Daigo Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon 5)
fishing vessel that was irradiated by the Castle Bravo thermonuclear test that the USA
conducted at Bikini Atoll
in 1954, the fallout from which gave the boat's crew acute radiation syndrome, from which one of them died. The boat was later put on display in a specially constructed hall in Tokyo
More background info: Daigo Fukuryu Maru translates as "Lucky Dragon 5", and it is under that designation that you also find many references to it.
She was originally built in 1947 as a wooden bonito fishing boat but later adapted to open ocean tuna line fishing. From 1953 she was based in Yaizu. Her tragic fifth voyage began in January 1954 and took her south-east … in the direction of the Marshall Islands.
Part of the Marshall Islands is Bikini Atoll
, and this had been chosen by the USA
as one of its sites at which to conduct nuclear tests
. It had already been the site of the first post-WWII
series of tests, which included the iconic Baker shot (see photo in the Bikini chapter
) of Operation Crossroads. In 1954, the USA used Bikini for parts of a series of thermonuclear tests, including the first one of an actual deployable 'dry-fuel' lithium-deuteride H-bomb design. This test was code-named “Castle Bravo”. Its yield was predicted to be around 6 megatons. However, when the device was set off it produced a far more massive explosion, calculated at ca. 15 megatons, thus accidentally exceeding the expected yield by more than double. That yield meant it was also about 1000 times the power of the Hiroshima
bomb. It was the most powerful device ever tested by the USA
(exceeded only by later Soviet
The fireball created in the detonation of Castle Bravo was over 4 miles (6.5 km) in diameter within a second, the resultant mushroom cloud reached a height of almost 25 miles (40 km). Its fallout thus contaminated a much wider area than had been assumed possible, including neighbouring Atolls that hadn't been evacuated, causing contamination of the inhabitants there too. In part this was also attributable to a change in the wind direction, despite which the test went ahead
Daigo Fukuryu Maru was fishing in an area outside the 160-mile “danger zone” that the USA had declared prior to the test – though the museum claims the crew didn't even know about the existence of this exclusion zone in the first place. At 6:45 in the morning they witnessed the light from the fireball, minutes later the distant roar from the blast. A couple of hours later fallout began to rain down on them for about three hours.
This fallout consisted of highly irradiated white pulverized coral that was atomized/calcified in the detonation that now rained down like fine snow. The fishermen tried to scoop up the substance with their bare hands, but it was clinging to their hair, skin and was partly breathed in. Allegedly one of them even gave the substance a lick to taste it (apparently it was tasteless). The exposure to all this fallout soon gave all of the 23 crew the initial symptoms (nausea, headaches, bleeding gums) of acute radiation syndrome. This particular fallout was later dubbed “the Ash of Death”.
With the onset of the symptoms the crew steered the boat back to port, where they arrived on 14 March and were immediately hospitalized. Their condition worsened, after a while their hair started falling out and burns appeared on their skin … I'll spare you further nasty details!
One of the fishermen, Aikichi Kuboyama (somewhat ironically the boat's chief radio operator) succumbed to the radiation poisoning and died, aged 40, on 23 September 1954. The rest of the crew slowly recovered and survived and were able to leave hospital over a year after their being caught up in the fallout.
The case caused an international outcry, it was a PR disaster for the USA
(on top of the technical disaster that the test was), and severely soured Japanese-US relations, and that only nine years after the A-Bombings
of Japan and the end of WWII
it boosted the rise of a strong anti-nuclear weapons protest movement. Yet it took hundreds of yet more atmospheric tests before finally a partial test ban treaty was achieved that from 1963 ruled out any more atmospheric tests (but still allowed underground nuclear testing
). By then the combined fallout of all these tests had elevated background radiation globally, which took decades to go down again.
The stricken fishing boat was tested for residual radiation and from 1956, under the new name “Hayabusa Maru”, was used as a training vessel by a university until 1967 when it was decommissioned. By then it had deteriorated to such a degree that it was left to be scraped on Yumenoshima, an island within an outlying harbour area then used as a dump.
However, a public campaign to save the boat started and a fund-raiser was launched, and in 1976 the rescued “Lucky Dragon 5” was prepared for public display. For that purpose a specially designed hall was constructed around the boat, now permanently on land. This opened under the full name Tokyo Metropolitan Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall.
What there is to see: This isn't exactly a single-exhibit museum, but of course the 100 foot (30 metre) long boat that the hall was built around is the main thing here.
The second largest exhibit is the boat's engine, which is on display outside the main hall on the lawn to the north. An info panel explains that this engine was used on a different vessel after Daigo Fukuryu Maru had been taken out of service. That other vessel sank soon after and it wasn't until 1996 that the engine was salvaged and then put on display here.
Once inside the actual exhibition hall, the stern of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru towers above you. The propeller and rudder are at eye level and a few bits and pieces are dotted around. The wooden hull rests on concrete supports. Some equipment from the inside is on display next to one of the supports – presumably the radio apparatus Aikichi Kuboyama was operating on the boat (see above
You can walk around the entire vessel, stand under the bow, and on the starboard side some steps lead up to a small platform from where you can look out over the deck – but you cannot go aboard the boat. On deck a few items are on display, such as wheel, a lamp, pictures of different types of tuna and a chart showing the fishing technique this kind of boat used.
Along the walls of the hall, a topical exhibition complements the one giant main exhibit. And here you get told the background story, through panels with photos, documents and charts accompanied by explanatory texts. The general texts and some of the individual labels come with (quite good) English translations, but not all of them. Some parts thus remain less accessible to non-Japanese-speaking visitors. This includes a section covering the other victims of the fallout from this bomb, namely within the Marshall Islands, in particular Rongelap Atoll. Also only in Japanese is the section about the medical treatment of the crew and the death of Aikichi Kuboyama (see above
). But if you've read up about the case in advance you will recognize the images.
The most noteworthy artefact that is on display alongside the panels is small but significant: a lab bottle with some white powder inside. This is a sample of the so-called “Ash of Death” – the the fallout, composed of pulverized coral, atomized in the detonation, that rained down from the mushroom cloud a couple of hours after the test and irradiated the Daigo Fukuryu Maru (see above
). Looks so harmless but apart from the boat itself, this is probably the most dramatic exhibit at this site – once you know what it is.
There's also a scale model of the boat, some newspaper clippings (including an English one from Life magazine) and a video corner. Since what was shown on the screen was in Japanese only I could merely speculate what it may have been about, so I didn't stop to watch it. The section about the boat's post-incident life and how it was set up as the present exhibition was also all in Japanese only, with just the photos speaking for themselves.
As so often in Japanese
museums there's also a “kiddie corner”, and here one item was a model of Godzilla – that most classic of all Japanese monster movie monsters. This is no coincidence. The conception of Godzilla is widely believed to be linked to the Daigo Fukuryu Maru incident, as well as to the A-bombings of Hiroshima
. The fictional, giant-dinosaur-like monster is supposedly the result of radiation from A-bombs
and even possesses nuclear energy itself.
The link between A-bombs and Godzilla is also indicated in a large painting that hangs above the front entrance facing inside: it shows a fiery red mushroom cloud out of which the shape of a roaring monster emerges above the black shape of a boat in equally black water.
Back outside you can also take a look at the separate memorial for Aikichi Kuboyama, set in the lawn next to the Daigo Fukuryu Maru engine display. Next to the path further north is also a “Tuna Memorial”, a big grey boulder with a Japanese inscription on it. I can only guess but it may be in sad memory of all that tuna caught by the this boat (and others) that had to be destroyed because it was irradiated.
All in all
, this is not a big museum (except for its core exhibit) but a historically quite significant one, a relic from one of the key incidents of the first decade of the Atomic Age and the Cold War
. Definitely worth the detour it takes to get there.
in Yumenoshima Park, some 4 miles (6.5 km) south-east of Tokyo
Access and costs: Quite a long way out from the centre, but easy enough by public transport; free.
: To get to this rather far-out location, you can take either the Yurakucho metro line, which connects e.g. to the station of that same name and Ginza-itchome in the heart of Tokyo
city centre; or get the Keiyo Line from Tokyo Station. Both stop at Shin-Kiba Station, where you get out, cross the road north of the station and pass under the flyover to get to the corner of the Yumenoshima Park complex. Head further north past the sports field/stadium and at the eastern end of the footbridge across Meiji-dori Avenue you'll find the sign for the exhibition hall. Its main entrance is on the western side, down some steps, but there's also a side entrance at the other end of the hall, to which a ramp leads (suitable for wheelchairs – though the exhibition inside is only partially wheelchair-accessible).
Opening times: daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed Mondays (or, when Monday is a public holiday the following Tuesday instead) as well as from 29 December to 3 January.
Admission is free.
Time required: Something like half an hour at best.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Nothing in the immediate vicinity, though from the Yumenoshima bus stop on Meiji-dori Avenue you can get a bus (line 18) north for eight stops and from there walk westwards to the Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage
. Or head back westwards towards Tokyo
city centre or onwards to Meguro
. Or, by means of the Yurakucho metro line, you can get to Ichigaya Station, from where it is not far to the Yasukuni shrine & Yushukan military museum
See also under Tokyo
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
Further east in Yumenoshima is a Tropical Greenhouse, which might be an attraction for some. Otherwise there isn't anything else of interest this far out – so better head back to central Tokyo
- Lucky Dragon 01 - signposted exhibition hall in Yumenoshima park
- Lucky Dragon 02 - engine on display outside
- Lucky Dragon 03 - stern
- Lucky Dragon 04 - bow
- Lucky Dragon 05 - hull
- Lucky Dragon 06 - propeller
- Lucky Dragon 07 - you can go up
- Lucky Dragon 08 - view towards the bow
- Lucky Dragon 09 - view towards the stern
- Lucky Dragon 10 - model
- Lucky Dragon 11 - instruments
- Lucky Dragon 12 - sample of the irradiated coral ash
- Lucky Dragon 13 - deadly dust closer up
- Lucky Dragon 14 - Godzilla presence here is no coincidence