Japanese students deliver Gettysburg Address
By ALISSA GROENINGER
Nov 19, 2011 @ 10:40 PM
Sixteen-year-old Akiho Masuyama wants to spread her passion for
helping throughout the world.
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
“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
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
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
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.
Alissa Groeninger can be reached through the metro desk at 788-1519.
Phillips read a portion of a speech Lincoln gave before leaving Springfield for
the last time.
“As the train left the station that day, no one could have imagined the
horrible war that lay ahead,” Phillips said.
By the time Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, the war had taken its
toll. Organizers invited Lincoln to the cemetery dedication as an afterthought.
His brief words followed a two-hour speech given by Edward Everett, a
politician and renowned orator.
However, it’s Lincoln’s words that live on.
“Those words will forever be remembered by all those who search for freedom and
understand that those words are necessary, and the sacrifice (is) necessary, to
secure that freedom,” Phillips said.