Submarine Memories

By Gabriel Phillips

When I planned my Golden Week holiday, I had never originally intended of visiting Kure. Don’t get me wrong, the town is absolutely lovely, but while Japan is a country of unlimited possibilities, with limited timespan, you often have to sacrifice some experiences in favour of another. With that in mind, when I decided to visit Kure, it was only on my last night in Hiroshima I had decided to make this a reality.

While normally I would try and pretend that I was glamorously traipsing around from bar to bar, I was honestly sitting rather sedately in a small donut store in Hiroshima when I got an email from my high school informing me that one of my former teachers had died.

Kure is, by Hiroshima standards, a small town right by the sea. For a naval research base, it had to be. I had actually passed through it when I took the SuperJet from Matsuyama. My guide had highly recommended visiting if I could, as the museums and boats were supposedly the most historic of Japan. When I looked at the guidebooks, they all pointed to the magnificent submarine stationed outside of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force Museum. Upon hearing this, I immediately bought my ticket and prepared myself to go.

Having walked straight from the station to the Yamato museum, I immediately felt the popular crush of tourism, as hundreds of families piled into the halls in order to celebrate their week of holiday. The exhibition rooms were filled to the brim with models of warships as well as a Japanese Zero fighter and multiple torpedoes. It was bizarre to see these machines of war, some of which were deadly reminders of the world’s past, being used for selfie backdrops that would later be uploaded to Instagram in order to reach the optimum level of ‘likes’. I always question how each nation and its people view the past, it’s a sign of what the modern country has become. Aside from the pink submarine that left me wondering whether the Beatles’ song had suffered from a slight mistranslation, I had to laugh as families dressed up as sailors who were probably on shore leave from the Village People.

Walking on to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force museum, I was struck by how it was mainly dedicated to the Force’s peacetime activities. They were truly commendable actions, especially. However, it did leave some questions. What was the purpose of the submarine outside? Was it a celebration of technology or one of capability? Why was the museum of peace, filled with torpedoes? But more importantly, why were they painted like otters?

While on the train back to Hiroshima, I started to reminisce about my former teacher. He had taught me Design and Technology and was one of the heads of the Automobile Society. There he regaled us with stories and laughter regarding his time in the Navy and his job as a technician on a submarine. Walking inside the Kure submarine, I couldn’t help but laugh as I tried to imagine his 6 foot 6-inch frame ducking and diving when running to his station. When I decided to study Japanese, it was only due to the encouragement of certain teachers that viewed taking risks as a necessary part of life, who thought that there was no point doing something unless you had fun while doing it. In the spirit of adventure, Mr Aston, this article is for you.

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