Footage of Technology Challenge in the 19 century of Japan and its destiny
Last year, I’ve participated in a grand tour of the former ‘Yokosuka Ironworks site in Yokohama. Currently the Yokosuka port are mostly devoted to the military facilities like SDFJ and US Navy base and dominantly designated as offsite area. But the former dock sites and harbor facilities of the “Yokosuka Ironworks” can be observable from the Yokosuka’s coastal park beyond over the sea. And the “Verny Memorial Museum” and other monuments are facilitated to record the history of the Yokosuka Ironworks in the park. Among them, the museum now exhibits of machinery and equipment which were used in the Yokosuka Ironworks to commemorate their historical activities.
They show the footage how Japan had been engaged in challenging work to master the modern technology in coping up with Western power at the end of the Tokugawa period and afterward. This is a visit record at this time.
♣ Historic traits of the Yokosuka Steel Works
The Yokosuka Ironworks is noted as the oldest shipyards in Japan constructed in 1865 of the Edo period. Since Admiral Perry arrived in Uraga of Edo bay, the Edo government was obsessed to build up Japan’s maritime defense forces for preparing against the Western military threats, especially the strengthening naval power around the coast near the Edo castle was important. And the construction of shipyard had begun in this Yokosuka area. The strategic plan of Yokosuka Steel Works had started in the line of this policy. The building of Nirayama’s Reflection Furnace in Izu, and the construction of Daiba Fortress of the off-coast of Shinagawa, and others were also launched as parts of this maritime policy.
<Edo government’s initiatives to make up Ironwork and shipbuilding>
During this period, the Satsuma and Choshu clans of the Western Japan had been approaching the UK to get their technology support, but the Edo Shogunate tried to contact to the France against these movements and wanted taking technology advantages in the ironworks and shipbuilding.
Then, Oguri Kozukenosuke, a Bureaucrat of Edo government, deal with the French minister, Roche, to be hiring a qualified engineer of shipbuilding. In this process a shipbuilding expert François L. Verny was designated as the executive manager in the project.
Afterward Verny had proceeded deep investigation around the Yokosuka bay area together with Oguri, and finally decided to set up an ironworks (shipyard) in this place because the water depth was being enough and the coastal lines are suitable for the building of port facilities.
<Meiji Government continued works and completed the Project>
However, the Edo government was collapsed in 1868 in the middle of construction of the ironworks and the project itself had been forced to torn down. The even plan had been given up once under this political situation though, the Meiji government reaffirmed the importance of this steelworks, and the plan was handed over to the the new government. Engineer Verny was requested to further stay in this position and continuously involved in the construction. Then, the ironwork facility was completed in 1871, the name has changed to Yokosuka Shipbuilding at that time though. The Yokosuka steelworks and shipbuilding operations started in this way. Now the iron works there was evaluated being greatly contributed to the later development of the Japanese shipbuilding and machine industry across the country.
♣ Significance of Yokosuka Ship & Ironworks
The Yokosuka Ironworks was often cited as successful examples of establishment of various modern machines and facilities, such as, the construction and operation of the first stone dry dock in Japan, turbine production of the Aichi spinning station, Shinagawa lighthouse (the first lighthouse in Japan in 1870), construction of the Kannonzaki lighthouse, contribution to the establishment of the Tomioka Silk mill, and so on. Turbine turbines manufactured at this Yokosuka steelworks were also used in hydropower stations in various places in Meiji industrialization.
In addition, the establishment of many brick factories around Yokosuka ironworks have contributed to promote the Western architecture too, introduction of the metric system in the industries, etc. are also noted as business achievements related to modern industrial production system.
<Involvements of Yokosuka Shipbuilding in the Naval Power development>
The Yokosuka Ironworks, which was established in this way, have headed to the construction of a large warship as a naval arsenal in its operation, and Yokosuka strengthened the characteristics of the naval base as the large scale military port, in parallel with Kure in Kobe, Nagasaki in Kyushu, and others.
Main battleships built in this Yokosuka shipyard were included like Battlesh Seiki, Yamashiro, Mikasa, Mutsu, Cruiser Myoko, and others. They have exerted quite significant roles in the naval warfare of Nissin War (China Japan warfare), Nichiro War (Russia and Russia warfare), and even in the Pacific War.
As such, the Yokosuka Iron Works has been transformed into the Japan’s main battle ship production sites and military port since Meiji era. Now it became major part of the US military bases.
So it might be possible to say that the history of the development of Yokosuka city, the port, and the Ironworks are well mirrored the evolution of machinery and shipbuilding industry and even the turbulent process of social and political changes of Japan.
♣ Views and heritages of Yokosuka’s port park
The “Verny Park” was founded as a symbol of Yokosuka in 2001 and now it is a good place for sightseeing and relaxation of local citizens. From the park, people can view the dock facilities of the Yokosuka shipbuilding operating since Meiji period, the the MSDF and US military base over the sea. In the park area,there are also the half-length statues of Oguri and Verny who led the construction of Yokosuka steelworks, the former quayside gatehouse of the Japanese Imperial Navy in 1930s, the large cannon used at the battleship Mutsu, and various relics of the former Japanese Navy facilities. In addition, the park has prepared a guide board of the Yokosuka steelworks to indicate how the shipbuilding and steelworks had been operated. But, as a main feature, the particularly eye-catching thing in the park is the “Verny Memorial museum ” that commemorates Verny’s engineering achievement.
The museum is made with the steep sloping roof, stone walls and small windows, chimneys sticking out on the roof. So the building holds the characteristics of Fabritany district in France where Verny was grown up. It might show the deep respect to the attainment and his personality of Verny by the Yokohama citizen.
♣ Exhibition of Verny Memorial Hall
The Verny Memorial Museum is a facility established in 2002 in order to honor the accomplishment of French engineer François Verny who led the construction of the Yokosuka Ironworks from the end of the Tokugawa period..
The museum exhibits the illustrations showing progress of the construction of Yokosuka Ironworks, the situation of the manufacturing site, in addition to the annual records of Verny and Oguri, as well as the documents of historical heritage of Yokosuka.
But the main exhibit would be a large Steam Hammer which imported from the Netherlands in 1865, brought in just before the collapse of Edo government. A steam hammer is a machine tool that forges a heated metal by steam power, and this is regarded as a machine which practically used for the first time in Japan. This is evaluated as a valuable machine tool to show the steelmaking process and machine making activities at that time. The machine is now designated as a national important cultural property of Japan.
Several parts and tools of the Gantrek crane which deployed for lifting large iron equipment at Yokosuka Shipbuilding were also displayed.
Besides, the museum displays the scale model of steam hammer power in order to picturize the way of operation, and the equipment and materials actually used at the Yokosuka mills, as well as the warship Mutsu model as an example of the significant battleship produced in Yokosuka navy shipbuilding works.
♣ Remarks after the visit
Thanks to the visit Yokosuka, particularly the Verny memorial museum visit have yield me a valuable knowledge how the Japanese shipbuilding and machinery technology were evolved from the end of the Tokugawa period to the Meiji era.
The Yokosuka Ironworks began since the Tokugawa government had been growing by the hands of the Meiji government, and it enhanced the function as a major Navy Arsenal in the subsequent years and several decades afterward in Showa. Then, currently Yokosuka is frequently highlighted and referred as the large presence of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet and the bases of the MSDF of Japan. And the military-related institutions are prevailing around the region as the naval port from the prewar to now.
However, it can be said that the role played by the Yokosuka Steel Works, had also been functioned greatly in the technical development of the non-military field business sector too, especially during the early industrial modernization process,
In the Meiji era, the Tomioka Silk mill and the designing of the spinning factory, the production of the power source equipment, the development of machine and shipbuilding industry, the introduction of the modern factory system, etc. were believed to be produced by the Yokosuka Steel Workshop. It was said that even the cars of Nissan Oppama factory located in Yokosuka are also being exported currently from Yokosuka Port. This visit was a valuable experience for me to know an episode about the Yokosuka’s ironworks, Japan’s industrial history, as well as turbulent history of Japan since the arrival of Perry in Edo era, toward the Meiji and the Showa’s war time and now.