The Daigo Fukuryū Maru Exhibition Hall

In the next of my series of posts about memorialisation sites I have visited, I’m writing about my visit to the Daigo Fukuryu Maru (第五福龍丸) Exhibition Hall.

I visited the site on 18 July 2019 when I was spending a week in Tokyo teaching a special short course at the nearby Ariake campus of Musashino University. I don’t remember hearing about the boat, Daigo Fukuryū Maru (also known as Lucky Dragon Number 5), when I was studying Japan, but came across mentions of it here and there when reading some academic books in relation to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A summary of the boat and the incident for which it became famous can be found on Wikipedia. The key points are the boat was a Japanese tuna fishing boat with a crew of 23 men which was contaminated by nuclear fallout from the United States Castle Bravo thermonuclear weapon test at Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954. The crew suffered acute radiation syndrome (ARS) for a number of weeks after the Bravo test in March. During their ARS treatment, the crew were inadvertently infected with hepatitis through blood transfusions. All recovered except for Aikichi Kuboyama, the boat’s chief radioman, who died on September 23, 1954, from an underlying liver cirrhosis compounded by the secondary hepatitis infection. Kuboyama is considered the first victim of the hydrogen bomb and of test shot Castle Bravo. The Daigo Fukuryū Maru was deemed safe for public viewing and was preserved in 1976. It is now on display in Tokyo at the Tokyo Metropolitan Daigo Fukuryū Maru Exhibition Hall. The experiences of the boat apparently helped to inspire the creation of Godzilla. The ship itself appears on a poster in 2001’s Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, which also features Godzilla coming ashore and wreaking havoc in the Yaizu area (the home port of the boat)

There were a combinations of reasons why I decided to visit the Exhibition Hall in 2019. First, having come across an article in The Japan Times discussing the site’s renewal, I became interested – not having known that it was possible to see the boat at all. Second, knowing that I would be in the area meant that it was a great opportunity to visit before my classes one day. Third, I was looking for a good spot to have part of my second novel, Tokyo 20/20 Vision set, and wanted to see if the area around the Exhibition Hall would work. It did and so was included.

The Exhibition Hall itself is a rather unusual shape as can be seen from the following picture.

As I discuss in Tokyo 20/20 Vision, there’s something about it that reminds me of a Jawa Sandcrawler from Star Wars…

The Exhibition Hall is located on the northern side of Yumenoshima – ‘the island of dreams’, a rather poetic name given that this used to be one of Tokyo’s rubbish tips before it was turned into a park. Indeed, Daigo Fukuryū Maru was found dumped by the side of the rubbish tip and this eventually led to it be claimed and maintained. The park itself is very pleasant and seems – compared to what was on Google Maps when I visited – that it’s gone through some further changes in preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as it will be hosting the archery events.

Having read about the boat before my visit, it was wonderful to actually be able to see the actual boat. The exhibition (museum?) is very well put together with lots of information about both the boat and also nuclear weapons more generally. Perhaps the only disappointment is that as the Hall has been kept quite tight to the boat, it’s difficult to get a photograph of the whole boat in one shot. But I would certainly recommend that anyone visiting Tokyo make a trip out to see it, possibly combining the visit with going to the nearby Tokyo Rinkai Disaster Prevention Park (which I may write about another time). I would also recommend trying to track down the 1959 movie about the incident.

Although I’ve not written much in my academic books so far about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (there is some in Japan: The Basics) or about the Daigo Fukuryū Maru incident, I have read about them extensively now and, as well as including it in my teaching, have done a presentation on the topic. I plan to do some more posts about Hiroshima and Nagasaki in due course. I will also be including discussion about the bombings in a future novel in the Iwakura Series. If there is a chance, I will also do an academic article – but finding time and the right angle for that amongst my other academic work will take some further consideration.

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