Four cities in Japan have come together to showcase their history as catalysts of modernization and invite visitors to discover their appeal.
They are Yokosuka in Kanagawa, Sasebo in Nagasaki, Kure in Hiroshima and Maizuru in Kyoto.
Their common feature? They were all Naval Station cities, Chinjufu (鎮守府), chosen during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) to become centers for developing Japan’s naval capability on the path to an industrialized world.
These cities experienced an influx of Western cuisine, were hubs for talented people and new ideas, speeding the modernization of their respective local communities.
And recently, they have come up with a YouTube video to showcase their charms to the world.
Yokosuka, Sasebo, Kure and Maizuru first came up with the idea to highlight their shared history and transformations in 1999. The focus that time was food, and they organized the annual Naval City Gourmet Exchange. 「旧軍港グルメ交流会」
Each of the four cities has their own local specialties inspired by Western influences, like Kure’s Nikujaga ー a stew usually made with beef, potatoes, konnyaku jelly and onions, said to be inspired by British beef stew. Since the successful kick off event, the Naval City Gourmet Exchange has been held regularly, with each city taking its turn.
Yet, the four cities also chose to take one step further, using the opportunity to showcase their common characteristics in new ways.
In 2015, the cities applied to have their shared history recognized as a unique “Japan Heritage'' by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. They successfully achieved this accolade in April 2016.
Common History, Individual Charm
While the four cities share similar characteristics and historical importance, there is something different in each one for everyone to enjoy.
Yokosuka has the lively Sarushima Island, famous for its stunning views and fun summer activities.
There is the Kure Maritime Museum “Yamato Museum” preserving the history of the region. And Sasebo offers the Huis Ten Bosch, the biggest theme park in Japan.
Maizuru features the Repatriation Memorial Museum, which traces the city’s history as a major port for soldiers returning to Japan after the Second World War.
There are also sites in each city where the technological and cultural exchange of the time can be fully appreciated. Sasebo’s imposing 136-meters high Hario Transmitting station is among them. It is thought to have been used to transmit the code message ordering the attack of Pearl Harbor.
Maizuru Brick Park, comprising 12 two-story brick warehouses, is now converted into a cultural space with a museum, shops, and event spaces which bring the community together.
The Naval City Gourmet Exchange has been on hold for the past two years due to COVID-19, but it is set to return ー this time in Sasebo ー in the fall 2022.
Before the pandemic, the cities welcomed domestic visitors and overseas tourists.
Today, too, Yokosuka, Kure, Sasebo and Yokosuka have plenty of appeal for people from all over the world. And they are a must see for those who want a warm welcome and different tourism experience, filled with the richness of the history, technology, and culture of these dynamic regions.
If you are traveling within Japan, these cities might be the perfect stop.
(This article was realised in collaboration with the four naval station cities. Find more information about the four cities here.)
Author: Arielle Busetto