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Teaching staff approx. 5,400
Undergraduate students approx. 13,500
Graduate students approx. 9,300
International students approx. 1,600
Financial scale approx. 160 billion yen
Undergraduate Faculties Integrated Human Studies / Letters / Education / Law / Economics / Science / Medicine / Pharmaceutical Sciences / Engineering / Agriculture
Graduate Schools Letters / Education / Law / Economics / Science / Medicine / Pharmaceutical Sciences / Engineering / Agriculture / Human and Environmental Studies / Energy Science / Asian and African Area Studies / Informatics / Biostudies / Global Environmental Studies / Government / Management / Law School / School of Public Health

Kyoto University

History and Outstanding Features

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Kyoto University is the second oldest national university (imperial university) in Japan. It was established in 1897 by renaming and reorganizing the Daisan Koto Gakko, or “Third Higher School” that had been founded in the Edo period (1603-1868). 
This first incarnation was known as Kyoto Imperial University, and had just one department, the College of Engineering. 
Since then, however, the university has grown, expanded and been rearranged a number of times, and today it comprises 10 undergraduate facilities and 14 graduate schools. Rivaled only by The University of Tokyo in the scope and quality of its research, Kyoto University is deservedly one of Japan’s best known universities on the international education and research platform.

Since the very beginning, Kyoto University has been deeply committed to freedom in research, education and learning. This academic freedom has allowed the university to foster creative and capable graduates and researchers who have been responsible for some of the most noteworthy and pioneering research seen anywhere in the world.

Kyoto University has long been a popular choice with outstanding scholars from overseas, too, many of whom are drawn not just by the promise of a challenging academic environment, but also by the stunning natural beauty and historical architecture of the city of Kyoto. Kyoto University also hosts a number of international symposia every day, bringing together top-level researchers from around the world.

Soon after the end of the Pacific War, in 1949, Dr. Hideki Yukawa, a theoretical physicist working at Kyoto University, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, the first Japanese ever to receive the honor. Through his theoretical work he predicted the existence of the meson, which was subsequently proved through experimentation, and his receipt of the award signaled the international acceptance of and acclaim for his work.

At the time, Dr. Yukawa was one of three leading names in theoretical physics, alongside Dr. Sinitiro Tomonaga, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, and Dr. Shoichi Sakata, who proposed the two-meson theory. All three men were graduates of the University, and all three collaborated, argued and debated with each other as they worked on theories and findings that would shape particle physics for years to come. Thanks to these three men, Japan was firmly established as the world leader in particle physics, a position it still commands today. The research of physicists Drs. Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa, who were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2008, follows in the footsteps of these three grandfathers of particle theory in Japan.

The attention that Kyoto University received, as a result of the pioneering progress being made in particle physics at the Graduate School of Science, led to an influx of outstanding scholars and researchers. Dr. Ryoji Noyori, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2001, was one such student. Dr. Noyori is a graduate of the School of Engineering, which also counts among its world-leading alumni Dr. Kenichi Fukui, another Nobel Laureate in Chemistry who received his award in 1981.

In mathematics, too, Kyoto University has fostered many scholars who have contributed to the advancement of the discipline over the years. As of 2001, three Japanese nationals have been awarded the Fields Medal, the highest accolade in mathematics, and two of those medalists have been graduates of Kyoto University. Both Drs. Heisuke Hironaka and Shigefumi Mori have developed innovative models in algebraic geometry. Kiyoshi Oka, a prodigal mathematician who worked in the field of complex analysis, was also a graduate of Kyoto Imperial University.

The field of medicine has also been enriched by research findings from Kyoto University. In 1987, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Dr. Susumu Tonegawa, a graduate of the Kyoto University School of Science. His research on the generation of antibodies has made a significant contribution to immunology. More recently, in 2007, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, succeeded in generating adult induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. These iPS cells present an alternative to and less of an ethical taboo than embryonic stem (ES) cells, which had been crucial to much research up until that point. The cells also suffer less immune rejection during transplant, which is an important breakthrough. In 2008, Dr. Yamanaka’s revolutionary research was selected as one of the themes for the Special Zones for the Promotion of Advanced Technology by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. At Kyoto University, CiRA, the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application, was established in 2010, and is now the core facility for research and development into iPS cells and their application.

Kyoto University also has a strong tradition of excellence in letters and humanities. Kitaro Nishida was the founder of the Kyoto School of philosophy, a movement that sought to consider how Japan, an Asian nation, should assimilate and adapt to the Western philosophy and ideas that were coming to be globally dominant at the time. His seminal work, An Inquiry into the Good(1911), is still widely read throughout the world. Dr. Teiyu Amano is just one of the many students who were influenced by Nishida; after studying Kantian philosophy at Kyoto University, he taught at the university before going on to become Minister of Education.

Many of Japan’s best known and loved authors are graduates of Kyoto University. Kazumi Takahashi, for example, who was a novelist and expert in Chinese literature, graduated from Kyoto University with a bachelor’s degree in Chinese language and literature in 1954.

Kyoto University is also renowned for its world-leading research on primates. In 1967, the University established the Primate Research Institute, one of the preeminent centers for primate research anywhere in the world. Japan is unique in that it is the only fully developed country in the world with an indigenous nonhuman primate population; for more than forty years the University has made the most of this unique position to advance our understanding of nonhuman primates, based on the principle that this will ultimately help up to understand the origins and evolution of human nature. The Institute’s multiple and pioneering research projects cover many themes, including the Ai Project, which examines chimpanzee intelligence, as well as field work on bonobos.

Other unique research projects include regional studies in Asia and Africa, and research programs on natural disaster science. Regional research seeks to allow scholars to achieve a deep and contextual understanding of Asian and African regions through an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates both the humanities and science. The meta-aim of such research is to contribute to better and more harmonious inter- and intra-regional coexistence with each other and with nature. Natural disaster research also utilizes disciplines from both humanities and science to consider natural disaster on a global scale, and work towards the construction of safe and stable social infrastructures able to cope with disaster.

Today, Kyoto University is home to research that is unique and unrivaled in quality, encompassing old and new academic disciplines alike. What is common to all research is the goal of translating findings and achievements into practical social currency. The Kyoto University Office of Society-Academia Collaboration for Innovation has been established precisely to facilitate such translation, and is proactive in seeking out partnerships and collaborations with research projects and industries throughout and beyond Japan.

Kyoto University is also committed to publicizing and sharing its research achievements with the international community. To this end, international symposia have been organized overseas on an annual basis since 2000 to promote the University’s work.

Finally, Kyoto University offers diverse opportunities to international students, including the Kyoto University International Education Program (KUINEP), which offers exchange placements with students from universities with which Kyoto University has an academic exchange agreement. The University is currently developing measures to encourage more Japanese students to take part in international programs in the future.


Dec 3, 2010

About the author
Eriko Kinashi is a reporter for Japanest NIPPON

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