February 02, 2020

Yamato Museum: Japan's largest warship

BOB ANTHONY finds there’s no argument that the main drawcard for tourists visiting the Japanese city of Hiroshima is its place in history as the site of the first atomic bomb attack.
The vast majority of visitors spend time at the Peace Park and A-Bomb dome building, looking at the memorials and museums and learning about the tragic loss of life which occurred at 8.15am on August 6, 1945.

However, there is also a museum just a 30-minute local train ride from the city centre which marks a Japanese wartime achievement which, at the time, instilled a sense of pride in the nation - the battleship Yamato.

Located in the harbour port city of Kure, the Yamato Museum marks the city’s longship building history with the World War II battleship its focal point.

The Yamato was one of two giant battleships - the biggest ships ever built at the time with the biggest naval guns afloat (46cm or 18.1 inch).

Artist's impression of Yamato's last stand

Despite its huge size and power, it only fired shots against Allied forces once and was sunk by US carrier planes on a suicide run to Okinawa to fight the US Pacific Fleet.

However, the ship holds a place of pride among many Japanese due to the technological advancements it represented.

To this day, the Yamato is honoured through modern cartoon series for, set in the future where it is a space-going vessel fighting pirates.

The museum features a 1/10th scale replica of the ship, 26.3m in length, where visitors can walk around it, get up close and appreciate just how huge it was in real life.

Also on display are replica models of many other Japanese naval vessels of the period which came through the Kure naval yards, Japanese midget subs and human torpedoes, a Zero fighter and naval artefacts.

There is also a celebration of Kure’s shipbuilding achievements post World War II where some of the biggest commercial vessels in the world have been built.

The museum has an interactive kid’s zone where they can learn about shipbuilding technology and operate displays. There is an English audio guide which explains the various exhibits and some of the history behind the displays.

The museum opens out onto the port area of Kure which is a hive of activity with ships of all shapes and size coming and going.

You can even walk the wharf created to service the giant battleship and step out its length.

I have been to Hiroshima three times now - the first was to visit the Peace Park and towards the end of the day learned of the Yamato Museum.

Unfortunately, time prevented me from visiting it that day and I had to leave Hiroshima the next day.

My second time to Hiroshima a couple of years ago was with friends who had never been and I wanted to show them the park and then head to the museum.

Alas, my plans to see it on that visit were thwarted by the fact the museum is closed one day of the week - Tuesday.

What day was I in Hiroshima - you guessed it, Tuesday!

This time my focus was clearly to see the elusive museum and I am glad I did.

I have a fascination for history though this isn’t just a place for history or war buffs but does it does provide an insight into what life must have been like for the Japanese during the Pacific conflict.

Aside from marking the huge war machine, it also marks a turning point in Japan’s modernisation.

As the brochure states “ The museum builds dreams and hopes for the future by educating people about the history of modern Japan and by having them acknowledge the importance of peace.”

And if you were ever into models, this is the Holy Grail of model ships!

The Yamato Museum in Kure can be reached by local train from Hiroshima Station. If you have JR Rail Pass, the trip is free.

Entry to the museum is 500 yen per adult and it is open from 9am to 6pm, six days a week (not open Tuesday).

For details visit https://yamato-museum.com

Words and images: BOB ANTHONY

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