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Yawata residents tour Edison Elementary to celebrate sister-city agreement with Milan

Cary Ashby • Nov 12, 2016 at 4:00 PM

MILAN — A Japanese city whose residents honor and celebrate inventor Thomas Edison toured a school building named after him Friday.

The tour of Edison Elementary School was part of the celebration of 30 years of Yawata, Japan being a sister city with Milan. Mayor Fumiaki Horiguchi and Akira Kojima also toured EHOVE Career Center and Chef’s Garden. The two men were there to deepen the connection between Milan and Yawata.

Kojima said Japanese people respect Edison for his philosophy of “1 percent inspiration and 99 percent of hard work” and also using bamboo in the first light bulb. Kojima is the son of the late Saburo Tatemoto, an Edison fan who owned a coffee shop and was instrumental in making the sister-city agreement happen in 1986.

“When he (Edison) invented the light bulb, he found a filament using bamboo. He chose bamboo from our hometown,” said Kojima, who graduated from the University of Missouri.

“Bamboo is straight when it grows,” he added, explaining that bamboo is symbolic for its strength. “Everybody wants to grow very strong.”

Children in Yawata often take group pictures with statues or busts of Edison.

“Edison is one of the most famous persons in the world,” Kojima said. “We have big statues (of him) in front of the train station and (at) the top of the mountain.”

On Aug. 12, 1986, then-Milan mayor, Robert C. Bickley, signed a sister-city agreement with the Yawata mayor at the time, Yoshiaki Hishida. Kojima said the relationship goes deep into Yawata’s history, since the city will celebrate 40 years of existence next year.

“It was a township before that,” he added.

Since 1986, students from Edison Elementary and Yawata have exchanged art with each other. About 10 years ago, the son of the current Yawata mayor, Horiguchi, participated in the art exchange program. 

Art teacher Lee Lehmann places the Japanese artwork in the hallway outside her classroom once she gets it. 

“I usually get them in the spring,” she said. “(The students) really are in awe. … The kids, when they see them in the hall, are kinda spellbound by it.

Lehmann said the students are especially fascinated with manga and anime artwork from Japan.

“It’s something that is cross-cultural,” she added.

Edison Local Schools Superintendent Tom Roth, treasurer Anne Arnold joined Principal David Hermes and Milan Township residents Robert and Linda Wheeler on the tour of the school. Robert is a descendant of Edison.

Hermes said the cross-cultural experience is important to the students, even though they are fairly well-rounded, and especially since many younger American people often are exposed to things only from one perspective or culture.

“The kids love it,” he told Kojima and Horiguchi, referring to the Japanese artwork revealed during an assembly.

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