanese historian and Sinologist. He was the founder of the Kyoto School of historiography, and along with Shiratori Kurakichi (the founder of the Tokyo School), was one of the leading Japanese historians of East Asia in the early twentieth century. His most well-known book is called Nara.

Philosopher's Walk

The Philosopher's Walk (哲学の道, Tetsugaku-no-michi, lit. Path of Philosophy) is a pedestrian path that follows a cherry-tree-lined canal in Kyoto, between Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji. The route is so-named because the influential 20th-century Japanese philosopher and Kyoto University professor Nishida Kitaro is thought to have used it for daily meditation. It passes a number of temples and shrines such as Hōnen-in, Ōtoyo Shrine, and Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji. It takes about 30 minutes to complete the walk, although many people spend more time visiting the sights along the way. On the northern part of the walk, there are good views of the nearby Daimonji. The walk is a popular destination for tourists and locals, especially during hanami.

Seiichi Hatano

Seiichi Hatano (波多野 精一, Hatano Seiichi, 21 July 1877 – 17 January 1950) was a Japanese philosopher, best known for his work in the

philosophy of religion dealing mostly with western religion and also western philosophical thoughts in theological aspects of Christianity.

Hatano was born in Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture, and educated at Tokyo Imperial University, from which he graduated in 1899. He was very influential in stimulating the study in Japan of Western philosophy and religion, both through his teaching (he was the first to teach the history of Western philosophy at Tokyo Semmon Gakko, now Waseda University), and through his early writings. These included An Outline of the History of Western Philosophy (1897), The Origins of Christianity (1909), and A Study of Spinoza (1904–1905). The last of these was originally written in German and only translated into Japanese in 1910). It was reprinted after WW2.

He opposed a positivist approach to religion, arguing that though rationality underpinned religious beliefs, it depended upon an autonomous form of experience to discover at least partial truth.

He died in Tokyo at the age of seventy-three.

Shin'ichi Hisamatsu

Shin'ichi Hisamatsu (久松 真一, Hisamatsu Shin'ichi, June 5, 1889 – February 27, 1980) was a philosopher, Zen Buddhist scholar, and Japanese tea ceremony (sadō or chadō, 茶道, "the way of tea") master. He was a professor at Kyoto University and received an honorary doctoral degree from Harvard University.

Shizuteru Ueda

Shizuteru Ueda (上田 閑照, Ueda Shizuteru, born January 17, 1926) is a Japanese philosopher specializing in philosophy of religion.

The son of a Buddhist priest, he studied philosophy at Kyoto University where his mentor Keiji Nishitani oriented his studies toward medieval mystics. He then went to Germany where he received a Ph.D. degree from the University of Marburg with a thesis on the Western Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart. He returned to Kyoto University to teach philosophy of religion. Later he specialized in the thought of Kitaro Nishida. Being a Zen practitioner, Ueda -like Nishida- studied Zen Buddhism under the philosophical categories of Western philosophy. He is considered a third generation member of Kyoto School.

Shūzō Kuki

Shūzō Kuki (九鬼 周造, Kuki Shūzō, February 15, 1888 – May 6, 1941) was a prominent Japanese academic, philosopher and university professor.

Soku hi

Soku-hi (Japanese: 即非) means "is and is not". The term is primarily used by the representatives of the Kyoto School of Eastern philosophy.

The logic of soku-hi or "is and is not" represents a balanced logic of symbolization reflecting sensitivity to the mutual determination of universality and particularity in nature, and a corresponding emphasis on nonattachment to linguistic predicates and subjects as representations of the real.

Takeshi Umehara

Takeshi Umehara (梅原 猛, Umehara Takeshi, March 20, 1925 – January 12, 2019) was born in Miyagi Prefecture in Tōhoku and graduated from the philosophical faculty of Kyoto University in 1948. He taught philosophy at Ritsumeikan University and was subsequently appointed president of the Kyoto City University of Arts. He is noted for his prolific essays on Japanese culture, in which he has endeavoured to refound the discipline of Japanese studies along more Japanocentric lines, notably in his book Nihongaku kotohajime (日本学事始) written in 1972 in collaboration with Shunpei Ueyama. Aside from his voluminous academic essays on numerous aspects of Japanese culture he has also composed theatrical works on figures as varied as Yamato Takeru and Gilgamesh.

He was appointed in 1987 to head the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, otherwise known by the abbreviation of Nichibunken, established by Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone to function as a centralized academic body collecting and classifying all available information about Japanese culture, both within Japan and abroad. He retired as head administrator of Nichibunken in 1995.

Tetsuro Watsuji

Tetsuro Watsuji (Japanese: 和辻 哲郎, Hepburn: Watsuji Tetsurō) (March 1, 1889 – December 26, 1960) was a Japanese moral philosopher, cultural historian, and intellectual historian.

Tomonaga Sanjūrō

Tomonaga Sanjūrō (朝永 三十郎, 1871–1951) was a Japanese philosopher and a renowned professor emeritus of the Medieval, Renaissance, Early Modern, and Kantian philosophy at the University of Kyoto in early 20th century. He was one of the leading thinkers from the Kyoto School. His son, Shinichirō Tomonaga, is also famous for receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 for the development of quantum electrodynamics.


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