ADRIAN — For more than 30 years, a relationship between the city of Adrian and Moriyama, Japan has been cultivated through decades of enduring friendships and the sharing of cultural differences, languages and customs.
While there have been many people involved in making the sister city agreement as successful as it has been, one man has been a constant factor in the merger of the Adrian and Moriyama delegates.
Masahiro Kojima, who was a translator in Japan when Adrian and Moriyama began their sister city agreement in August 1989, and has remained involved with the program for many years since then, is fondly remembered by Adrian city officials and many others. people who knew Kojima on a personal level.
Kojima, 81, died on Tuesday, July 11 while under the care of Hospice of Lenawee. His wife of nearly 30 years, Cynthia Willett, was by his side, according to Kojima obituary.
From 1994 to 1996, Kojima was a Japanese exchange teacher for the Lenawee Intermediate School District.
“He loved teaching the Japanese language and culture to students of all ages throughout Lenawee County,” his obituary read.
When he and Willet got married in 1995, they lived in Japan and the United States for 28 years. Friday would have been the couple’s 28th wedding anniversary.
Kojima was given several opportunities to represent Moriyama City abroad, including serving as Moriyama’s liaison to both Adrian City and LISD until his declining health. She dedicated herself to promoting the Lenawee-Moriyama High School Exchange Program and the Adrian-Moriyama Sister City Citizen Exchange Program, according to her obituary.
Former Adrian mayor Jim Berryman said he remembers quite a few details and some funny stories from his days meeting Kojima. One thing was certain, Kojima took the role of interpreting him very seriously.
“In Japan, a mayor is treated with a lot of respect,” Berryman said. “(Masahiro) has always been a reliable friend and professional worker.”
The sister city relationship between Adrian and Moriyama, which are separated by 13 hours, was formed in Moriyama when delegates from Adrian traveled to Japan to ratify the agreement.
“Our friendship began 34 years ago, in August of 1989,” Berryman said. “We just connected and became really good friends from the first time we shook hands.”
At the time the agreement was signed, there were no mobile phones and text messages were not a form of communication. To keep in touch, Berryman said, Adrian and Moriyama sent handwritten letters back and forth.
Today, cell phones, text messages, and emails make staying connected so much easier.
With Kojima living in Adrian, Berryman and others involved with LISD and the sister city agreement allowed him to meet. Berryman said that he really enjoyed sharing a trip to the cafeteria with Kojima and “talking about anything and everything that friends can talk about.”
“Adrian’s sister city relationship is strong thanks to the teamwork of Masahiro and Cindy (Cynthia),” he said. “They helped maintain and foster that relationship.”
Last July, a delegation from Moriyama came to Adrian. It was one of the first sister city trips to take place since the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019 the 30th anniversary of the agreement was recognized.
Before the pandemic, sister city visits occurred almost annually, Berryman said. Adrian’s representatives traveled to Moriyama in odd-numbered years and Moriyama’s delegates came to Adrian in even-numbered years. Later this fall, Adrian will send representation to Moriyama in an effort to further foster the relationship.
Sister city agreements are designed to build and encourage communication and conversation between the two countries, Berryman explained. They are not intended for commercial or political gain, but rather are intended to spark social and cultural exchanges, while “building a personal connection that brings people together.”
On almost every trip to sister cities, Berryman said, and from social events to formal ceremonies, Kojima was always there and always by Adrian’s delegation’s side.
“If world leaders could come together in the same kind of relationship, they would all get along much better,” Berryman said.
Adrian’s current representation traveling to Moriyama in October is made up of Mayor Angie Sword Heath and City Commissioners Kelly Castleberry, Gordon Gauss and Doug Miller.
“I was very saddened to learn of Masahiro’s passing,” Heath said in a text message. “Masahiro met with me right after I became mayor in 2019 to explain the importance and history of the relationship between sister cities and the LISD exchange program. When we needed advice on what to send to our sister city or when we needed translation or connection to the new leadership in Moriyama, Masahiro was always there to help with a smile that would light up a room.”
The Adrian City Commission, at its meeting on Monday, remembered Kojima with a moment of silence.
“He was a very humble man who didn’t want attention or recognition, but what he did for both the sister city relationship and the LISD exchange program was invaluable to our community,” Heath said.
In March 2022, the City of Adrian, along with LISD educators and others helped dedicate a bench in Comstock Park overlooking the Raisin River, with a plaque dedicated to Kojima.