Generally considered Japan's first major modern philosopher, Nishida Kitaro was the founder of an approach to philosophy that usually is identified as the Kyoto School. Born near Kanazawa, where he was a childhood friend of D.T. Suzuki, Nishida attended Tokyo University and upon graduation became a country high school teacher. During this time, he was drawn to Zen Buddhism as both a philosophy and a way of life. Simultaneously, he deepened his readings in Western philosophy, especially German idealism, psychology, and American pragmatism. In 1910 he took an appointment at Kyoto University, where he taught until his retirement in 1928. His first work, Zen-no-kenkyu (A Study of Good) (1911), features his early ideas, explaining the relationships among thought, reality, ethics, and religion. He continued to write books, mainly in the form of related essays, until his death in 1945. Nishida's philosophy often is classified into three periods. In the early period (1910-1917?), he emphasized the analysis of "pure experience", attempting to show a common drive to unity in the experiences underlying the formation of science, art, morality, and religion. In his second, transitional period (1917-1927?), he studied the philosophies of the German Neo-Kantians and turned to an interest in the logical structure of judgment instead of the psychological roots of experience. Fine-tuning his ideas in Intuition and Reflection in Self-Consciousness (1917) and The Problems of Consciousness (1920), he concluded that the ultimate basis of consciousness is "absolute free will." This shift led to his third period (1927-45), during which he developed his "logic of place," a systematic attempt to characterize the contextual structures within which judgments (empirical, idealistic, and ethical-aesthetic-religious) are formed. He later extended this view to cover the historical world. Although sometimes criticized for his artificiality, and, despite various twists and turns in his philosophical career, Nishida consistently strove to articulate a philosophical system that would incorporate the insights of both Western and Asian thought.
A student of D. T. Suzuki, Hisamatsu Shin'ichi, and Nishitani Keiji, Abe Masao is the member of the Kyoto School who has been most active in personally interacting with Western philosophers and theologians. His essays draw on a variety of sources in an effort to make East and West more intelligible to each other and to push both traditions to new philosophical and religious insights.