Mt. A library looks back into Japanese history

Meiji-era photograph exhibit highlights longstanding connection between Mount Allison and Japan

Upon entering the doors of the Ralph Pickard Bell Library, you will see a series of photographs hanging above the glass display and computers, portraying images of Meiji-era Japan. These photographs, which are on display  until Thanksgiving, depict scenes of daily life in Japan and traditional clothing. Beautifully composed and detailed, the photographs provide a look into Japan during a time of significant change.

Stop by the Lib this week to learn more about Mt. A’s links to japan. Savannah Harris/Argosy

The photographer, John Cooper Robinson, was an Anglican missionary from Ontario who moved to Japan and lived there from the late 19th to the early 20th century. The first ever Canadian-sponsored missionary to Japan, Robinson depicted a Japan in the transitional stages between feudalism and capitalism in his photography.

Robinson lived all over Japan, spending time in Hiroshima, Nagoya and Niigata. He was also a writer, having published an essay about the country titled The Island Empire of the East: Being a short history of Japan and missionary work therein. The essay focused on several aspects of daily life in Japan, including the country’s transportation, language and spirituality.

Alongside some of Robinson’s photographs, the library also features a display case detailing the history between Mt. A and Japan. This includes a write-up on the history of MASSIE, a program at Mt. A that brings 20 to 40 Japanese students to the University every semester to study English, as well as a portrait of Reitaro Okuro, the first-ever Japanese student to attend Mt. A.

MASSIE, which began in 2000, offers three programs per year. The program pairs visiting students with conversation partners to give these students the opportunities to practice English and develop friendships with Canadians. It also includes frequent trips to other provinces, such as P.E.I. and Ontario, to learn about Canada’s history and geography. The program therefore provides not only an opportunity for MASSIE students to practice and develop their English skills, but also a cultural connection between Japan and Canada.

While these photographs are historical, they are still meaningful in the present day. Indeed, Mt. A recently welcomed the photographer’s great-granddaughter, Jill Cooper Robinson, who introduced a Sept. 26 lecture by Professor Hamish Ion about the longstanding relationship between Japan and Mt. A.

The exhibit provides not only a reminder of the positive connection between Mt. A and Japan, but also of our relationship going forward. Be it through exchange programs, Instagrammed travel pictures or international friendships, one thing is certain: these photographs are only the start. Be sure to stop by!

Sarah Zamponi