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Milan, Yawata Japan to celebrate 30 years as sister cities

Cary Ashby • Nov 8, 2016 at 3:00 PM

MILAN — This year marks the marks the 30th anniversary of a sister-city relationship between Milan and Yawata City, Japan. And it all started with Thomas Edison’s experiment with bamboo.

Milan Township resident Robert Wheeler, one of Edison’s descendants, explained the significance of bamboo to Edison and Edison to the Japanese culture.

“The Japanese honor Edison, not just for his accomplishments, but how he worked,” said Wheeler, referring to the Milan native’s attention to detail and perseverance. “(Edison’s) oldest sister is my great-great grandmother.”

Wheeler said when Edison was looking for some filament for the “practical light bulb,” the inventor reached behind himself and grabbed some bamboo from a fan, deciding that might work.

“Edison used the practical light bulb for 10 years. Bamboo is the best filament,” Wheeler said. “it was the best filament for the light bulb.”

Bamboo was tracked down to the Yawata City area.

“Bamboo is very important to Japan,” Wheeler said. “You can eat it. You can shave the end of it to make a brush. Priests used that for writing the scrolls and such. You can use it for building.

“It’s very spiritual. It goes in segments, like your life does,” he added, referring to birth, life, getting married, having a child and death.

“Bamboo is symbolic of turning darkness into life,” said Wheeler, who believes it’s so important to Japan that he doesn’t think it would exist without bamboo.

Wheeler has helped coordinate the 30th anniversary of Milan and Yawata being sister cities.

The current mayor of Yawata, Fumiaki Horiguchi, is traveling to Milan this week to further deepen the relationship between the municipalities. With him will be Akira Kojima, the son of the late Saburo Tatemoto, who owned a coffee shop and was known as an Edison fan. On Friday, they will tour Edison Elementary School, EHOVE Career Center and Chef’s Garden.

Tatemoto, who was instrumental in getting the sister-city relationship established, died 11 years ago. Wheeler said he believes Tatemoto’s son has the same kind of enthusiasm for Edison as his father.

“That’s why we wants to continue the relationship (with Milan),” Wheeler added. “He’s picking up where his father left off.”

On Friday, Milan Mayor Steven Rockwell will present a proclamation to Horiguchi, the Yawata mayor, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the sister city connection. Also, Milan Village Administrator Brian Rospert said the village will present a new set of plans to recreate Edison’s birthplace in Japan since the originals given to Tatemoto many years ago were lost after he died.

“They disappeared. They don't know what happened to them after he passed away,” Rospert added.

On Aug. 12, 1986, a sister-city agreement was signed by then-Milan mayor, Robert C. Bickley, and the Yawata City mayor at the time, Yoshiaki Hishida.

“The sister-city agreement hopes to to promote cultural and commercial ties and inspire greater understanding of different cultures and between former foes as an act of peace and reconciliation through education and sharing our common bond with Yawata, Thomas Edison,” Rospert said.

Since the initial, formal establishment of the enduring relationship between the two cities, the students from Edison Elementary School and Yawata City started art exchanges.

“We hang their artwork; they hang our artwork,” Wheeler said. “That has continued unbroken for 30 years.”

From 1989 through the 1990s, many citizens traveled between the sister cities in official and unofficial capacities. In 1991, four Edison High School students traveled to Yawata, which sent a number of high school students to Milan for a visit. 

In the early 1990s, Japanese representatives brought video cameras to the local elementary school, hoping students from both cities could talk to each other. Wheeler said that was unable to happen since Yawata had broadband and at that time, Edison Local Schools (then called Berlin-Milan Local Schools) only had dial-up capabilities.

The Edison birthplace and Milan Public Library also participate in the Tanabata Festival in early August, sending wishes from the children of Milan to be hung on bamboo branches.

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