The city of Yokosuka located in Kanagawa prefecture, Japan has long played a part in Japan’s naval history and today it is America’s most important naval facility in the Western Pacific.
Fittingly, Yokosuka is also home to the Battleship Mikasa, the former flagship of Admiral Heihachiro Togo, the commander of the Japanese fleet during the Battle of Tsushima in 1905. It is the last remaining example of a pre-dreadnought battleship anywhere in the world. At the time she was considered to be state of the art with a length of 432 feet, able to accommodate 830 officers and sailors. Her top speed was 18 knots or 33 km/hour.
Completed in 1902 by the British firm of Vickers Company, the Battleship Mikasa was named after Mount Mikasa in Nara, Japan. She was put into service during the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War. Just days after the conclusion of the war, Mikasa’s magazine accidentally exploded and sank the ship. She was salvaged and her repairs took over two years to complete. Afterwards, the ship provided coastal defense during World War I and supported Japanese forces during the Siberian Intervention in the Russian Civil War. After 1922, the Mikasa was decommissioned in accordance with the Washington Naval Treaty and her bridges, masts, guns, funnels and other structures were removed by the Occupation Forces at the end of WWII.
In 1955, restoration efforts were undertaken with donations gathered from within Japan. The U.S. Navy’s Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz also cooperated with support from the Japanese government and the restoration was completed on May 27, 1961 (the anniversary of the Battle of the Sea of Japan).
Today, the ship has been preserved as a museum ship in Yokosuka at what is known as Mikasa Park. The tourist brochure given to visitors boarding the Mikasa describes the ship as one of the “Three Great Historical Warships of the World”, together with the Victory in Portsmouth, United Kingdom and the Constitution in Boston, U.S.A.
Once aboard, visitors can wander through the admiral’s quarters, view areas on the ship where it took battle damage or stand by portals where cannons once fired. There are artifacts of the period which adorn large open areas below decks. There are various displays focusing on the milestones in the self-defense forces’ post-WWII history.
The most arresting display is a huge mock-up of the famous engagement in which Togo made his celebrated “turn,” during the Battle of Tsushima in May 1905. The display employs miniature moving ships, lights representing cannon fire and sound effects replaying the battle sequence for anyone who walks past the motion sensor that triggers it. An accompanying narration, in Japanese, provides play-by-play action. There is a film (in Japanese) shown in a theater on the ship which tells the story of the battle.
Mikasa Park is merely a fifteen minute walk from Yokosuka Chuo Station on the Keikyu Main Line. You can board the train from Shinagawa Station in Tokyo. The one way journey requires approximately forty-six minutes.