Dr. Shiga's 1914 Alamo Monument - Journal of San Antonio

Dr. Shiga's 1914 Alamo Monument

Nagashino is the Alamo of Japan;
The Alamo is the Nagashino of America.
Whoever knows the heroes of the Battle of Nagashino
Knows the heroes of the Alamo

by Sarah Lillibridge

Two monuments, one in Okazaki, Japan and one in the Alamo courtyard in downtown San Antonio, bear the words above to commemorate the sacrifice of the Alamo defenders and liken their battle to the 16th century Japanese Battle of Nagashino. Dedicated in 1914, the Alamo monument, symbolizes international peace and unity for Japan and the United States.

Dr. Shigetaka Shiga, a Waseda University geography professor in Tokyo, found fascinating similarities in the two historic battles, the Battle of the Alamo in 1836 and the Japan’s Battle of Nagashino in 1575. These similarities included troops barricaded inside fortifications, improvised palisades, youthful commanders, a prolonged siege by an overwhelming force, heroes sneaking through enemy lines to call for reinforcements, significant casualties in the larger army, and an outsized legend in popular imagination. Shiga, wanting to highlight these similarities and to improve relations between the United States and Japan, brought the small monument from Japan and dedicated it to the memory of the defenders of the Alamo.

The words that appear on the monument tell the tales of the Battles of the Alamo and Nagashino with the names and stories of the American and Japanese defenders intertwined and exchanged. Shiga expressed the parallels between the battles and the deep attachment he felt for the heroes of both battles. As the poem continues “in spirit there is not a distinction between East and West,” Shiga calls for peaceful international relations by commenting on the shared beliefs of the warriors fighting many miles and many years apart as they defended their homes and their lives.

The Battle of Nagashino took place between June 17 and June 28, 1575 in the Mikawa region of Japan when Takeda Katsuyori besieged Okudaira Nobumasa, who was in alliance with Tokugawa Ieyasu, the mighty ruler of central Japan. Katsuyori attacked Nagashino Castle because Nobumasa was holding the fortress for Tokugawa, and because it lay in the center of his supply lines. Katsuyori began the battle on June 17 and continued until the 22nd, when his high casualties convinced him to starve out the defenders. One of the Nagashino defenders, a samurai named Torii Sune’emon, escaped the castle and passed through enemy lines with a message calling for reinforcements from Okudaira’s allies, Ieyasu and Oda Nobunaga. Torii Sune’emon returned to Nagashino to inform his comrades that additional troops were coming, but was captured by the Takeda. After bravely shouting to his comrades that help was on its way, Torii died at the hands of Katsuyori’s executioners. When the Oda-Tokugawa combined forces arrived, they saved the Castle defenders by defeating Katsuyori in a decisive battle and driving him away with just a third of his original troops. His downfall was inevitable after Nagashino and Tokugawa did eventually defeat him in 1582.

Similar historical and military circumstances frame the events in the Battle of the Alamo. When General Martín Perfecto de Cos surrendered San Antonio to the Texans after the Siege of Bexar in December, 1835, Mexican President resolved to retake this rebellious town and garrison, and at the same time impress upon the Texans the futility of further resistance to Mexican rule. On February 23, 1836 about 145 Texian fighters barricaded themselves in the old Valero Mission compound as Santa Anna’s army approached San Antonio. Over the next thirteen days, the Mexican forces grew to over 2000 troops, but the Texian army grew to just 189 men. The Alamo defenders, like the Nagashino defenders, sent a call for reinforcements through enemy lines; but unlike the Japanese siege, the call virtually went unanswered. When the battle on the Alamo ended on the morning of March 6, 1836, all Texan defenders had been killed, and like the Nagashino siege the engagement took an even greater toll on the attackers with the loss for the Mexican army over 520 men. Further, just as Katsuyori later met defeat, the courage of the Alamo defenders gave General Sam Houston and his troops the will to overcome Santa Anna in the quick Battle of San Jacinto the next month on April 21.

The story of these two battles and Shiga’s gift of the monument with the inscribed poem led San Antonio to hold a dedication ceremony on November 6, 1914. Along with Shiga and many San Antonio city officials, descendants of the Alamo defenders came to the dedication where Shiga said he intended to “make my people understand the friendliness, generosity, and hospitality of the inhabitants of far-off America.” The small monument that serves as a bond between the United States and Japan calls for a deeper understanding between two peoples and implores them to consider peace rather than war.

But their fame, like the blossom’s fragrance, is still in the air.
The custom of the West does not necessarily condemn surrender…


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