Hiroko Ihara: Remembering The Battleship Yamato

Sixty years after the battleship Yamato was sunk in the East China Sea during World War II, the popularity of a new museum dedicated to the vessel has far exceeded expectations, attracting nearly 700,000 visitors since its opening in April.

A magnificent 26.3-meter-long model of the Yamato holds pride of place in the Yamato Museum in Kure, although there is much more to see. Among the 120,000 items in the museum are a Zero fighter, a submarine, a Kaiten suicide torpedo and various types of ordnance.

Another attraction is the novel approach the museum has taken in focusing on the high technology and craftsmanship required to build the 65,000-ton battleship, which was launched at Kure naval dockyards in 1940.

The Yamato was attacked and sunk on April 7, 1945 en route to Okinawa in what was in reality a suicide mission, taking the lives of about 3,000 crew members. Of the 260 crew members who survived, only about 30 are alive today. The ship now lies in two sections on the seabed at a depth of 350 meters.

The model of the Yamato, which was called the "world's greatest battleship" by the Encyclopaedia Britannica, is exhibited on the first floor of the museum.

The museum not only exhibits the belongings of the crew and nautical instruments taken from the ship, but also videos of Yamato survivors, one of the ship's designers, and a history of Kure.

Some people take a negative view of the ship, which was equipped with 460mm cannons, as a symbol of Japanese militarism, while others insist it played a tragic role at a time when aircraft carriers and fighters were the mainstay of modern warfare.

According to the museum's director, Kazushige Todaka, the Japanese view of war over the past decade has become more objective as the number of those who experienced World War II has dwindled.

"The museum is free from ideology or sentiment," he said. "It uniquely sheds light on the advanced technology and craftsmanship needed to produce great battleships. This objective approach is welcomed by most people.

"Japan made many political and diplomatic mistakes after the Meiji Restoration. From a technological viewpoint, it developed so rapidly that it almost equaled Western nations only 50 years or so after the samurai era ended. After losing the war, Japan has provided the world with the same technology it used to build battleships. [A country's] history should be evaluated by examining both its good and bad aspects. I hope visitors accept this idea and reflect on this."
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