Friday, September 2, 2016

Samurai and Civil War soldiers: Gettysburg becomes 'sister' park with Japanese battlefield

Samurai armor will be exhibit
In March, Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent Ed Clark traveled to Sekigahara, a mountainous Japanese city that has its share of civil war history.

The largest gathering of Samurai warriors in Japanese history battled for six hours in October 1600. Rather than North versus South, as was the case at Gettysburg in 1863, this was the Eastern Army against the Western Army (more than 160,000 troops total).

The Eastern Army prevailed, ushering a new shogunate and more than 200 years of relative peace in the country.

Clark and officials from the Borough of Gettysburg were in the town for the inaugural World Battlefields Summit. Participants discussed the significance and preservation of the Gettysburg, Sekigahara and Waterloo (Belgium) battlefields. It was part of an initiative by the Japanese government to learn how to best interpret Sekigahara and boost tourism.

“I studied up on it,” Clark told the Picket this week. “It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot about that civil war and that particular battle and Japanese history, and the preservation challenges they have.”

Monuments and banners at Sekigahara (NPS photos)

Gettysburg National Military Park is playing a significant part in events marking a Gettysburg-Sekigahara “sister city” and “sister park” relationship.

The Gettysburg Heritage Center and Museum on Sept. 4 (Sunday) and 5 (Monday) will host a free exhibition of Samurai swords and armor, flags and other documents, said general manager Stephanie Lightner.

The museum’s website summarizes the link: “Two separate countries, both facing civil wars, both with high numbers of casualties, but in the end resulted in peace and preservation. We come together, as sister cities, to remember and honor our past, in hopes to learn and grow together in the future.”

(Borough of Gettysburg)
A 2 p.m. "sister city" and "sister park" signing ceremony will be held Monday at the Gettysburg Lincoln Railroad Station. The park is sponsoring “Samurai Warriors & Civil War Soldiers” programs, also Monday. Posters will outline the history of the Sekigahara battle and visitors will be able to try on replica Samurai uniforms.

Clark described Sekigahara as being in the “fledgling” stage of boosting the battle’s story. To the Japanese, the clash “is as famous as Gettysburg is to the American public.”

The Japanese battlefield is pretty well preserved, though the fields of battle are developed, with an industrial park and a housing complex. Japanese officials Clark said, are trying to determine whether they may need to remove some modern infrastructure and buildings to better interpret the battle and improve sight lines.

For Clark, such efforts are about trying to pull back modern encroachment on hallowed ground.

In recent years, Gettysburg park officials have endeavored, as the Washington Post reports, to “peel back decades of accumulated natural and man-made clutter to evoke a terrain much closer to the one awaiting the 163,000 Union and Confederate combatants who faced off here in the first three days of July, 1863.” That included removing an obtrusive observation tower in 2000.

The Sekigahara site includes a small visitor center, some displays, monuments, banners and an electric map that needs refreshing, Clark said. He was impressed by a trail system that linked generals’ camps at Sekigahara. The town is in a valley surrounded by mountains.

World Battlefields Summit (Borough of Gettysburg)
Park visitors can try on Samurai uniforms Monday (NPS)

Japanese officials have visited Gettysburg to get ideas that may lead to a new museum.

For now, Sekigahara mainly draws a local crowd, said Clark. “It is not international tourism. They want to make it more approachable for foreign tourists.” The summit was designed to educate Japanese about benefits resulting from an enhanced site.

Clark said that his park, too, has more preservation work ahead.

Little Round Top “has been loved to death.” The National Park Service is working with the Gettysburg Foundation to raise $10 million to deal with traffic and erosion problems. Some other efforts have focused on areas of the first day of the battle. And there’s the constant fight to reestablish proper vegetation and fight unwanted regrowth.

At the summit, Japanese and Belgian officials bemoaned “the lack of a real philanthropic culture we have in the United States.” Japan is trying to bolster public-private partnerships, the superintendent said.

The “sister city” and “sister park” relationship may yield tourism, visitation and other benefits in Pennsylvania, as well, officials said.

Edo period screen depicting battle (Wikipedia, public domain)

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