Nagato Museum of Shipbuilding History 長門の造船歴史館
The Nagato Museum of Shipbuilding History on Kurahashi Island, Hiroshima Prefecture is located on the beautiful and historic Katsuragahama Beach. It is from this pine tree-lined stretch of sand that Japanese envoys were sent to the Kingdom of Silla (or Shiragi to the Japanese) on the Korean Peninsula during the Nara Period of Japanese history.
These events are recorded in the Manyoshu (万葉集), a collection of Japanese poetry from the period.
The boats would leave Nagato (the old name for Kurahashi) stay close to shore and island hop through the Inland Sea, round Kyushu and then cross the Sea of Japan to Korea via Hirado, in Nagasaki Prefecture, Iki and Tsushima islands.
The modern Nagato Museum For Shipbuilding History dates from 1992 and was built to house a replica of the vessels that sailed to Korea and Tang Dynasty China (618-907). The boat was built for display at the Sea & Islands Expo in Hiroshima in 1989.
The boat with its vermilion and white colors recalls the buildings of a Shinto shrine and this is indeed the case. The three structures on deck are copies of buildings at Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka, a shrine dedicated to the gods of the sea. One building would house the kami to ensure a safe passage, while the other two would be the quarters for the envoys and other high-ranking officials. The crew and poorer travelers would sleep on deck or in the pitch black hold below.
These boats, which when sailing to China, would have to cross the often perilous South China Sea, would need all the divine protection they could get, especially in an age without modern navigational equipment. Many of them were lost at sea and there are accounts of two boats blown off course to Vietnam, where all the unfortunate crew were slaughtered.
The boat on display is no longer sea-worthy but has previously sailed and is powered by both oars and primitive sails. The vessel is 25m long, 7m wide and the masts reach a height of 17m. It is thought that a group of shipbuilders from the port of Sakai, south of Osaka, were sent down to Nagato to build the first boats and to teach the locals the necessary skills. Their clan name was Kurahashi, which over time became the name of the island.
The interior of the museum introduces the history of shipbuilding in Kurahashi using wall panels, images and scale models of the various boats made over the ages from the Nara to Edo periods of Japanese history including Ishibune (石船) and Benzaisen (弁才船) - trading vessels that plied the Inland Sea routes.
Kurahashi Historical Folk Custom Museum 倉橋歴史民族資料館
If you buy a combined ticket you can also visit the Kurahashi Historical Folk Custom Museum back behind the main road, Slow Cafe and Katsuragahama Onsen. The two story building has more information on the early sea crossings from Japan to Korea and China as well as tools and implements used in fishing and agriculture on the island.
Right on the main road is a wooden shack housing three boats that participate in the Kangensai Festival held annually on July 24th. The boats sail over to the sacred isle of Miyajima pulling a gozabune containing a mikoshi (portable shrine). Musicians playing Heian Period court music - gagaku - accompany the boats on their journey.
Back on Katsuragahama Beach are the remains of the earliest Western style stone dock built in Japan between 1801-1804, a stone monument to a poem mentioning Kurahashi in the Manyoshu, another stone tablet commemorating mozoku seaweed and a large torii gate of Katsuragahama Shrine.
There is also another stone monument inscribed with the names of Russell L Schweickart, Oleg Makarov and Georgii Ivanov, an American astronaut and two Soviet era cosmonauts, who visited the beach in 1989. For the early Japanese sailors setting out for China, their journey too must have felt as hazardous as astronauts setting out for the moon.
Access - how to get to the Nagato Museum of Shipbuilding History, Kurahashi, Hiroshima
Kurahashi Historical Folk Custom Museum
Kurahashi-cho 440, Kure-shi Hiroshima 737-1377
Tel: 0823 53 2010
Nagato Museum of Shipbuilding History
Kurahashi-cho 171-7, Kure-shi Hiroshima 737-1377
Tel: 0823 53 0016
Hours: 9am-4.30pm; closed Monday or the next day if Monday is a public holiday
The Nagato Museum of Shipbuilding History is a one hour bus ride from Kure Port over the ingenious and spiraling Ondo Bridge. Seaside Katsuragahama-so is a friendly, though rather ramshackle ryokan right adjacent to the beach on the sea. The Tourist Information Center is also across the road from the beach on your left.