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Yamato Museum

The battleship Yamato, despite its limited military success, was a national symbol of Japanese military might throughout WWII from the date of its commissioning on December 16, 1941, soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor. She served as flagship of the Combined Fleet for about one year from February 1942, including during the Battle of Midway in June 1942. Yamato also participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944 and in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944, but she did not achieve any significant battle results. On April 7, 1945, bombs and torpedoes from numerous American aircraft sunk Yamato on her way toward Okinawa on a suicide mission (designated as tokko or "special attack" by the Navy), and 3,056 men [1] lost their lives in the sinking. Even after the war, the battleship Yamato continued to hold the fascination of people not only in Japan but around the world, and the world's largest battleship ever built has been the subject or inspiration of several films and many books. In April 2005, the Yamato Museum opened in Kure City, where the ship was built. A 1/10-scale model of the battleship serves as the museum's centerpiece in the main hall. Through May 2007, just a little over two years after its opening, this world-class museum attracted three million visitors.

Although the museum focuses on the history, construction, and crewmen of the battleship Yamato, the four-story building also has exhibits related to Kure City's shipbuilding history and many other WWII-related items. The museum's official name of Kure City Maritime History and Science Museum indicates the scope of the exhibits. The audio guide at the museum states that the 1/10-scale Yamato model "was created not as a reminder of war but to become the symbol of the Yamato Museum to transmit to the next generation the message of the importance of peace and the wonders of scientific technology." Many Japanese war museums use similar reasoning to label themselves as peace museums with the explanation that viewing the tragedy and horrors of war leads people to understand the value of peace. The museum audio guide describing the model concludes with the same theme, "This model of Yamato is a guidepost to make sure that future generations will never again repeat the disastrous mistake of war. This is surely the wish of the Yamato sleeping on the ocean bed."

The Yamato-related exhibits are on the first floor on the left-side of the building near the main hall with the Yamato model. They include a short film about Yamato's suicide mission toward Okinawa, items recovered from the 1985 and 1999 underwater missions to view the sunken battleship, and exhibits related to her construction and technology. This section also has a film with interviews of several of Yamato's 276 survivors [2] who were picked up by four escort destroyers that did not sink (four other destroyers and one light cruiser that escorted Yamato were sunk by American aircraft). One exhibit lists Yamato crewmen (by home prefecture) who perished in the battleship's special attack mission, and this area has several group and individual photographs. Several final letters written by Yamato crewmen are on display. Although the museum has a typed script for some of the letters, the small font size prevents visitors from easily reading them. Translated below is a portion of one letter written by Lieutenant Junior Grade Taisuke Hanada to his 10-year-old daughter just before the battleship made her sortie toward Okinawa [3]. He was born in 1907 and was a navigation officer aboard Yamato.

To Akiko

I lived together with you a few months since you were born on June 10, 1934. Actually as a father it was a short time to be in contact with my child. But you listened carefully to your father's teachings and studied hard. This made me happier than anything.

If times had not changed, whatever I would have done, I wanted to let you study as you desire. However, you know the war situation. Now it is obvious what your father is telling you.

As for what will happen in the future, I will leave it to your heart. If first you have firm purpose and deep commitment, you will be able to stand in this world and judge properly. As for what I desire for you, it is for you to live truly for the good of many people in this world.

portion of letter omitted

Even now I appreciate the time when you came to see me off in front of the Kaijinkai Building [4]. I can see the scene. I'll fight remembering your figure.

Please grow up and be careful of the heat and cold and of your food and drink. I will be wishing you every happiness.

Father

Zero fighter (left) and
Kairyu special submarine (right)

 

At the time of Yamato's sinking, Taisuke Hanada and Shiro Shigeki, Navigation Chief, bound themselves to the compass on the bridge in order to face the same fate as their ship. Hanada's wife, who lived with their daughter Akiko in Kure City, gave birth to a second daughter soon after the end of the war, but this child died only a month later. Akiko also died at a young age [5].

The first floor left wing, in addition to the section on Yamato's history, contains many exhibits about Kure's shipbuilding and wartime history. The museum has photographs of the 133 different types of warships and submarines built at Kure Naval Arsenal, and there are also many detail models. The first floor right wing has a Zero Fighter Type 62, a two-man Kairyu special (suicide) submarine with a torpedo on each side, a Kaiten Type 10 human torpedo (only produced a small number and never used in battle), and a variety of artillery shells. The third floor has a children's exhibition on shipbuilding technology with a variety of hands-on activities. The floor also has a room dedicated to the future with many exhibits on Leiji Matsumoto's animation stories entitled Uchu Senkan Yamato (Space Battleship Yamato) in which the sunken battleship gets converted to a spaceship to defend Earth from alien attack.

The museum's location only 30 minutes by train from Hiroshima Station and only five minutes by foot from Kure Station makes it easily accessible to visitors. Entrance to the museum costs 500 yen (about US$ 4.70), and visitors can use free headphones with a recorded audio tour with explanations in English, Chinese, or Korean at16 stops identified by number. However, many explanations last less than a minute and give few details. Many exhibits have an English title but no further explanation in English. The museum's souvenir shop sells a very wide variety of Yamato-related products such as postcards, books, posters, coasters, senbei (rice crackers), mouse pads, stickers, and ship models. Yamato Museum has a large web site in Japanese, but the only English is a PDF file of the museum's visitor pamphlet.

Date of visit: November 15, 2006

Kure City also has the Battleship Yamato War Dead Monument and Battleship Yamato Monument.

Link

Yamato Museum (Japanese)

Notes

Rev. C.H. Cooper provided the first and third photos on this page.

1. Museum information brochure; Ogasawara 2007, 39.

2. Ogasawara 2007, 39.

3. The translated letter on this web page is based on the one in The Mediasion Co. (2007, 40). The letter does not contain paragraphs, so these have been added to increase readability. The letter in Ogasawara (2007, 212-3) has some slight differences with the omitted portions being shown in different places. The museum's information brochure also includes the first part of the letter, which agrees with the wording in The Mediasion Co.'s book, but the museum brochure does not state that it is only an excerpt from Hanada's letter.

4. The Kaijinkai Building was a meeting place in Kure City for noncommissioned officers and sailors.

5. Ogasawara 2007, 213-4.

Sources Cited

Ogasawara, Shinya. 2007. Senkan Yamato no hakubutsukan: Yamato myuujiamu tanjou no zenkiroku (Museum of Battleship Yamato: Complete record of birth of Yamato Museum). Tokyo: Fuyo Shobo Shuppan.

The Mediasion Co. 2007. Yamato myuujiamu gaidobukku (Yamato Museum Guidebook). Hiroshima: The Mediasion Co.