On Saturday after I bought my camera I headed down to the port town of
Kure, about 25 minutes south of Hiroshima (
google map). Most of you probably haven't heard of Kure, its main (only?) notable claim to fame is that it is one of the main naval bases of the Japanese Navy (since the reopening of Japan in 1868 at least) - especially so in the WWII era, but even now it is the home of the Japanese Marine Self-Defense force. There were a bunch of sailor cadet guys running around in white sailor outfits everywhere you turn down here... which is particularly ironic in this country where they force school girls to dress like sailors for no apparently reason.
When it comes to the Imperial Japanese navy, the most well known ship of all is the
Battleship Yamato. It was a behemouth battleship built in the 1930s, its main claim to fame was the fact that it had 18" main guns, 2" bigger than the US Iowa Class. It was sunk at the end of the war in April 1945 on its way to defend Okinawa from the US forces. I recently discussed these events with my review of the Japanese movie 'Otoko no Yamato' a few weeks back.
About two years ago they opened a museum in Kure called the
Yamato Museum. The centerpiece is a 1/10th scale replica of the ship in the museum's main hall. But they also include a lot of other information about the history of the port city, the Japanese Imperial Navy, WWII stuff, relics brought up from the wreck and educational stuff about ship design (did I ever mention my original undergrad major was Naval Architecture?)
Out front they have one of the main guns from another Japanese battleship,the Yamato's were much bigger.
This is the 1/10th reproduction. Quite large!
The real ship was 263 meters, so the model is 26.3, thats still like 86 feet!
Quite detailed too. This is the superstructure at mid-ships.
For some reason they had this guy standing there randomly. I included this picture to show off the zoom on my new EX-V7 camera (both pictures are full size taken from the same spot).
The view from the 2nd floor
There was another random figure on the deck here to give scale. From what I read, the 18" guns were so powerful that no one could be above deck while they were being fired.
Being a skeptical observer and having a lot of knowledge on the subject, I was somewhat critical as I read the printed materials and reviewed the displays and video presentations. I got the English audio guide which wasn't very good. it skipped a LOT of the detail presented in Japanese, but even then they really gave a very limited, shallow view of the war and the Yamato's place in it (not all together suprising, but still).
They tried REALLY, REALLY hard to spin it as the Yamato representing the pinnacle of Japanese technology at the time. And more or less explicitly try to make the case that the technologies developed for Yamato helped in Japan's post-war recover and rise to industrial prominence:
(click on the picture to see the unsubtle spin)
But in my opinion and the opinion of the materials I've seen, what Yamato really represented was an expensive white elephant that was obsolete before it was even finished (in the age of the aircraft carrier). And the fact that it was the flag ship of the navy and named 'Yamato' (which is a name of one of the ancient kingdoms that became the unified Japanese imperial government), they were too afraid to risk using their crown jewel in battle, mostly keeping it and its thousands of crew members idle in the docks. Only after it was too late to make any difference, they decide to send it on a one way suicide mission without air cover. It didn't even make it near Okinawa before it was spotted and sank rather quickly by a few squadron of US fighters (shockingly losing 90% of its 2800 crew members in the process).
Although the raw data may be mentioned, the analysis is missing from the museum. I didn't see anywhere where they talked about the costs associated to build and maintain it (partially because it was a 'secret project', not a lot of records like this exist, but estimates aren't even made). Its not even really compared side by side to other battleships of the time...
The relics from the wrecksite were interesting:
but it wasn't exactly Titanic, so no crystal chandeliers... They also had a large collection of goodbye letters from crew members to their family before the final voyage. The fact that the ship and its crew members were thrown away at the end of the war in a poorly concieved suicide mission is particularly tragic...
The museum also has a random assortment of other WWII weapon systems, including a Zero fighter, a midget sub and
Katien Human Torpedo:
The Kaiten(above) is a particularly horrifying weapon system... its basically a torpedo with a guy strapped to it (the naval equivalent of a suicide vest). In a US museum these types of weapons are presented as horribly desperate weapons that are a tragic waste of a human life, but this place presented them rather matter of factly.
(also there was no discussion of the effectiveness of any of these weapons... Midget subs and kaiten were not effective and basically a waste of life and resources)
OK, enough of the 20th century, let's look to the Future!
Earthlings, I come in Peace!
Upstairs they had a gallery on 'the future', focusing on space exploration and the Yamato's role in Sci Fi. Centerpiece of this of course is the famous 1970's anime '
Space Battleship Yamato' by Matsumoto Reiji, seen as inaugurating the 'Golden Age of Japanese Animation'. I was a big fan of the English dubbed version 'Star Blazers' when I was a kid (its still one of the few anime I will admit to being a fan of).
Space Battleship Yamato cutaway model (with Wave Motion Gun!)
I was most impressed w/ the life size talking model of '
Analyzer' (aka IQ9 in the English version) the sassy, sexually harassing robot aboard the Yamato:
Outside they had a random collection of old boats (a hydrofoil, a SES, and an exploration sub). They also had this:
Its a full scale recreation of HALF of the deck of the front half of the Yamato... just to give you an idea what the real scale was like. Except for the fact that it was flat. :-P
Not exactly sure why, but they had a museum staff guy showing off a remote control Yamato in a shallow pool outside too... I felt like pulling a Godzilla on it. :-P
They also had this full sized recreation of one of the 18" (46 cm) shells outside too. As you can see they're more than 6" tall and weight like 4000lb. In this case they're used as parking control:
You may notice a giant submarine behind me... that is actually from another museum here, the newly opened (2 months ago) '
JMSDF Museum' (thats the 'Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force Museum'). It includes a full sized sub (mock up?) that is connected to another building with exhibits. Unfortunately it closed at 5 so I wasn't able to go after the Yamato Museum. doh!
As far as the Yamato Museum goes: If this were a movie and I was giving a rating, I'd give it a 6/10. Its definitely got some narrative problems, but the content is interesting enough, despite those problems to make it worth the visit (if you ever happen to be in Kure with a free afternoon).
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