HIJMS Mikasa

Right then, lets actually write about some Japanese things! Starting with one of the highlights of my most recent visit, the Mikasa!

The Mikasa is the only pre-Dreadnought battleship left in the world, and is preserved as a museum ship at Yokosuka, which is a town on the very southwestern edge of the Tokyo Metropolitan Area (and not, as I previously thought, Yokohama! I was staying in an eastern suburb of Tokyo and the Mikasa took over 2 hours to get to from my hotel).

Construction was begun in 1899, at Barrow-in-Furness, where you can still find a Mikasa Street, close to the river where the shipyard (presumably!) once stood. She was launched in 1900 and fitting-out took until 1902. The Mikasa was actually similar to the British HMS Formidable, but with two extra 6-inch guns (most of the armament was 4 12-inch guns, in the main turrets, 14 “medium” 6-inch guns and 20 “small” 3-inch guns). She was also armed with four torpedo tubes and a number of smaller quick-firing guns and machine guns.

She became the flagship of Admiral Heihachiro Togo, commander of the Japanese fleet during the Russo-Japanese war (and now enshrined at Harajuku, not far from the huge grounds of the Meiji Shrine). Togo had been trained in naval tactics in Britain, and his service in the war earned him the nickname “Nelson of the east”. Ironically his first taste of battle was as a shore gunner for the Satsuma Domain, fighting against the British navy!

Her fighting career was primarily in the Russ0-Japanese war, first in the Battle of Port Arthur, and the later Battle of the Yellow Sea, both of which might politely be called draws. Mikasa was probably nearby during the other naval engagements around Port Arthur too, when the Russians made various attempts to put to sea, and the Japanese made attempts to block the harbour. Both sides did so under fire from enemy ships and, in Japan’s case, shore guns. Most of the losses in these battles were caused by mines, though.

Mikasa, and Admiral Togo, were to earn immortality in the Battle of Tsushima, which was a decisive Japanese victory. The Russian Baltic Fleet, primarily older warships, had sailed all the way around the world (including around the Horn of Africa, as Britain controlled the Suez canal. The Baltic Fleet had, shortly after setting off, fired on British fishing boats, which hardly helped relations either). On the 27th of May 1905, the Baltic Fleet finally reached the Sea of Japan, where it was sighted by the Japanese fleet and engaged. Togo was able to “cross the T”, sailing his fleet in front of the Russians, and allowing his ships to fire broadsides into them, whilst they could only use their forward guns. The Japanese lost only three small torpedo boats, whilst the Russians lost 21 ships, including 6 large battleships. The war ended shortly afterwards.

Mikasa went on to play a minor role in World War 1, as a coastal defence ship (by this time, the “all big gun” Dreadnoughts ruled the waves, their mixed-armament predecessors relegated to support roles). Then as a shore bombardment ship during the Siberian Intervention, when Japan supported(!) Imperial Russia against the Communists. She was due to be scrapped in 1923, following the Washington Treaty which restricted the number of warships certain nations were ‘allowed’ (Japan’s quota half that of the USA and Great Britain). However, the signatories to the treaty were persuaded to allow the Mikasa to be turned into a museum, she was cemented into the ground, just offshore, and had her guns deactivated.

The Mikasa museum ship was first opened in 1926, and closed again at the end of World War 2. During the late 40’s and 50’s, she was reduced to a bare, rusting hull. I’m not sure what happened to the guns and machinery – some people say they were removed by the Japanese government during the war, to be melted down and made into modern weapons. Others say they were removed by the Americans, after the war was over. Either way, a campaign by American, British and Japanese naval officers saw the ship semi-restored (the ‘main guns’ are now fibreglass, and you can’t enter the turrets). She was re-opened as a museum in 1961, though apparently the below-deck areas only opened much more recently. A lot of the areas below decks are still closed off, I don’t know if they’re being worked on, or if they are just where the staff have offices and store rooms.

Mikasa Park Area

“Mikasa Park” begins quite a long way from the ship, and includes several ordinary streets, a school and what might possibly be one of the entrances to the US Navy base in Tokyo. Or at least, I confidently walked up to a gate where an oriental-looking guy in uniform was on guard (quite why a decommissioned ship would need an armed guard…). I confidently started speaking “Japanese” to him, but he didn’t seem to understand. I also noticed quite a few large white guy with trophy girlfriends lining up behind me. The guy eventually just gestured “back and round the corner”, so I carried on. Then walked into a school (-_-), where the guy on the gate did understand my “Japanese”, and told me to go back and round the corner again. I finally found a long street with a number of water features and “nautical themed” decorations.

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There’s even a “lighthouse” phone box XD


The Park Itself

I finally got into the actual Mikasa Park, and saw the ship for the first time, along with a statue of Admiral Togo. If I remember rightly an adult ticket is 500円. It then tipped it down (though was still super hot and humid), but fortunately the small gift shop has a large covered area I could shelter under and drink bottles of tea.

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The metal arches are, if I remember rightly, memorials to the war donated by Russia.


Not sure what the significance of the locomotive is XD

On the Decks

You can walk around the park for free, the ticket is only valid for getting on board the ship. Fortunately, as it was a wet day, there was almost nobody around. I took hundreds of photos, which I can use for reference in any Victorian / Edwardian-era navy comic that I may write in future. First I toured the decks and superstructure, though I forgot to go out to the bows and take pictures looking back at the forward guns and bridge.

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Some of the rooms on the superstructure can be opened, but not entered

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The Z signal flag, hoisted alone, was code for something along the lines of “The Emperor expects every man to do his duty”. It is also displayed at the Togo Shrine, and can occasionally be seen at nationalist protests.

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One of the 6-inch guns. Presumably the plate in front of it was removed during battle, so it could be aimed.

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The ‘pillbox’ thing is the armoured bridge, where the ship could be steered from during battle. Of course, Togo just stood on the roof of a wooden cabin during the action! The thing up on the mast is what remains of one of the “fighting tops”. These were once equivalents of the old-fashioned crow’s nest – only steel and bristling with quick-firers and machine guns.

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The last picture is the small medical bay. There’s only one bed, presumably other injured crew members were laid in passageways below decks.

Below Decks

Almost everywhere “indoors” in Japan has a blanket ban on taking photos. The Mikasa didn’t appear to, but I only used the flash sparingly, and preferably when I was alone, so some of these pics are dark or blurred. Still, if you want reference pictures for the naval architecture of the late Victorian, Edwardian and WW1 eras, you could do worse…

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The Captain’s Cabin. Quite small, as the largest cabins aboard the flagship were reserved for the Admiral!

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Admiral Togo’s meeting room and cabin. Note the gun mounted on the fine, deep-pile carpet!
I once read a serial in The Boys’ Friend from 1904, in which the main characters are taken aboard the Japanese flagship and actually meet admiral Togo in his stateroom. The original writer of the story could not, of course, ever hope to visit such a place – but I did!

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In addition to some quick-firers for protection of his own cabin, he has his own shrine to pray at.

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The galley and one of the several bathrooms, with actual baths! Presumably officers only…

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The small shrine for the men, and the officers’ dining room

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The lowest deck had many small cabins around a large room (full of trestle tables with model ships on, when I went). Possibly the cabins were for NCO’s, and the men slept in hammocks swung from the beams.
The last picture is the upper half of what was probably once the engine or boiler room (or, at least, it’s more or less beneath the funnels). Sadly the mighty triple-expansion steam engines are long gone, they would have made awesome reference pictures. The big room instead contains a number of model ships (one of an earlier British-built Japanese ship, dating from the 1870’s), displays on naval tactics and uniforms and other artifacts

The tour of the Mikasa “ends” (or at least, it’s the place I went to last) with various displays about the modern Maritime Self-Defence Force. Their modern, slab-sided destroyers are probably sightly smaller than the Mikasa, and have a much smaller crew, but their weapons have a range, accuracy and power that could not even be dreamed of in 1904.

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