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  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  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 .
He was born in 1907 and was a navigation officer aboard Yamato.
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 . I can see the scene. I'll fight remembering your
Please grow up and be careful of the heat and cold and of your food and
drink. I will be wishing you every happiness.
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 .
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.
Yamato Museum (Japanese)
Rev. C.H. Cooper provided the first and third photos on this page.
1. Museum information brochure; Ogasawara 2007,
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
4. The Kaijinkai Building was a meeting place in
Kure City for noncommissioned officers and sailors.
5. Ogasawara 2007, 213-4.
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.