Just over 150 years ago, 19 students were smuggled out of Japan - against government policy and using assumed names – from a quiet harbour in Kagoshima on the west coast of Japan, which was at the time officially isolated from the rest of the world.
They travelled to University College London, in what is now the London Borough of Camden, to see the industrial, economic, technological, social and governmental changes revolutionising Victorian Britain. The students took back their learning and transformed and modernised Japan, establishing it as an Asian powerhouse.
This little-known chapter of history was celebrated last summer with the signing of an official Friendship Agreement between Camden and Kagoshima and a visit to our borough by 15 Japanese students.
Now, the story is being celebrated in a fascinating and colourful new exhibition, ‘Camden and Kagoshima – Partners in the Making of Modern Japan’, at Pancras Square Library until Sunday 9 June and Swiss Cottage Library, from 12 to 26 June.
The Mayor of Camden, Councillor Maryam Eslamdoust, officially opened the free exhibition at Pancras Square Library with guests from Japan and Camden last night (Monday 20 May).
Cllr Eslamdoust, said: “It is wonderful that only a few months on from the signing of our Camden-Kagoshima Friendship Agreement in July last year, so much has already happened.
“Lasting international relationships, founded in shared histories, are vital in a world that is changing as quickly as is ours. This exhibition is testimony to the role played by UCL and Camden 150 years ago in hosting and educating the students whose story is told in this exhibition.
“My hope is that, by working together to develop this friendship agreement, we can kindle real friendships between young people from Kagoshima and Camden that will flourish in the future and lead to a continuation of what has been started.”