The 712th Mita Public Speaking Event "The Iwakura Mission in the Victorian Era: A Journey of Cultural Contact and Knowledge During the Bakumatsu and early Meiji Period"
January 29, 2024
On Thursday, December 21, Keio University's time-honored Mita Public Speaking Event was held at the Mita Public Speaking Hall (Mita Enzetsu-kan). This marked the 712th speech given for this event series, with Prof. Akiko Ohta, professor emerita of Keio University, delivering a lecture on "The Iwakura Mission in the Victorian Era."
The 1860s and 1870s were significant in Japanese history because some Japanese people, if not all, were at last able to travel abroad and experience diverse cultures. What did they do, and what did they try to bring back and communicate to the rest of Japan? Prof. Ohta examined these questions by focusing on one of the most famous governmental delegations, the Iwakura Mission, and its educational tour of Victorian Britain, discussing this venture from both the Japanese and British perspectives.
She began her lecture by explaining the class system, ethics, and history of education in the Victorian era. She then introduced what members of the Japanese delegation experienced and saw when they went to England based on the accounts compiled by Kunitake Kume, the secretary for the Iwakura Mission, in The Iwakura Embassy, 1871-73: A True Account of the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary's Journey of Observation Through the United States of America and Europe. Prof. Ohta appreciated how these men took an active approach when confronting new values, and how they were able to channel these raw experiences into knowledge. At the end of her lecture, Prof. Ohta addressed modern society and how the challenge now is to sift through and digest the amalgamation of information that is available at our fingertips in our daily lives without even traveling. She concluded by emphasizing the importance of learning from history when we think through these issues.
The audience was transported to Victorian England by Prof. Ohta's skillful narrative. The early winter chill outside stood in stark contrast to the warm atmosphere in the Mita Public Speaking Hall, which was filled with a fervor reminiscent of a speech that might have been delivered in the early Meiji period.
Prof. Ohta, professor emerita of Keio University, delivering her lecture
Inside the event venue
The outside of the event venue, the Mita Public Speaking Hall (Mita Enzetsu-kan)