Tokyo might be in Tokyo Bay, but you know what’s REALLY in the bay? Yokosuka.
My brother and I have returned home, but the adventure continues! This time we went to see ships, shrines and temples, and old-fashioned traditional city with our Tita Baby and Tito Hiro!
Our plan was to visit the battleship Mikasa museum ship in Mikasa Park in the morning, then meet an old friend of our parents’ later in the day. I’m not a history buff, but in a nutshell during the Russo-Japanese War the Mikasa and the Japanese fleet wiped the sea floor with the Russians at the Battle of Tsushima. Very exciting.
The trip down was smooth and uneventful, unless running around between platforms trying to find the express train doesn’t count. We arrived at Yokosuka Chuo station and walked around until we found a large gate reading “Mikasa Park” and a billboard with an anime girl on it.
The park runs along the bay and its namesake battleship is cemented in the ground. You buy tickets from a machine outside the souvenir shop on the right of the gate when you enter. Adult admission was around ¥600 when we went. Off to the right of the ship’s entrance, a ferry to Monkey Island (Sarushima; 猿島), a popular fishing spot and the only natural island in Tokyo Bay, can draw long lines. Don’t get confused as to where you’re entering! Just outside the battleship are some artillery shells and penetrated armor plating to show you what happens when metal meets metal.
Along the outside of the ship you can see the secondary battery, which you can access from inside. As big as it was, it still seemed quite small as you could easily walk from one end to the other. However battleship classes after the Mikasa steadily grew larger and larger, with the Kongou-class built only 10 years later being over 60% longer (132 and 215 metres respectively), not to mention being much more heavily armed (2 x 2 30.5 cm main guns on the Mikasa; 4 x 2 35.6 cm on the Kongous).
Once inside, you’ll get a map of the ship; if they give you a Japanese one, you can also ask for one in English. One of the curators asked me why we were visiting and I told him I liked battleships; he and I both knew it’s because of KanColle (笑). We saw the main turrets at the front and rear, as well as the bridge and some of the internal facilities. In the middle of the ship you can even try on a naval officer’s uniform and have your photos taken; it was kinda hot and we were already sweaty so we passed on that. ^_^; Below deck are numerous medals, memorabilia, and large scale models of various battleships.
We met up with our Tita Baby, a friend of our mom and dad from way back in the Philippines, and her husband who we called Tito Hiro. Tito Hiro, or rather Mr. Takahiro Takiguchi (Western name order) is a journalist for Stripes Japan, a newspaper serving the US military community in Japan. Here’s one of his articles on tempura and its origins; it’s making me hungry even after dinner.
They picked us up by car and gave us a tour of Yokosuka Bay and the harbour where the cool ships were. He showed us the beautiful Verny Park, named after the French engineer who modernized Japanese shipbuilding and steel making, among other technical contributions. We then went to the Verny Museum where we saw a giant steam press and other shipbuilding artifacts from days gone by.
All the while we were discussing Japanese naval history, in Japanese, and I somehow followed along. When he asked why I knew about this stuff, I explained that I play a video game called Kantai Collection which stars cute anime girls who are the incarnations of IJN warships. Their historical details form much of their appearance, personality, and even quirks, so a player will end up learning stuff as they go along. Thanks again KanColle!
And apparently, the battleship Yamato was once in the bay during the war just across the water from the park, just past where a sub was moored.
Tito Hiro also took a picture of Noel and I with the helicopter destroyer Izumo (DDH-183) in the background! She’s the lead ship of her class, and she’s a big ship, for you: according to the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, she’s classified as a destroyer than can launch helicopters rather than an aircraft carrier. Some of the Izumo’s stated purposes are for disaster relief, patrol, and anti-submarine operations, but there are tensions with countries such as China that see it as blatant militarization. But that’s a can of worms for another fishing trip. In other words, BIG SHIPS ARE COOL!
Later on in our trip, Izumo’s sister ship Kaga (DDH-184) was launched in Yokosuka on August 27 while we were resting at home. Kaga is also the name of a carrier that fought in WW2 and was sunk at Midway (加賀). However the JMSDF writes their ship names in hiragana and not kanji like their IJN predecessors; this “Kaga” is named かが. I really wished we could’ve gone to see it!
Back to our trip with Tita Baby and Tito Hiro. They then took us to burger lunch on Dobuita Street, a popular shopping street very close to the US base. As such, there are burger joints (try the Navy Burger!), pubs (I think there was an Irish one), and various trinket shops; apparently you can pay for things in US dollars! There I bought some face towels with IJN carrier flight deck designs on them. These towels turned out to be super useful for wiping off sweat during the rest of the trip. I also love how inconspicuous the green Zuikaku one is in particular! Truly the camoflage is working as intended.
We then drove to nearby Kamakura to visit some shrines and see a traditional Japanese city not unlike Kyoto; Tito Hiro actually advised us that if we wanted to go to Kyoto, we can experience the same culture much closer to Tokyo in Kamakura. We first went to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, the most important Shinto shrine in the area. It is a shrine to Hachiman, the tutelary god of warriors, whom I learned about from a light novel I like to read (Oregairu). Tito Hiro asked why I knew this, and I could only respond “Because anime.”
We then purified ourselves at the chozuya, or the pavillion where you purify yourself with water from the shrine, and walked up the steps to the main building. In a nutshell, the steps to purify yourself are as follows:
- Take one of the ladles with your right hand, fill it with some water, and pour the water all over your left hand.
- Every time you pour or use water, let it run down into the rocks around the basin, not into the basin itself (this is important).
- Switch the ladle to your left hand and repeat above with the right hand.
- Switch the ladle back to your right hand and fill it with some water again.
- Cup your left hand, and pour water into it.
- Use your left hand to bring water to your mouth, swish it around a little (don’t swallow), then spit it out back onto the rocks.
- Don’t drink from the ladle directly. (this is also important)
- Finally, fill the ladle with water and (this might be tricky) let the water fall out over the edges of the cup and down the handle.
- You are basically cleaning it for the next person to use.
- Return the ladle as you found it (should be face down).
We made our offerings at the shrine, and the steps are as follows:
- Throw some coins in. A light underhand toss is fine.
- Bow twice.
- Clap twice (hands straight together).
- Make a wish.
- Bow deeply.
Then you go and grab your fortune, or omikuji at a counter nearby. These fortunes are written on little slips of paper which describe your luck in the near or far future, and it could range anywhere from bad luck to great luck; unfortunately I got a slightly bad one. If you do get a bad luck fortune, you can ward it off by tying the piece of paper to certain boards at the shrine or you could drop it in a specially marked box.
Tita Baby and Tito Hiro then took us to the Kotokuin Buddhist temple, and there we saw the statue of the Great Buddha (or Daibutsu). Temples and shrines are different; one way to remember is that Shinto has shrines (jinja; 神社) while Buddhism has temples (tera; 寺).
In the afternoon we went shopping for sweets and things in the shopping districts, which were very traditional. You can easily find shops selling senbei or rice crackers, and they’ll toast them fresh right in front of you. My personal favourite, although widely available, was matcha ice cream. Stuff like this comprised most of my snacks for the rest of the month because it was cheap and available everywhere and I loved it.
We parted ways at a nearby station and we headed back to Tokyo. They gave us some gifts for mom and dad which turned out to be beautiful sake shot glasses! They will go well with the bottle of sake I bought late in the trip. Overall it was a blast with Tita Baby and Tito Hiro, and we learned a lot about Japan and its culture. We cannot thank them enough for personally taking us around and giving us an in-depth tour, even treating us to lunch and snacks! Next time we meet I promise I will return the favour and also be much better at Japanese! どうもありがとうございました！
Next time I’ll write about our trip to a seaside town northeast of Tokyo. おたのしみに！Previous in series Next in series