Kaiten replica in front of
Atata Exchange Center
Atata Exchange Center
The Japanese Navy in April 1944 opened a branch of the Otake Submarine
School in Hirao Town on Atata Peninsula in Yamaguchi Prefecture. In March 1945,
the Navy established a kaiten human torpedo training base at the same location
in Hirao. In November 1992, the Hirao Museum of History and
Folklore opened up a kaiten exhibition room. These kaiten
exhibits were moved in November 2004 to the newly constructed Atata Exchange Center located on Atata
Peninsula. The Exchange Center now
displays over 300 items with about three quarters of them related to kaiten or
World War II.
A full-size kaiten replica used in
the 2006 movie Deguchi no nai umi (Sea without exit) is exhibited in
front of the building. The sign in front
of the replica explains that the kaiten was a sure-death weapon in that the
large-size torpedo filled with 1.55 tons of explosives at its tip was steered by
one pilot, who crashed it into an enemy ship. At the left-side of the building
entrance, a monument erected in 2004 remembers the families who had their homes
forcibly taken by the Japanese Navy in order to construct the Yanai Branch
School (sometimes referred to as Hirao Branch School) of the Otake Submarine School.
The highlights of Atata Exchange Center include photos of the nine Hirao
kaiten pilots who died, a 1/10 scale kaiten model under the photos, kaiten pilot
writings, and a model of the base. A map above the base model shows that kaiten
training took part on the base's southern side, while Koryu and Kairyu
midget submarine training took place on the northern side. The museum has a
wide variety of other kaiten-related exhibits including historical photos,
uniforms, periscope, stopwatch, senninbari (thousand-stitch belt worn for
good luck), photos and information about the other three kaiten bases, and
smaller kaiten models. One interesting photo exhibit shows the 1959 unveiling
ceremony of the nearby Hirao Kaiten
Monument. General WWII-related exhibits include medals, caps, and various
models including ones of other suicide weapons such as midget submarines and
ohka rocket-powered gliders.
The nine young men from Hirao Kaiten Base who died include five kaiten
pilots who left Hirao on July 18, 1945, aboard Submarine I-58. East of the
Philippines on July 28, two of I-58's six kaiten were launched. Shortly
after midnight on July 30, I-18 launched two torpedoes that sank the cruiser
Indianapolis (CA-35), and nearly 900 of her crew died in the attack and
afterward in the water. Three more I-58 kaiten were launched as the submarine returned to
Japan. In addition to the five I-58 kaiten pilots who died in battle, three men died during training at Hirao, and one man
took his own life on August 18, 1945, after the war had ended.
Photos of men from Hirao Kaiten Base who died in WWII
with 1/10 scale kaiten model and other exhibits under the photos
Atata Exchange Center has about 100 books related to kaiten and other special
attack weapons that are available for perusal during a visit. Also available for
reading are copies of numerous
pages of actual Hirao Base kaiten training records.
Admission is free to Atata Exchange Center. Exhibits do not have any English
explanations. A four-page pamphlet in English is available, but the translations
from Japanese are quite rough in places.
The Hirao Town Tourism Association has a
detailed web page in
Japanese describing exhibits at Atata Exchange Center. In addition, the
association's web site has a fascinating
13-part section featuring
extended interviews with three former kaiten pilots at Hirao.
Date of most recent visit: October 11, 2008