Chambersburg, Japanese city renew old friendships

July 15, 2005|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - With an exchange of gifts Thursday morning, residents of Chambersburg and a delegation from Gotemba, Japan, renewed their long sister-city relationship at the beginning of a whirlwind visit.

"I visited here 10 years ago, so I'm very happy to be here again," said Yumiko Kitagawa, a housewife and one of the 29 members of the delegation that includes the mayor of Gotemba, a city of about 85,000 people at the foot of Mount Fuji.

"We are visiting the same place, but everything is different. The same, but different," Kitagawa said during a tour of the Old Jail, the headquarters of the Kittochtinny Historical Society.


Having served as a translator when a Chambersburg delegation visited Gotemba years ago, Kitagawa was looking forward to renewing the friendships she formed then.

Sinichi Negami is no stranger to Chambersburg or the United States. His mother, Tsuna Negami, helped forge the sister cities relationship between Chambersburg and Gotemba and he attended Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.

Tsuna Negami, who died in 2000 at the age of 96, attended the former Penn Hall Academy and Wilson College in Chambersburg before World War II, he said.

"After the Second World War ... President Eisenhower wanted to have this kind of grassroots communication" between countries, he said. His mother approached the mayor of Gotemba with the idea to join with Chambersburg in one of the earliest sister city relationships, he said.

That relationship dates to 1960 and over two decades individuals made goodwill trips between the two countries, said Charles Schlichter, the chairman of the Gotemba Friends, the committee hosting the group. In 1980, the first formal delegation from Chambersburg went to Japan and five years later a Gotemba delegation journeyed here, he said.

Negami, his sister, Masako Amano, and other members of Tsuna Negami's family posed around a plaque dedicated to her memory in the Japanese Garden of the Old Jail. Diana Steckel, president of the Chambersburg Garden Club, said Tsuna Negami made the first donation to help transform the prison exercise yard into a horticultural refuge.

The garden club presented the visitors with trays featuring a picture of the plaque, while the delegation returned the favor with a mosaic made of exotic woods from Mount Fuji, a book of photographs of the mountain and other gifts, Steckel said.

Negami said one of the largest industries in Gotemba is an American-owned outlet center frequented by Tokyo shoppers. Like Franklin County, the city has a military presence, including a U.S. Marine base, he said.

A hot springs resort is another attraction, he said.

Though more populous, Gotemba is spread out over a much larger area than Chambersburg, having been created from several villages in 1955, Schlichter said.

From the jail, the group went to the Borough Hall and then to the Heritage Center, where they got a quick history lesson on the area. The Gotemba Friends will host the visitors with a series of tours, dinners and entertainment until their departure Sunday.

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