Model of famed Japanese battleship on display at Sasebo museum
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Japanese Imperial Navy’s Yamato, at one time the world’s largest battleship, is nothing but scrap.
This is true for the original, which U.S. forces sank 200 miles from Okinawa in 1945. It’s also true for a 6-foot model now displayed in Sasebo Naval Base’s museum.
The model, down to detailed deck surfacing and rails around the decks, is built entirely from scrap — mainly disposable chopsticks and old window screening, said Phil Eakins, museum curator and base historian.
“I worked on this model for more than one year, and the only thing I spent any money on was putty and paint, which came to about 10,000 yen (about $90),” said the model’s builder, Fumio Osako, 49, an employee of the base’s Public Works Department for 22 years.
“When I saw it, the first word from my mouth was ‘awesome.’ It’s absolutely awesome,” said Dave Mizukami, who viewed the Yamato in the museum in the Community and Education Center. “The man’s an absolute ‘MacGyver’ and doesn’t even know it.
“I know about the details of ships, and to make something with that much precision and attention to detail totally out of old junk is just amazing. It’s a work of art,” Mizukami added.
Osako enjoyed building models as a youth, he said, but he wasn’t particularly driven to do so. So far, he’s built only two other models, all using scrap material: an 8-foot model of the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi and a 3.5-foot version of the Titanic. He’s working on his fourth, an 11.5-foot model of the Japanese carrier Hiryu. “That one may take quite some time,” he said.
The massive Yamato model, based on photographs and drawings, is exhibited in a glass case along with a narrative about the ship’s history.
Yamato was the lead ship of a class of two 65,000-ton (more than 72,800 tons at full load) battleships and was built in Kure, Japan. Yamato and another ship built about the same time, Musashi, were “by far the largest battleships ever built,” according to the U.S. Navy’s Naval Historical Center Web site.
“Their nine 460 mm (18.1-inch) main battery guns, which fired 1460 kg (3,200 pound) armor piercing shells, were the largest battleship guns ever to go to sea, and the two ships’ scale of armor protection was also unsurpassed,” the site states.
In 1945, Yamato was assigned to take part in the suicidal “Ten-Go” Operation, a massive attack aimed at destroying U.S. Navy forces supporting the invasion of Okinawa. On April 7, about 200 miles north of Okinawa, Yamato was attacked by a massive force of U.S. carrier planes and sunk, the Web site states.
“As I understand it, the whole attack was supposed to be secret. U.S. submarines spotted the Yamato and the other ships on the mission. Some of those injured and survivors were brought to Sasebo after the Yamato was attacked and sunk,” Eakins, the museum’s curator, said.
Osako has shown the model only at “school, where I am a part of the PTO (Parent and Teacher Organization).”
“I have shown it not to teach history of war, but to show how people can take advantage of recycling,” the model builder added. “Our school does not teach much about war.”
“The Yamato model is an impressive and fitting tribute to a historic ship. … Eakins does a superb job at presenting enriching, educational displays that enrich the community,” said base spokesman Charles T. Howard. “Residents yet to visit the museum are missing out on a golden opportunity.”
There is no attendant at the museum, and it is open in conjunction with the library. With no record of visitations, Eakins said it’s hard to say if the model has sparked more visits, “but I believe the model has created additional interest in the museum,” he said.
Osako said the model would remain in the museum as long as the base desires.