A delegation of Japanese educators and officials, including the Mayor of Osaki Kamijima, Yukinori Takata, center, and Dr. Hiromi Nagao, the former president of Hiroshima Jogakuin University, right, are visiting College of the Atlantic as they plan a new college in Japan based on the COA model.A delegation of Japanese educators and officials, including the Mayor of Osaki Kamijima, Yukinori Takata, center, and Dr. Hiromi Nagao, the former president of Hiroshima Jogakuin University, right, are visiting College of the Atlantic as they plan a new college in Japan based on the COA model.The group will be meeting with local business owners, Acadia National Park officials, and town and regional representatives to see how their town of Osaki Kamijima, similar in location to Mount Desert Island, might benefit from the addition of a small college. They’ll also be meeting closely with COA leadership, faculty, and staff to better understand how the college approaches the complex challenges of higher education with a collaborative, experiential, interdisciplinary philosophy.

The delegation will visit COA from Sept. 8-10. On Friday, Sept. 9, at 4 p.m., they will hold an open forum in the Thomas S. Gates Community Center. All are welcome.

Dr. Hiromi Nagao, the former president of Hiroshima Jogakuin University, leads the delegation, joined by the Mayor of Osaki Kamijima, Yukinori Takata, and Japanese businessmen, planners and other educators.

Osaki Kamijima, the proposed location for the school, is a Japanese coastal island on the Seto Inland Sea similar to Mount Desert Island in geography. The Mayor and his team are especially interested in the economic relationships between COA and its surrounding communities, and the potentials for local revitalization a similar school might hold for their island.

From Fukushima to Reform

The Japanese visitors have been among those advocating for changes to their country’s very traditional higher education system since the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011. The reaction to the event from the various ministries in Japan was that, of all the failures, it was the educational system that failed first and foremost, Nagao said. The string of bad decisions and general human error were tied back, in the opinion of some in the federal government and Nagao, to an educational system that placed too much emphasis on rote memorization, specialization, and information acquisition over true understanding. Those large gaps inspired the group’s interest in College of the Atlantic.

Osaki Kamijima looks and feels similar to Mount Desert Island, but without the annual influx of tourism, the economy is suffering. While some make a living primarily from the ship building industry, by growing citrus, and by cultivating high-bush blueberries, the island is having a hard time attracting young families. Mayor Takata hopes to bring education to the island as a new industry, while others say that the project would represent the beginning of real educational reform. The model, combining progressive education with a commitment to local economic abundance, is very similar to the one launched by COA’s founders, Bar Harbor residents Les Brewer and Father Jim Gower, in 1969.

COA professor Jay Friedlander, the school’s Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business, and president Darron Collins ’92 met Nagao at the Ashoka U Presidents’ Experience at Brown University in 2014. In 2015, Friedlander visited Japan, and this past winter Nagao hosted President Collins. In August, Nagao, Collins, Friedlander, COA’s academic dean Ken Hill, and others held a two-week Human Ecology Lab and Island Odyssey (HELIO) on Osaki Kamijima with 24 students from around the world, including COA. Nagao saw the program as the inaugural courses of the proposed new college.