Bleak Scenes

Abandoned places, lesser-known attractions, and assorted oddities

Battleship Mikasa


Apart from naval history enthusiasts, not many people know that Japan is home to the world's only surviving pre-dreadnought battleship, the Mikasa. She was Admiral Togo's flagship during the Russo-Japanese War, and led the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Tsushima, one of the most one-sided and decisive naval victories in history. She is now preserved as a museum ship at Yokosuka.

She was laid down by Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness, England in 1899 and finished in 1902. Britain sadly neglected to preserve a single battleship for posterity, so Mikasa is now the newest British-built battleship still in existence anywhere in the world.

Mikasa's armament was typical of British battleship designs of the period, with two twin twelve inch gun turrets, and batteries of six inch and smaller guns amidships. The original 40 calibre 12 inch and 6 inch guns were upgraded to more powerful 45 calibre weapons after the Russo-Japanese War, when Mikasa was repaired after suffering a magazine explosion in 1905.

Mikasa was decommissioned in 1922, and preserved as a museum ship, with her hull permanently encased in concrete. By 1945 she had long been a hopelessly obsolete, immobile memorial ship, of no military value. Despite this, when Japan was demilitarized after the Second World War, she was stripped of her armament, masts, and much of her superstructure. She was then sadly neglected and allowed to deteriorate for some years.

When I visited the ship in 2016 I saw an old photograph from this period, and was shocked to see just how bad she looked. A dance hall had even been built on the deck amidships, and there was an aquarium where the aft 12 inch gun turret used to be. Fortunately restoration work on Mikasa was started in the mid fifties, and she was reopened as a museum ship in 1961.

According to some history websites, some of the guns used in the restoration were taken from the Chilean battleship Almirante Latorre, which was being scrapped in Japan at the time. Almirante Latorre had served with the Royal Navy during the First World War as HMS Canada, and was a veteran of Jutland, so it would have been interesting if some of her guns had been preserved. I asked one of the museum attendants about this when I visited Mikasa in 2016, but he told me that it was not correct. He said that although some equipment from Almirante Latorre was used in the restoration, none of the guns were. The guns now on Mikasa are apparently all replicas.

When I visited in 2005 the ship bore a banner commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Tsushima, which the Japanese call the Battle of the Sea of Japan:

100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Sea of Japan. Learn from the Meiji era's strong spirit to preserve our country's independence and safety.

Anyone with an interest in naval history or ships should definitely visit Mikasa if they get the chance. You can find all the necessary information to plan your visit on the Mikasa's website.

I've visited her on multiple occasions over the years. The photographs below were taken in 2005, 2008, and 2016.

The ship is now in good condition and well cared for, but large parts of the superstructure are obviously mid 20th Century reconstructions. A lot of joints are now welded, whereas the original construction would have been riveted.

There is no access to the twelve inch gun turrets, which are probably just hollow replicas, but you can see the breeches of some of the six inch guns, and the smaller anti-torpedo boat guns are fully accessible. The latter were trained and elevated by hand cranks, which are still in working order. If you're so inclined you can amuse yourself by pretending to fight off a torpedo boat attack.

I noticed a few changes when comparing photographs taken in different years. For example, the rangefinder on the bridge seems to have been replaced between 2005 and 2016. Neither one of them is likely to be original, but perhaps the first rangefinder was replaced when something more similar to Mikasa's original equipment became available.

Most of the superstructure and the uppermost deck in the hull are open to the public. A large part of it has been turned into a museum, but many rooms have been restored to more or less their original condition. The restoration is apparently still continuing, because I could see some improvements when I compared the photographs from 2016 to those from 2005.

Unfortunately the engines were apparently removed at some stage, and there is no public access to the lower part of the hull. I was disappointed to learn this, as the engine and boiler rooms would have been amongst the most interesting parts of the ship.