Four cities across Japan have come together to showcase their history as catalysts for modernization and invite visitors to experience their allure.
These are Yokosuka in Kanagawa, Sasebo in Nagasaki, Kure in Hiroshima, and Maizuru in Kyoto.
Their common point? They were all naval station towns, Chinjufu (鎮守府), chosen during the Meiji period (1868-1912) to become centers for the development of Japan’s naval capability on the way to an industrialized world.
These cities have seen an influx of Western cuisine, have been hubs for talented people and new ideas, accelerating the modernization of their respective local communities.
And recently, they have come up with a YouTube video to show their charms to the world.
Yokosuka, Sasebo, Kure, and Maizuru first came up with the idea to shine a light on their shared history and transformations in 1999. At that time, the focus was on food, and they held the annual Naval City Gourmet Exchange . 「旧軍港グルメ交流会」
Each of the four towns has its own local specialties inspired by Western influences, such as Kure’s Nikujaga ー a stew usually made with beef, potatoes, konnyaku jelly and onions, inspired by British beef stew. Since the successful launch of the event, the Naval City Gourmet Exchange has been held regularly, with each city taking its turn.
Yet the four cities have also chosen to go further, taking the opportunity to showcase their common characteristics in new ways.
In 2015, the cities applied to have their shared history recognized as a unique “Japanese heritage” by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. They successfully obtained this distinction in April 2016.
Shared history, individual charm
Although the four towns share similar characteristics and historical importance, there is something different about each of them for everyone to enjoy.
Yokosuka has the bustling island of Sarushima, famous for its stunning views and fun summer activities.
There is the maritime museum of Kure “Yamato Museum” preserving the history of the region. And Sasebo offers Huis Ten Bosch, Japan’s largest theme park.
Maizuru is home to the Repatriation Memorial Museum, which traces the city’s history as a major port for soldiers returning to Japan after World War II.
There are also sites in each city where the technological and cultural exchange of the time can be fully appreciated. The imposing 136-meter-high Hario Transmitter Station in Sasebo is one of them. It is believed to have been used to transmit the coded message ordering the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Maizuru Brick Park, consisting of 12 two-story brick warehouses, is now converted into a cultural space with a museum, shops and event spaces that bring the community together.
The Naval City Gourmet Exchange has been suspended for two years due to COVID-19, but is expected to return ー this time to Sasebo ー in the fall of 2022.
Before the pandemic, cities welcomed domestic visitors and foreign tourists.
Also today, Yokosuka, Kure, Sasebo and Yokosuka have a lot of appeal to people all over the world. And they are a must for those who want a warm welcome and a different tourist experience, filled with the rich history, technology and culture of these dynamic regions.
If you’re traveling to Japan, these cities might be the perfect stop.
(Find more information on the four cities here.)
Author: Arielle Busetto