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Fukui mayor visits University to commemorate anniversary

<p>Mayor of Fukui Shinichi Higashimura, along with a representative, pay their respects at the Willow Grave Cemetary, which is the burial site of Taro Kusakabe and William Elliot Griffis.</p>

Mayor of Fukui Shinichi Higashimura, along with a representative, pay their respects at the Willow Grave Cemetary, which is the burial site of Taro Kusakabe and William Elliot Griffis.

Shinichi Higashimura, the mayor of Fukui, Japan, traveled to New Brunswick yesterday with his delegation to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Sister Cities International, a program that connects U.S. cities to international cities.

Upon Higashimura’s arrival to New Brunswick, he toured the city and Rutgers as well as Kusakabe Taro’s grave, where he said he paid his respects. Taro, a samurai from Fukui, was the first Japanese national to graduate from Rutgers College.

“I am impressed with the rich culture and the beauty of the city,” he said.

Former President Dwight Eisenhower developed Sister Cities International in 1956, said Jane Tublin, the deputy envoy for international programs in New Brunswick. New Brunswick’s sister city is Fukui and the two areas share an extensive history.

“[The purpose of Sister Cities] is to encourage cities to link with other cities around the world as a way to learn about each other, learn to respect different cultures and languages, and maybe this will all contribute to some way, somehow, to world peace,” she said.

Tublin said Rutgers’ history with its sister city began in 1867, when Fukui sent Taro to Rutgers Grammar School, now housed in Alexander Johnston Hall on the College Avenue campus. Taro was the first Japanese citizen to be inducted in Phi Beta Kappa at the University.

Taro died from tuberculosis a few weeks before graduation and was posthumously awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics. He is buried in Willow Grove Cemetery in New Brunswick, according to a report from Fernanda Perrone, curator at the Zimmerli Art Museum.

Although contact with Fukui began well over a century ago, the cities initiated the official agreement to bond New Brunswick and Fukui as “sister cities” in 1982, Tublin said.

Higashimura attended a lecture in the Alexander Library, where he viewed photographs of Taro as a student at Rutgers College. The collection included images of Taro clad in uniform and standing amongst his peers on a football team.

Tublin said following Taro’s death, Fukui invited William Elliot Griffis, Taro’s language tutor, to teach in Japan.

Many regarded Griffis as the foremost expert on Japan at the time, Tublin said. Upon his death, he willed his entire collection to the Alexander Library on the College Avenue campus, where it is still available for viewing.

Fukui donated money to the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum on College Ave. after Taro and Griffis’s deaths, Tublin said. The museum features the Kusakabe-Griffis Gallery, which features art in the Japonisme style and accentuates the ties between Fukui and New Brunswick.

Sister Cities International develops programs that bring the most benefit to the citizens of both cities to achieve its mission of fostering cultural awareness, Tublin said. Rutgers uses student exchange to connect with Fukui.

Fifth graders attending Livingston Elementary School are eligible to travel to Japan and vice versa, she said. This year, 5 of 16 applicants were selected to study in Japan.

Tublin said once the American students are in Japan, they attend school and visit temples and museums celebrating Japanese culture.

In New Jersey, the Japanese students tour the Zimmerli Museum and the Alexander Library where they can study Taro’s experiences, Tublin said.

The Japanese students also go to ball games, New York City and the Jersey shore, she said.

While Sister Cities International accommodates the possibility of study abroad programs for youth in New Brunswick, it brings culture to the local New Brunswick setting.

Along with his tour of Rutgers, Higashimura visited New Brunswick High School yesterday, said Russell Marchetta, the public information officer for the city of New Brunswick. Four students studying Japanese as well as a Japanese-American teacher accompanied him and his delegation.

The students interviewed Higashimura in Japanese, Marchetta said. They prepared a luncheon and personally served the mayor and his delegation.

“They learn Japanese in books and [from] speaking to one another — here they got to speak Japanese to people whose first language is Japanese,” he said. This is something you don’t see every day. … This was a real eye-opener for them.”

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