History buffs in Japan can also visit a variety of sites related to this country’s military past. In addition to the enormous Yushukan Museum on the grounds of the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward (www.yasukuni.or.jp/english/yushukan), numerous spots with historical significance can be found within easy reach of central Tokyo. The three listed here come highly recommended:
Battleship Mikasa and Sarushima Island (Yokosuka)
Built in Britain in 1899, the 15,000-ton battleship Mikasa served as Adm. Heihachiro Togo’s flagship in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. In its present location since 1926 (thanks to a media campaign orchestrated by The Japan Times to have it preserved), the ship still flies the famous “Z” flag, which just before engaging Adm. Rozhestvensky’s Russian Baltic Fleet signaled: “The Empire’s fate depends on the result of this battle. Let every man do his utmost duty.” After viewing the guns topside and the museum below decks, check out the nearby gift shop, which sells unusual souvenirs such as necktie bars and cufflinks emblazoned with the Rising Sun flag. For more information, visit www.kinenkan-mikasa.or.jp/en/index.html.
After the Mikasa, hop aboard the nearby ferry (it departs regularly on the half-hour) for a short cruise to Sarushima. The uninhabited island, which once guarded the approaches to the Yokosuka naval base, contains remnants of old brick military fortifications dating back to the 19th century. It also offers a small swimming beach and picnic tables. For more information, visit en.japantravel.com/view/sarushima-monkey-island.
‘Tank road’ (Machida)
During the war and for a short time afterward, the 6.5-km-long Sensha Doro, or “tank road,” was an unpaved test route where army tanks, manufactured in nearby Sagamihara, underwent trials. The road has been paved over and converted into a nature park, renamed the One Rokudo, that’s ideal for jogging, cycling or leisurely walks. While twists and turns abound, the route is not demanding at all. It’s also an ideal spot for springtime cherry-blossom viewing. The most convenient access is from Tamasakai Station, one stop from Hashimoto, on the Keio Sagami line. Open every day and free of charge. For more information, visit machida-guide.or.jp/spot_guide_detail/2.html#.
Imperial Japanese Army Noborito Laboratory Museum for Education in Peace (Kawasaki)
The museum, on the Ikuta campus of Meiji University, is housed in the sole remaining building of what was once a secret wartime army base under the same command as the notorious Unit 731 in Harbin, Manchuria. Here, scientists engaged in research on clandestine warfare, development of secret weapons, production of “balloon bombs” aimed at North America and printing of counterfeit currency used to destabilize China’s economy, explained in wall panels, photos and various exhibits. It’s about 15 minutes on foot from Ikuta Station on the Odakyu Line, or can be reached by taking the bus bound for Meidai Seimon-mae from Mukogaoka Yuen Station. Open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:00 pm. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.meiji.ac.jp/cip/english/institute/noborito.html.