YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Tour stops include caves that once housed a 500-bed hospital, a midget submarine factory and a mushroom farm. Japan’s first-ever iron foundry. Buddhist temple sites, earthquake memorials, and Nile C. Kinnick High School — alma mater of Mark Hamill of “Luke Skywalker” fame.

Six times a year since 1998, Japanese hopefuls line up to experience Yokosuka Naval Base’s history through a tour that generates so much interest that a lottery is drawn for 250 slots. The roughly five-hour walking tour includes some 20 stops.

But this week, Yokosuka city officials opted not to submit an appropriation to help put on the tours, fueling concern that the upcoming March 18 event might be the last.

“We saw the need to figure out a better way to host the tours,” said Yoshiaki Aoki, city’s tourism division manager, who cited cost as a big factor in the decision. The city plans to resume tours but it first needs to gauge community desire, he said.

The city paid the non-profit Yokosuka International Association 261,000 yen, or $2,245, per tour to coordinate and operate them, as well as pay English-speaking guides.

Tours are co-sponsored by the city and base. The base provides security escorts, safety briefings, and helps set the tour schedule, said Kyoko Sugita, base community relations specialist.

The city stopped including a ship visit as part of the tour three years ago due to the unpredictability of ship availability because of training and deployment schedules, said Aoki, adding that he believes this cut the number of applicants. No-shows were also a problem, he said.

On the flip side, there were those who came from as far as Hokkaido and Osaka as well as people who applied year after year because they enjoyed the tours so much, said Hanako Tomizuka, who used to organize the program before becoming Commander, Naval Forces Japan’s community relations director. “Besides the history, it gives the Japanese the opportunity to learn … who we are, how we live and how we work, which deepens the understanding and friendship between the U.S. and Japan,” Tomizuka said.

CNFJ spokesman Jon Nylander said he hopes the tours aren’t gone for good. “It is good for community relations and a worthwhile tour,” he said.

A virtual historical tour is available online at:

author picture
Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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