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The Whale of Iron: Inside the JMSDF Akishio submarine and the Kure Maritime Museum

Japan's Akishio submarine was decommissioned in 2004 and now sits on dry land just outside Hiroshima. The Kure museum next door has a scale model of the largest battleship ever built. Here's what they're like inside.

Geoffrey Morrison Contributor
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
3 min read
Geoffrey Morrison

Just outside Hiroshima, Japan, in the town of Kure, there's an odd sight: a submarine almost as long as a football field, up on stilts. Amid the buildings with no water in sight, the sleek black and red shape couldn't look more out of place.

It's the Akishio, a former submarine of the JMSDF, or Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. Decommissioned in 2004, it was converted to a museum ship as part of a larger JMSDF Maritime Museum.

If that weren't enough for the area, across the street is the Kure Maritime Museum which, among other interesting objects and displays, houses an amazing 1/10th scale replica of the massive Yamato battleship. It was the largest battleship ever built, and was sunk by American bombers in World War II.

Here's a full tour.

Tour Japan's JMSDF Akishio submarine and Kure Maritime Museum (pictures)

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JMSDF Akishio and the 'Whale of Iron' Museum

It takes about and hour and a half to get to the port city of Kure from Hiroshima, if you're taking public transport. The beached sub is about a 10 minute walk from the Kure train station. Follow the elevated walkway (through a mall) and you nearly walk into it.

Most museum submarines are either in the water or adjacent to the water in a drydock. The Akishio is one of the few on supports well above the waterline, and set back from the shore.

It allows a great look at the underbelly of the boat, something that's a bit challenging when the sub's in the water.

The Maritime Museum, of which the Akishio is a part, is an interesting look at the history of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the roles they've filled in the six decades they've been in service. Much of it is mine clearing, something they've gotten so good at, they've assisted other navies (including the US) around the world.

The Akishio itself is a fairly small sub, smaller than even the Oberon-class, and nowhere near the displacement of something like the Redoutable, and makes for a short tour. An entrance cut in the starboard side gets you into the crew quarters, then you work your way forward through the galley, mess, and eventually the bridge. It was fascinating, though, not least for seeing all the labels in Japanese. On the bridge, a docent played alarm klaxons over the loudspeakers, I think just because he thought I'd find it cool (he was correct).

'Yamato' Museum

Across the street, the Kure Maritime Museum has the nickname "Yamato Museum" after the most famous part of its collection. I've toured the Iowa and Missouri, both huge ships, and the Yamato was even bigger. Behind the museum there's jetty that is a 1:1 scale of the forward portion of the Yamato to give an even more realistic sense of scale.

Elsewhere in the museum there are artifacts from the long history of Kure as port and naval base, including a Type 62 Zero and more.

From bows to sterns

Only the most diehard submarine fans are going to make the trek to Kure, at least those that weren't already headed to central Japan. While the Akishio itself isn't as cool of a tour as other sub museums around the world, it is unique, being the only one from the JMSDF. The attached museum, and the adjacent Kure Maritime museum all combine for a great day out.

As well as covering audio and display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000-mile road trips and more.

Also check out Budget Travel for Dummies, his travel book, and his bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines. You can follow him on Instagram and YouTube