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Japan’s naval past and present converge in Kanagawa

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By Lone Rehnström

Located on the western coast of Tokyo Bay, 80 minutes by train from Tokyo station, Yokosuka is a hotbed of naval history. It was here that Commodore Matthew C Perry initiated the opening of the country in the 1850s, and today the city is home to a major naval facility used by the United States and Japan.

The main attraction is Mikasa Naval Park, a 20-minute stroll from Yokosuka station. The Mikasa was Admiral Togo’s flagship in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, but it sank in Sasebo harbor in Kyushu shortly afterwards, taking over 300 crewmen with it. Successfully salvaged after several attempts, the ship was put back into service until 1921, and was later given a permanent home at Yokosuka. In the postwar years, it fell into a ruinous state of decay, but was restored in the late ’50s — with generous financial support from the Americans.

Today, it offers a glimpse of what life would have been like for sailors a century ago, and houses a museum containing models and displays about the Japanese Navy. Most of the information is provided in English, and you could easily spend an hour boning up on your naval history, or just taking in the view of Tokyo Bay while admiring the enormous guns on the deck.

Every hour, a boat leaves from Mikasa Pier for Sarushima (literally, Monkey Island), a couple of kilometers offshore. This is the only natural island in Tokyo Bay, and though you won’t find any actual monkeys, it’s home to a wide diversity of plants and wildlife. Sarushima (inset) has played a strategically important role in Japan’s defense in the past, and ruins from the Jomon and Yayoi periods still remain, along with fortifications from the Edo, Meiji and Showa eras. Perry even attempted to name the place after himself, but the moniker never really caught on.

Today, Yokosuka City has turned Sarushima into an open-air “eco museum,” which has made it a popular day trip destination for history buffs, beachgoers and fishermen. The island is also frequented by tokusatsu fans, who know it as the location of Shocker’s secret base in Kamen Rider, while during the summer its modest sand beach is packed with swimmers and sunbathers.

If you aren’t tempted back to shore by the Yokosuka specialties of "kaigun" (navy) curry and U.S.-style Yokosuka burgers, Sarushima is an ideal place for a beach BBQ. Bring your own food and you can rent or buy anything else you need on the island, including grills, chairs, parasols, tableware and drinks—though be warned that the prices are a little steep. Enjoy your meal on the beach or at tables and chairs on the wooden deck overlooking the bay.

After lunch, it’s time to go for a wander. Get a map at the Visitor’s Center or follow the signs dotted around the area. Most information is in Japanese, and you won’t find much English on the explanatory signs at historical sites, but exploring the old fortresses and tunnels is still great fun. The majority of the trails are paved, and the whole island is easily covered in an hour — assuming you don’t dawdle too long admiring the ocean views. Finish the day off with a bottle of the locally produced Sarushima beer, and be sure not to miss the last ferry back to Yokosuka at 5 p.m.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

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4 Comments
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I've been to both and they are great inexpensive trips for both Japanese and non Japanese alike.

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It sounds like a destination stop for me, the next time that I visit Japan.

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Monkey Island is a good day out.

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The Mikasa ought to be recommissioned and retake its place as a rightfully glorious immortal ship like the HMS Victory and USS Constitution.

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