Quick fix of naval nostalgia in Yokosuka

Quick fix of naval nostalgia in Yokosuka

YOKOSUKA, Japan - Life was hectic, but I wanted to go on a trip. I thought it would be nice to get away from my daily routine... which is why I recently went to Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, about an hour's train ride from central Tokyo.

Yokosuka has an important place in the history of modern Japan.

Around the end of the Edo period (1603-1867), Yokosuka was visited by a fleet of US ships - which locals nicknamed "Kurofune" (the black ships) - under the command of Matthew Calbraith Perry. The incident led to ending Japan's longstanding isolation from foreign countries.

Yokosuka then became a major base of the now-defunct Japanese Imperial Navy. Since the end of World War II, it has been home to US military facilities.

I arrived at Yokosuka Chuo Station on the Keihin Kyuko Line to participate in the Yokosuka Machiaruki, a free walking tour that started at the station at 11 a.m. and lasted about two hours. Accompanied by a volunteer guide, tour participants visit popular sightseeing spots in the vicinity.

"Recently, Yokosuka has been visited by women who like history, or 'rekijo,' as well as many young anime fans who learned about Yokosuka because it was featured in a popular anime. I'm happy about that," said Hiroyuki Yamaguchi, 49, who heads the tourism and promotion section at the city's finance bureau. He met me at the beginning of the tour to provide an overview of the itinerary.

The municipal government hosts events and other programs to attract such visitors, Yamaguchi added.

Strolling through the city centre, our tour group arrived at the Dobuita-dori shopping street. Lined with shops selling glossy "sukajan" jackets, bearing gaudy embroidery, and restaurants that offer a taste of American cuisine, the street has a distinctive atmosphere.

Next we made our way to Yokosuka Arts Theatre. "The EM Club used to be located here," explained Kazuhisa Aihara, our 66-year-old volunteer guide. "It was a meeting place for US military personnel."

We moved to the port area to find Verny Park, from which we could see US Navy facilities on the opposite shore. Hearing that the park was named after a French engineer who contributed to the building of shipyards in Yokosuka, I recognised anew the strong ties between Yokosuka and abroad.

As our guide continued to inform, we headed to Mikasa Park, where the battleship Mikasa is preserved. The ship was active during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). Then we were taken to the Yokosuka Port Market nearby, where we concluded our tour.

Various types of locally caught fish, locally farmed vegetables and souvenirs are among the market's offerings.

I thanked the tour guide for helping to deepen my understanding of the city. The last tour of the year will take place on Dec. 14 before the programme resumes next spring.

After the tour, I boarded a ship at a nearby pier. During the ride, the ship cleaved the waves, spraying water into the air. After about 10 minutes, I arrived on the Sarushima island. Now uninhabited, the island was once a Japanese army and navy stronghold.

I went down a road that cut through the hilly terrain. It used to be lined with barracks and gunpowder magazines. Next I travelled through a dim tunnel. The little adventure thrilled me. Circling around the island took about an hour. The gentle sounds of the surf relaxed me. I thoroughly enjoyed the walk through the thick of nature.

As the sun was starting to set, I headed to Yokosuka Kaigun Kare-kan restaurant near Dobuita-dori shopping street for dinner. The eatery serves many types of curry and rice. In the hopes of reviving the spirit of the city, the restaurant uses historic recipes from the Imperial Navy for some of its curry dishes.

"Our curry, which is a Japanese variety, uses wheat flour," said Yuji Takada, 52, head of the planning section of Gyorantei Corp., the restaurant's operator.

I ordered the Ganso Yokosuka Kaigun Curry (the original Yokosuka navy curry). Its mildly spicy flavor reminded me of the curry and rice I ate at home when I was a child.

After coming home, I drank some Mujinto beer I bought at a shop on Sarushima. The beer's name means "uninhabited island." Its taste was rich and quite good. After the fruitful day trip, I felt refreshed again.

Travel tips

Yokosuka Chuo Station on the Keihin Kyuko Line is about a 45-minute ride on a limited express train from Shinagawa Station in Tokyo. The Yokosuka Machiaruki walking tour is given twice a day at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Sundays and national holidays. Reservations are accepted on a first-come-first-served basis at Keikyu Travel Service's Yokosuka Ryoko Center at Yokosuka Chuo Station.

For more information, call the centre at (046) 822-1330.

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