Japanese Maritime Self-Defense: Minesweeping and Subs
The city of Kure, Japan, which lies on the Inland Sea about 14 miles southeast of Hiroshima, was known until the end of World War II primarily as a naval and military center. The Yamato, with her sister ship Musashi the largest battleships ever built, was constructed at the Kure Naval Arsenal, and the nearby Hiro Naval Arsenal built planes and aircraft engines to fuel the Japanese war machine. Although Escort Flotilla 4 and a submarine flotilla of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) are still based in Kure, the city has reinvented itself since the war, in which it was devastated by aircraft from Admiral William F. Halsey Jr.’s U.S. Third Fleet. Kure is now more widely recognized as a center of commercial shipbuilding technology. A strong naval tradition remains, and nowhere is this more evident than in the area’s many naval museums and monuments.
One of these, known alternately as the Kure Maritime Museum or the Yamato Museum (for the 1/10th-scale model of the famous battleship in its main hall), was covered in Naval History’s December 2008 “Museum Report.” The less well-known JMSDF Kure Museum sits just across the street from that popular tourist attraction. Locally the building is known as the tetsukujirakan, or “iron whale building,” because of the 250-foot-long Yushio-class submarine, the Akishio, that protrudes from it. Only a five-minute walk from the Kure railway station, it is difficult to miss.
The first-floor lobby outlines the history of the JMSDF, from its emergence out of the ashes of the Imperial Japanese Navy to present-day operations. The museum as a whole focuses on two aspects of maritime operations: coastal minesweeping and submarine activities. The JMSDF maintains other museums on different aspects of its operations, covering naval aviation at Kanoya and surface ships at Sasebo.
The second floor is devoted to the history and technology of JMSDF minesweeping operations. These began even before the formation of the JMSDF in 1954, as Japanese minesweepers cleared the coastal waters around the island nation in the aftermath of World War II, and provided assistance to United Nations forces during the Korean War. The history of the JMSDF mine-warfare force culminates with the Self-Defense Force’s first significant overseas deployment, as Japanese minesweepers were dispatched to the Persian Gulf for 188 days in 1991 to clear the area of Iraqi mines.
Naval history buffs will enjoy this aspect of the JMSDF Kure Museum, but its focus is more on educating the general public about JMSDF operations. Significant attention is devoted to the technology involved in mine warfare operations. Displays explain the different types of mines and the evolution of mine detection and neutralization techniques, as well as the training required of and the risks taken by the dedicated professionals of the JMSDF.
Finally, the museum’s third floor tells the story of Japan’s submarine force, from the Japanese Defense Ship Kuroshio, the first submarine leased from the U.S. Navy in 1954, to the present day. Submarine missions, technology, training, and the life of a submariner are covered. Most displays in this section are model boats detailing the features of each submarine class in service in the JMSDF between its inception and its present incarnation. But the real treat is the walk through the JDS Akishio, which can be accessed from a walkway just outside the third-floor gallery.
The tour of the submarine, which served from 1986 until her decommissioning in 2004, takes visitors through some of the cramped living and dining quarters as well as the control room. From there they can use the periscope to see across Kure Harbor to the island of Etajima, home of the JMSDF First Service School and the Officer Candidate School, and formerly of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy. These can be reached by ferry from the terminal next to the Yamato Museum.
Most display panels are in Japanese, with sufficient English to hold the interest of foreigners versed in that language. The tour of the submarine alone justifies a visit to the JMSDF Kure Museum. As an added benefit, it, the adjacent Yamato Museum, and the Museum of Naval History at JMSDF Etajima can all be visited comfortably within a single day.
JMSDF Kure Museum
Open daily 0900–1700
Closed 29 December–3 January
Kure, Hiroshima-ken 737-0029
Tel: 0823-21-6111; Fax: 0823-32-1601