The Ashikaga resident plays the koto, a traditional Japanese musical instrument, for a charity organization and finds great satisfaction in helping the less fortunate. Masuyama connected her passion for service to the themes in President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Masuyama and four of her peers from the Japanese city won trips to Springfield by writing essays about what the speech means in connection to 21st century issues. The ninth annual contest celebrated the 148th anniversary of Lincoln’s famous words at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.
Saturday morning the students delivered the address in the Hall of Representatives of the Old State Capitol, the spot Lincoln gave his House Divided speech in 1858.
“Their presence here has been a reminder to us: Lincoln’s legacy transcends time and national boundaries,” said Carol Zerkle, chair of the Sister Cities Association of Springfield Ashikaga Committee.
After each student addressed the crowd, actor Fritz Klein surprised the audience and gave his own rendition, leading to big smiles and wide eyes from the students.
“Hopefully they will be able to absorb some of the history of Mr. Lincoln and his hometown,” Springfield Mayor Mike Houston said Saturday. “Most importantly, I hope they will have the opportunity to see how America lives.”
Springfield’s most notable son delivered the speech on Nov. 19, 1863, in Pennsylvania, four and a half months after Union forces defeated the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Understanding the Gettysburg Address is fundamental to our democracy, Zerkle said. The first paragraph focuses on the past, the second the present and the third is Lincoln’s vision of the future.
“We need to understand our history in order to be able to understand how we can proceed,” Zerkle said.
Japanese students study Lincoln’s famous words in school, said Professor Shinji Masuda, who led the Ashikaga students.
“It’s a very fundamental idea about democracy,” he said about the address.
Earning their way here
The students learned the speech in English and submitted tapes performing it. The 100 best then had the opportunity to write the essays.
“You are an inspiration to all of us, and we are thankful for your positive example and your interest in history,” Old State Capitol Director Justin Blandford told the students.
Most of the students had never visited a foreign country.
“I want to know more about America, more and more,” 17-year-old Rina Ogino said through a translator.
In her essay, Ogino talked of her desire to become a ballet teacher in the United States. Fourteen-year-old Takuya Kuga wrote about international exchanges, and his hope is to become a translator. He doesn’t just want to convey
languages, he wants to promote cultural understanding, he said. Fourteen-year-olds Yui Otake and Eriko Mikami also delivered the address Saturday.
The contest winners stayed with host families and attended Springfield schools. Masuyama loved making friends at Springfield High School, and also relished the food — specifically hamburgers — during her trip.
The students saw the Lincoln historic sites.
“Our mission is to show him caught up in the turmoil of a nation tearing itself apart, and a nation that would eventually become embroiled in a great Civil War,” said Dale Phillips, superintendent of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.
Springfield and Ashikaga joined as sister cities 22 years ago. Eighteen Springfield students visit Japan every June, and the relationship promotes citizen diplomacy, Zerkle said.
When Japan suffered a March earthquake and tsunami, the Sister Cities Association of Springfield created a disaster-relief fund. After 9/11, people in Ashikaga sent $10,000 for Springfield citizens to send to New York. The Ashikaga residents also sent money to Springfield when the city faced tornadoes in 2006.
San Pedro, Mexico, also is a Springfield sister city and has been since 1996. Adults can apply to take a May San Pedro trip. For more information, contact Mick Bernasek at 494-2099 or firstname.lastname@example.org.