Flagship Japanese battleship of Russo-Japanese War now on display

Photo by Takahiro Takiguchi

by Takahiro Takiguchi, Stripes Japan

A long-time symbol of the city of Yokosuka, Memorial Ship Mikasa is not only an attraction for naval history enthusiasts, it’s a rare opportunity for anyone to get a personal glimpse of one of the world’s most notable memorial ships and the history that surrounds it.

The MIKASA gained great fame during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) where she served as the flagship for Japan’s Combined Fleet under the command of Adm. Heihachiro Togo and destroyed 34 of Russia’s 38 warships in the Battle of Tsushima.

This 118-year-old battleship is permanently preserved in concrete, right on the water at Mikasa Park near Yokosuka Naval Base. 

Visitors can peruse the deck, bridge and chart room; admire Mikasa’s 6- and 3-inch guns; and marvel at the intricate woodwork of the admiral’s quarters – all of which convey the essence of a great wartime past. Areas and structures roped off with colored tape indicate actual battle damage or portholes from which cannons were once fired.

The lower decks have been converted into a museum with exhibits related to the ship’s history, commanding officers and crewmen as well as other persons and events relevant to Japan’s victory against Russian fleet. Videos about Mikasa and its battles are also shown in the ship’s theater. Most of the exhibits are in both English and Japanese.

Interestingly, it was a U.S. fleet admiral that played an important role in the restoration and preservation of this memorial ship. Today, Commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Japan, participates in a memorial ceremony aboard Mikasa on May 27 annually, and holds reenlistment ceremonies for sailors there.

“The Mikasa was restored as you see today thanks to Adm. Chester Nimitz and his Navy,” says retired Japan Maritime Self Defense Force Capt. Greg K. Kouta, the ship’s curator.

Nimitz, who admired Togo, donated his own money and encouraged the U.S. Navy to support the ship’s restoration. It had been severely damaged by the Allied Forces during the so-called postwar chaos after World War II, according to Kouta.

Although beautifully preserved today, unfortunately only about 40 percent of the ship is original. “If it were preserved perfectly, I think it might be nominated as a World Heritage Site,” says Kouta. 

Although Mikasa is not a World Heritage Site, it is nonetheless listed the Michelin Green Guide as a recommended attraction in Japan. It is one that is well worth checking out when stationed here as U.S. military personnel or family member.

While Adm. Heihachiro Togo commanded a victorious Japanese Imperial Navy aboard the Mikasa during the Russo-Japanese War, Gen. Maresuke Nogi led the army that contributed to Japan’s victory.  

This national hero’s residence is preserved for all to see just north of Tokyo’s Roppongi neighborhood, near the U.S. Army lodging facility, Hardy Barracks.

When Emperor Meiji died in 1912, Nogi demonstrated his loyalty by taking his own life via hara-kiri at this residence, while his wife Shizuko followed suit by slitting her own throat.

A Shrine has since been built next to this residence and dedicated to their memory. 

Although the actual house is open only two days a year, on the eve and anniversary of their deaths (Sept. 12 and 13), an elevated walkway surrounding it lets visitors see its semi-Western style rooms, such as tatami room with a fireplace, through its windows year round. 

One such view includes a glimpse of Nogi’s bloodstained shirt.

Nogi shrine and residence
Address: 8-11-27 Akasaka, Minato-Ku, Tokyo (1-minute walk from Nogizaka Station on the Chiyoda Line)
The garden of Nogi Residence is open 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.  (The house is open Sept. 12 and 13, only.)
For more information (in Japanese), call 03-3478-3001 or visit: www.nogijinja.or.jp

FROM: Stars and Stripes JAPAN

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