Students bound for sister town in Japan

Sydney Schwartz

For more than 80 years, Marshfield, Mass., has maintained a friendship with Senmaya, a town of about 14,000 people in northern Japan.

On several occasions, the town has hosted administrators, teachers, students and dignitaries from Senmaya. Most recently, a group of middle and high school students came to Marshfield in March 2007.

Now, for the first time, a group of students and administrators from Marshfield are going to visit Senmaya. A dozen Marshfield High School students and six chaperones left Thursday for an 11-day trip.

A few years ago, Senmaya merged with several nearby villages to become the city of Ichinoseki.

The students will stay with families and visit Japanese schools. They will participate in a Japanese festival, make presentations about Marshfield and life in New England, and do some sightseeing.

Administrators, teachers and students from Senmaya visited Marshfield in 2005 and 2007. Some of the Marshfield students going to Japan hosted visitors from Senmaya.

Joining them are School Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin, South River Elementary School Principal Linda Loiselle, Furnace Brook Middle School Principal Al Makein and several other adults.

“They’ve been coming here continuously and we’ve never gone there,” McGoodwin said. “The hope is that this will be the beginning of more of a tradition as we bridge two cultures.”

The relationship was forged in 1927, when children from the First Congregational Church of Marshfield sent a doll named Miss Betty as part of a national campaign to promote friendship between the United States and Japan.

American communities sent more than 12,000 friendship dolls to Japan, but only about 200 dolls survived through World War II, during which the Japanese government promoted a policy of destroying the “dolls of the enemy.”

Miss Betty, the gift from Marshfield, was hidden in a closet in the Japanese town’s elementary school. After the war, no one remembered the doll’s significance.

Years later, the school’s principal learned the doll’s history and led an official visit to Marshfield in 1988. Dignitaries from Senmaya also visited Marshfield in 1992.

Barbara Roth, a South River Elementary School teacher, remembered the story of the doll when she visited her 22-year-old daughter, who was studying in Japan, in 2002. Soon afterward, she returned to visit the school where Miss Betty had survived, and she brought another doll, named Elizabeth.

This week, McGoodwin said, the Marshfield entourage will bring gifts from the selectmen, the school committee, school PTOs, the Marshfield Historical Society and the North River Arts Society.

Students will bring books to donate to the schools, as well as maple sugar candy and other items that represent Massachusetts and Marshfield, he said.

“The gifts have a connectivity to our part of the world,” McGoodwin said. “The community is very excited that we’re coming. I think it’s important that we provide students with the opportunity to understand and appreciate the diversity of different cultures by having us go to visit those cultures.”

The Marshfield group’s visit will include the planting and dedicating of a tree in a Japanese school garden, McGoodwin said. The inscription on the plaque will read:

Senmaya-Marshfield Friendship Garden

Symbolizing The Lasting Friendship of Our Communities

Dedicated July, 2008

Patriot Ledger writer Sydney Schwartz may be reached at