Quite by accident, yesterday I found myself face-to-bow with four MSDF vessels. Once every three years, I am told, they put in at Yokohama and open their decks to the public. This engagement with the public has become even more important in their stunning PR boost they received during their efforts in the Tohoku Earthquake relief mission.

Spotting their sea-gray conning towers from Yokohama’s Aka Renga Soko, I found myself with very little time to get on board every ship, so I prioritized. Unaware that they were even in port, I made do with my iPhone to bring you this little summary of the day.


The first ship I saw was not an MSDF vessel, but a Japanese Coast Guard vessel, PLH-31 SHIKISHIMA, docked at the Yokohama Coast Guard Unit quite close to the Aka Renga Soko.

PLH-31 JCG Shikishima

PLH-31 JCG Shikishima

The Shikishima is the largest vessel in the coast guard’s fleet – alongside her recently built sister ship, PLH-32 Akitsushima – launched this year. At 6,500 tonnes, the JCG refers to the vessel as the world’s largest patrol boat. It was designed to escort plutonium transports from England and France to Japan, and has been in service since 1992. It has seen service in places as afar as the Straits of Malacca, in addition to its regular cruises to the Senkaku islands and Okinotorishima. Last year, it was involved in rescue efforts following the Tohoku Earthquake, checking the wreckage of ships out at sea and using its two Super-Pumas to perform helicopter-borne rescues.

View Larger Map

For those visiting Yokohama, you might want to visit the Japan Coast Guard Museum of Yokohama which holds the destroyed North Korean spy ship sank during the Battle of Amami-Oshima in 2001 – the first such event since previous incidents pressed the government into loosing the restrictions on the use of force by the JCG. I haven’t been, but it would certainly be worth a look.


West of the Coast Guard Station were two MSDF vessels. The first in sight was the ASR-403 CHIHAYA.

MSDF ASR-403 Chihaya

MSDF ASR-403 Chihaya

The Chihaya has been used in the search for the wreckage of the Ehime Maru off Oahu in 2001. With its Deep Submergence Rescue submersible and 30-man strong team of divers, it is Japan’s first response to accidents at sea.  The last time I saw the Chihaya was last summer off in Hirota Bay off the coast of Rikuzentakata, where it was presumably using its submersible to search the sea floor for missing persons.

MSDF Chihaya (ASR-403) in Hirota Bay off the coast of Rikuzentakata

MSDF Chihaya (ASR-403) in Hirota Bay off the coast of Rikuzentakata

Alongside the Chihaya was DD-129 YAMAYUKI, an aging Hatsuyuki-class destroyer out of Yokosuka which also participated in the relief mission to the North last year. The Yamayuki was docked alongside the Chihaya making for an interesting size comparison.

DD-129 Yamayuki (L) and ASR-403 Chihaya (R)

DD-129 Yamayuki (L) and ASR-403 Chihaya (R)

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to board either ship, instead I headed over to Osanbashi to check out another pair of ships docked there.


Over at Yokohama’s ferry terminal, Osanbashi, home port of the cruise ship Asuka II. The LST-4003 KUNISAKI is the latest Osumi-class “tank-landing ship”, a class we have a particular love for here at JSW.

MSDF LST-4003 Kunisaki

MSDF LST-4003 Kunisaki

The 178m Kunisaki looks as long as it sounds, its long hull ideal for cross-decking supplies for logistical missions.

The full length of the Kunisaki

The full length of the Kunisaki

From the rear, you can see the Kunisaki‘s LCAC hovercrafts sitting in berth inside the rear of the vessel.

LCAC inside the Kunisaki

LCAC inside the Kunisaki

Osumi-class vessels have used their LCACs to carry supplies to disaster-stricken areas not only in Japan’s own disaster last year but also in Thailand, Haiti, Sumatra and elsewhere.

Berthed to theKunisaki’srear was the DDH-181HYUUGA, Japan’s controversial helicopter carrier and a rare treat for visitors.

DDH-181 Hyuuga

MSDF DDH-181 Hyuuga

With only enough time to get aboard one ship, I went with the Hyuuga, taking its final elevator ride to the deck.

The rear elevator used to load helicopters to the Hyuuga's deck

The rear elevator used to load helicopters to the Hyuuga‘s deck

On deck was a SH-60 Seahawk, tail folded, bearing the ship’s name and number on its nose.

SH-60 Seahawk on the deck of the Hyuuga

SH-60 Seahawk on the deck of the Hyuuga

TheHyuuga has two-Phalanx CIWS turrets, one of which sits on the foredeck like a immovable watchman.

The forward CIWS of the Hyuuga

The forward CIWS of the Hyuuga

Inside the Hyuuga, the MSDF had set up a video presentation and photo gallery addressing the MSDF’s recent activities. I have taken the time to transcribe them below (with some minor changes to improve the English):

Disaster Relief for the Tohoku Earthquake

The Self-Defence Force cooperates with local governments all over Japan for search and rescue, supply support, transportation, etc. when a disaster occurs. Over 100,000 members were specially deployed for nuclear hazard and disaster relief.

Largest Disaster Relief

  • Lives saved: 19,286 people
  • Remains recovered: 9,505
  • Supplies transported: 13,906t
  • Water supplied: 32,985t
  • Food support: 5,005,484 meals
  • Hot bath support: 1,092,526 people

Nuclear Hazard

  • Drain waters off too Fukushima power plant
    • From water about 30t
    • From air about 340t

Ministry of Defense/Self-Defense Force have taken the lesson from the Tohoku disaster and adopted it to disaster drills for keeping readiness.

Counter-Piracy Operations in the Region Off the Coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden

Acts of piracy are a grave threat to the maintenance of public safety and order on the seas. In particular, for Japan, which depends on marine transport for the majority of the resources and food that form the foundations of our country’s existence and prosperity as a maritime nation. It is an issue that cannot be ignored.

In successive resolutions, such as United Nations Security Council Resolution No. 1816, which was adopted in June 2008, various countries have called for action to be taken to deter acts of piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden. To date, approximately 30 countries, including the US, have dispatched warships to the waters off the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden.

The Self-Defense Forces, which have dispatched two destroyers with helicopters and two P-3Cs, currently overseas escort civilian vessels and conduct warning and surveillance activities.

Martime Units

  • 2,683 vessels escorted

Air Units

  • Approximately 57,500 ships have been identified and intelligence has been provided to vessels

International Disaster Relief Operations

The Ministry of Defense and the Self-Defense Force are determined to step up international disaster relief operations from the viewpoint of humanitarian contributions and improvement of the global security environment for the purpose of contributing to the advancement of international cooperation.

The Self-Defense Force maintain their readiness to take any necessary action based on prepared disaster relief operation plans, whenever a situation in which their operations are deemed necessary arises. The Self-Defense Force has been proactively conducting international disaster relief operations which fully utilize the capabilities of the Self-Defense Force, while taking into consideration specific relief requests by the governments of affected countries and disaster situations in these countries.

Major Operations Conducted

  • Dec 2004 – Mar 2005: International disaster relief operations after a large-scale earthquake off Indonesia’s Sumatra Island and consequent tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
  • Aug 2005: International disaster relief operations for a Russian mini-submarine accident off Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia.
  • Oct – Dec 2005: International disaster relief operations in response to a major earthquake in Pakistan and other countries.
  • Aug – Oct 2010: International disaster relief operations in response to a major flooding in Pakistan

JS SHIRASE’s Antarctic Observation Cooperation

The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force have cooperated in Antarctic observation since 1965, when JS FUJI was first involved in cooperation.

This ship provides valuable support transporting members and materials, as well as various observations while navigating the distance of about 20,000 nautical miles over about 150 days.

Characteristics of the Ship

  • Displacement: 12,650 tons (standard)
  • Length: 138.0 meters
  • Breadth: 28.0 meters
  • Maximum speed: 19.5 knots
  • Range: 30,000 nautical miles
  • Engines: Four diesel-electric
  • Amount of materials transported: about 1,100 tons
  • Complement: about 180

Overseas Training Cruise

The overseas training cruise aims to provide the following for newly commissioned oficers who have just graduated from the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force officer candidate school (Etajima, Hiroshima prefecture) and are conducted every year from 1957 . This year marks the 56th overseas training cruise.

  • Master knowledge and skills learned in classes
  • Become accustomed to life on the ocean
  • Cultivate an international mentality
  • Improve relations between Japan and visited countries

The current cruise program

  • Period: 22 May 2012 – 22 Oct 2012 (154 days)
  • Number of countries visited: 14 (14 cities)
  • Participating unit: TV Kashima, TV Shimayuki, DD Matsuyuki (TV = Training Vessel, DD = Destroyer)
  • Total distance: approx. 26,000 miles (48,000 km)

* * *

It was a nice day out, although I wish I had more time to see the other vessels up close. Sadly they were only open to the public until 5:30 and while they are in port today, it is only for the benefit of ticketholders – generally defense suppliers and families. If you missed your chance, you’ll have to wait for another event.

GD Star Rating

Related posts:

A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch