Last weekend was the stylish (and quite tiny) Miraitoterasu festival at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine and on both the Friday that saw the torrential rains and the mild Sunday there was a display of Tetzutsu Hanabi, handheld fireworks. I wrote a little on the history and art of Tetzutsu fireworks in this blog, so please have look! The Yasukuni event had I think 100 bundles, quite large. One person waited to pick it up while the other one lit it. After a good fire had started it would be picked up and pointed to the sky before going out in a big bang and a final burst of fire directed downwards. Few festivals are as colorful, loud and smelly as this one!
The most famous ship to ever come out of the most famous shipyard in Japan, is without a doubt the mighty Battleship Yamato who launched on August 8th 1940. The Kure Shipyard (or the Kure Naval Arsenal as it was named at the time) had to undergo special modification to allow the biggest battleship ever built at the time. Today the huge dock is marked with the text “Birthplace of the Yamato” (a lose translation of the Japanese 大和のふるさと). The first ship to be launched from here was in 1898, a relatively small unprotected cruiser by the name of Myiyako. Today the old Naval Arsenal is the home of a commercial civilian constructor, the Japan Marine United, and as I passed I could see a couple of large ships being constructed, possible container ships, ferries, tankers or gas carriers. I have no idea really.
The Kure Shipyard is the focus point of the city of Kure in Hiroshima Prefecture in Western Japan. At one point the entire city was supplying labor to the giant shipyard and everyone around here had family members either serving in the Navy or building ships for them. During the construction of the Yamato, the workers and management took construction secrecy so seriously that houses having windows towards the shipyard were blocked out to prevent even accidental viewing of the ship.
70% of the shipyard and most of the remaining fleet of Japan was destroyed during a series of massive and completely pointless bombing raids in late July 1945, even though at that point the fleet was already out of commission due to fuel shortages. The USAAF lost 133 bombers in the attack from the concentrated anti-aircraft defenses in the area, the majority of all Third Fleet aircraft losses during the entire war.
If you pass Kure and want to see the birthplace of the Yamato yourself it is possible to either take a bus from the station or the Yamato museum, or you can simply walk up here, although it is a little far the city center.
Not far from Okutama Station in Tokyo’s westernmost Nishitama-Gun (Nishitama County), the furtherest west you can go in Tokyo by train, is a lovely little spot in the river where the mighty Tamagawa (well, not up here, but later on the river will become huge) is joined by the tiny Hikawa. I love these placid little rivers where you can actually go down and enjoy the waters and the polished river rocks. A hanging bridge allows you to cross easily from the tiny town on the north bank. There is not much to see or do here but if you are overdosing on concrete and the urban jungle of Tokyo, welcome out to the proper forests of Okutama!