Tsugaru Mayor Hiroaki Kuramitsu, with translator Olivia Snyder, left, during a dedication ceremony for a torii gate and garden built in Bath to honor Tsugaru citizens who, in 1889, rescued crew members of the Bath-built ship the Cheseborough. Courtesy of the City of Bath

A Japanese torii gate built in Bath’s downtown Riverwalk also serves as a bridge between the City of Ships and Tsugaru, officials said during a dedication ceremony over the weekend.

The gate and a memorial garden honor Tsugaru citizens who rescued members of the crew of the Cheseborough, a Bath-built merchant vessel that ran aground during a typhoon in 1889 near the northern Japanese village of Shakiri in what is now Tsugaru. Nineteen of the 23 crew members were killed. Villagers went to extraordinary lengths to rescue the survivors, with men reportedly tying themselves to ropes and swimming out to pull them to shore. A woman reportedly held a crew member suffering from hypothermia against her body to revive him, and a group ran 40 miles to the Aomori capital to get help and an English translator.

“These brave people, normal everyday people, risked their lives to save strangers,” state Sen. Eloise Vitelli said during a ceremony Saturday morning that included Tsugaru’s mayor and city council chairperson. “A torii gate marks the beginning of a sacred space. I can think of  nothing more sacred than the recognition of our shared humanity, of the proud compassion humans show to each other in times of need.”

Tsugaru schoolchildren are taught the story of the Cheseborough, and in 1969, the city built a memorial for the victims near the site of the disaster. The two cities have run an exchange program since 1990 as part of a sister-city relationship.

“Since the terrible tragedy of the Cheseborough shipwreck, the city of Bath and the city of Tsugaru have deepened the sister-city relationship through the countless friendships between our citizens and the unbreakable bond that has been formed between them,” Tsugaru Mayor Hiroaki Kuramitsu said. “We hope that this magnificent torii gate and memorial garden will continue to stand as a symbol of our relationship and teach future generations the meaning of friendship and humanity that transcends barriers of language, culture and geographical lines. We look forward to continuing our friendship and cultural exchange with all of you.”

Vitelli said her son went to Tsugaru as part of the exchange program.


“The experience was transformative for him and all of us,” she said. “It opened his eyes to a broader world, as it increased his appreciation for his own hometown and the seafaring heritage both our communities share.

“There is so much we have in common.”

The red and black gate, which must be carefully crafted because it has no square or rectangular parts, traditionally marks the entrance to a Shinto shrine in Japan. The Bath gate was funded by city and private contributions for the raw materials. The Shelter Institute of Woolwich and Great Works Landscaping donated labor.

“We are very pleased how this gate and garden have furthered the cultural exchange between us,” said Tsugaru City Council Chairperson Yoshihiro Kimura. “When I return to Tsugaru, I plan to tell the City Council and the people of Tsugaru about the amazing welcome we have received from all of you and how the City Council continues to support our amazing exchange programs.”

“The torii gate before us is rooted deeply in Japanese tradition,” said Bath City Council Chairperson Mary Ellen Bell. “It serves not just as an entrance but as a bridge between two cities, two cultures and two histories. Its location could not be more fitting.”

William Laliberte, president of Bath’s Cheseborough Program, said the gate helps to “foster a message of courage and love across the seas.”

“This space embodies the enduring spirit of friendship and cultural appreciation between the two communities,” he said.

The torii gate in downtown Bath’s Riverwalk. Courtesy of Vanessa Chasse

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