The Japanese Coast Guard Museum is housed in a distinctive white building tucked away almost unnoticed behind the busy Red Brick Warehouse area of Yokohama. The centrepiece of the museum display is a North Korean trawler that sunk whilst it appeared to be spying in Japanese waters. It is an unusual museum covering an area of interest given the coastal territorial issues that are ongoing.
The museum was opened in December 2004 to help people understand maritime security issues in the coastal waters around Japan. Some maps and information boards at the entrance explain various incursions into Japanese waters made by unknown and suspect vessels over the years, and the efforts the Japanese coast guard take to patrol their territory.
But the museum is dominated by the rusting wreck of a fishing boat, now known to be a North Korean vessel, which strayed in Japanese waters to the southwest of Kyushu in December 2001 and ignored orders to stop. On December 22nd, as the ship attempted to escape, it was pursued, fired on, and then exploded. Count the bullet holes in the fishing boat.
Videos, photographs and display boards tell the story of pursuit of this suspicious ship by patrol boats and airplanes. The trawler zigzagged away and ignored orders to stop. Warning shots were fired by the patrol boat but the suspicious ship continued to get away and fired back using rocket launchers. The trawler sank in an apparently self-detonated explosion in the waters near to Amami Oshima between Okinawa and Kyushu. It was raised from the sea in September 2002.
The broadcasts made by the patrol boat during the exchange of fire are played through a loudspeaker as you climb metal steps for a view of the top of the trawler.
Glass cabinets around the walls of the museum show relicts collected from the wreck. Waterproof suits, maps of Kagoshima, rifles, dive equipment, tins of food with Korean script and a badge depicting Chairman Kim Il Sung led the coastguard to believe this was a North Korean vessel that was involved in the drug trade or helping with the entry and exit of spies into Japan. Although the boat appeared to be fitted out as a fishing vessel, it had been built with special engines and cannon had been disguised in fishing net hoists. At the rear of the trawler a door opened, revealing a smaller boat inside, loaded with antennae, radar, night navigation equipment, extra engines, and an inflatable boat. This smaller boat and the inflatable are displayed along side the trawler for easy viewing.
Wandering round the spy ship makes you wonder how long it expected to be at sea as there is very little room for crew living quarters. The interior is a single space for storage of the two smaller boats. The bridge and wheelhouse have been partially destroyed. The literature refers to ‘crew’ but gives no details of how many sailors might have been involved.
The museum is free to visit, and the much of the information (especially at the entrance) is displayed in English, Japanese and Korean. The Japanese Coast Guard has also published a leaflet in English to help tourists understand the story of the spy boat and the work of the Coast Guard. Volunteers work at the museum, some of whom speak English.
Address: Yokohama Maritime Disaster Prevention Base, Next to Akarenga Park, 1-2-1 Shinko, Naka-ku, Yokohama,
Hours: 10.00am – 5.00pm
Closed: Monday (if Monday falls on a public holiday the hall closes on the following day); 29th December-3rd January
Website (in Japanese) : http://www.kaiho.mlit.go.jp/03kanku/kouhou/jcgm_yokohama/