Exploring Hiroshima

Vol.24 Battleship Tour in Kure City
The Best Battleship Tour by a Nautical Mile.

Visit Kure City and see navy ships, submarines, and huge ocean-going vessels up close.

All hands on deck!

“We get close. A lot closer to the ships than similar tours on other bases,” says our tour guide Hiroshi Kanzaki. “Also, the variety of ships docked in Kure is beyond compare.”

Hiroshi Kanzaki’s detailed explanations made all the difference.

We had just set sail on our 30-minute guided Battleship Tour in Kure Harbor. The tour boat had an open-air observation deck, giving us an unobstructed view of the ships spread out along the wharf in front of us.

The ticket counter is inside Kure’s ferry terminal.

All aboard the Battleship Tour’s custom-made boat.

Kure harbor and the naval dockyards figured heavily in Japan’s maritime history. During World War II, Kure was the home of the Yamato - the heaviest and most heavily armed battleship ever made. Although the days of Japanese naval expansion are consigned to the history books and the Yamato rests on the ocean floor, Kure still remains an important naval base for the current Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. Combined with the large-scale shipyards and a steel foundry, Kure’s waterfront is a hive of activity.

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force fleet, known as JMSDF for short, is a modern fleet equipped with state-of-the-art ships and submarines. 30 ships and 12 submarines use Kure as its base. With so many ships assigned to Kure, you’re guaranteed to see a wide range of vessels docked in the harbor, no matter when you visit.

“In the other Japanese naval bases, you often see ships separated according to type,” explains Hiroshi who worked for 35 years in the JMSDF as a naval photographer. “There might be lots of one class of vessel docked together. What makes Kure unique is the wide range of vessels all docked in close proximity to each other.”

The open deck gives great views.

The Tour

For a battleship tour, the first ships you come across are non-military. In the same shipyard that constructed the Yamato sit two colossal container ships. Still under construction, you get a sense of the scale of modern shipbuilding as you sail past.

Two enormous container ships under construction.

We went so close you could almost touch the ship.

After passing the container ships, you quickly enter the JMSDF zone. On our tour, we saw ships of all sizes. There were minesweepers like the JS Bungo, small corvettes like JS Tone, as well as the enormous helicopter carrier JS Kaga. By sailing so close to these vessels, we could see all the high-tech equipment and armory on the deck.

Uraga class minesweeper JS Bungo on the left and the JS Towada on the right.

You’ll see JMSDF vessels in all shapes and sizes.

Plenty of photo opportunities as the tour boat goes so close to the ships.

The replenishment oiler JS Towada refuels vessels at sea.

The small corvette JS Tone. These vessels are used as a destroyer escorts.

The helicopter carrier JS Kaga. By far the largest vessel we saw.

A rare sight. The special staff transport ship used to transfer personnel and dignitaries to JMSDF vessels passed by.

Finally came the highlight of the tour - the submarines. With such sensitivity surrounding submarines, it’s rare to be able to see them so close. With a fleet of 12 attack submarines using Kure as their base, you have a high chance of seeing submarines in dock during your tour.

This is the Sōryū-class attack submarine. There were three in dock during our trip.

Even if for some reason the whole submarine fleet is out at sea, you’ll at least see the training submarine in dock, as well as the famous ‘Iron Whale’ - a decommissioned submarine heaved onto dry land and converted into a museum.

(The official name of the ‘Iron Whale’ is the JMSDF Kure Museum. Click here for more details:

Hiroshi uses visual aids to help explain how the ships operate.

“The beauty of this Battleship Tour is that it’s fun for everyone,” explains Hiroshi. “No matter your age, your gender, or your occupation, it’s great seeing these ships up close.”

The Battleship Tour was the perfect introduction to Kure’s naval past and present. Back on dry land, it was time to head to the Yamato Museum and the ‘Iron Whale’ right next door. This was 30 minutes well spent.

On a side note, try the Kure Sunset Cruise that leaves 15 minutes before sunset. The sight of impressive naval ships in the harbor backlit by a spectacular sunset will stay with you forever.

Kure’s naval docks are famous for their spectacular sunsets.

You can take some great photography on the special sunset cruise.

Click this page for more details on the Battleship Tour.

Popular sightseeing spots nearby:
Yamato Museum
‘The Iron Whale’ (JMSDF Museum)

Words and Photography by Tom Miyagawa Coulton. (Visited in December 2018)