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A North Korean Spy Ship in Yokohama: The Japan Coast Guard Museum

Julian Ryall [Profile]

[2018.01.19] Read in: 日本語 | FRANÇAIS | ESPAÑOL | العربية | Русский |

The Japan Coast Guard museum displays the day-to-day operations of the JCG, although the incident it was opened to showcase—the sinking of a North Korean espionage boat—resembles a spy thriller more than real life.

On December 22, 2001, the Japan Coast Guard received reports that a suspicious vessel had been spotted in waters southwest of Kyūshū. Aircraft and patrol ships were dispatched to investigate the intruder, setting off a chase that was shown repeatedly on television news programs over the next few days. A video display at the museum shows Coast Guard vessels chasing the suspicious boat, ordering it to halt, and then firing warning shots across its bow.

A video display shows footage of the interception in front of the hull of the recovered spy ship.

An Ill-Fated Espionage Mission

Ultimately, after a prolonged exchange of gunfire, the vessel was sunk. It was only after it was raised some months later that the Japanese were able to confirm their suspicions that it had been a North Korean spy ship.

Hundreds of items were recovered from the seabed or were still aboard the vessel when it returned to the surface. These pieces—along with the 29.7-meter ship itself—are on display in this small but informative museum, located on the waterfront in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture.

A Japanese-made cellphone and English-Korean dictionary recovered from the vessel. Glass cases at the museum hold assault rifles, heavy-caliber machine guns, and even launchers for rocket-propelled grenades. More display units show off explosive devices that were recovered from the wreck, diving suits and scuba equipment, and two detailed maps showing coastal regions of Kagoshima Prefecture.

A steel helmet and parts of a Soviet B-10 recoilless rifle.

More weaponry recovered from the wreck.

An electrical switch meant for use in a detonation device.

An inflatable dinghy is also on display, along with radios and electronic equipment, a cache of documents, and—damningly—a lapel pin bearing the stern visage of Kim Il-sung, the former leader of North Korea.

Kim Il-sung, in power until his death in 1994, appears on a lapel pin found on the boat.

No Ordinary Fishing Boat

It is the badly damaged ship, disguised as a Chinese fishing boat but identified as the North Korean Changyu 3705, that is the centerpiece of the museum. Visitors can look into the stern through doors that were installed to permit a smaller boat to emerge to land agents or contraband.

A rubber raft could be launched from special doors installed in the vessel’s hull.

The view into the boat’s interior.

The ship is rusted from its time underwater and is peppered with bullet holes. An elevated observation area enables visitors to examine the upper part of the vessel, although it sustained substantial damage and the wheelhouse and foremast were destroyed in the firefight. Rails are still in place, however, where a twin-barreled 14.5 mm anti-aircraft gun—also on display—was concealed in the structure behind the bridge.

Bullet holes tell the tale of the battle that sent the vessel to the sea floor.

The final section of the museum is given over to the ships and aircraft that make up the Japan Coast Guard, as well as providing information on the training that its personnel undergo and the duties they perform.

Those everyday duties may not always mean the interception of North Korean spy vessels, but rescuing crews of ships that are in distress and preventing poaching, smuggling, and piracy are important duties.

A comprehensive English-language pamphlet is available at the front desk, along with an English-language leaflet detailing the Spy Ship Exhibition.

Japan Coast Guard Museum
  • Address: Yokohama Maritime Disaster Prevention Base, 1-2-1 Shinkō, Naka-ku, Yokohama, Kanagawa 231-0001
  • Tel.: 045-662-1185
  • Web: http://www.kaiho.mlit.go.jp/03kanku/kouhou/jcgm_yokohama/index.html (in Japanese only)
  • Open: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Tuesday through Sunday, but closed over the New Year holidays (closed on Tuesdays if the preceding Monday is a national holiday)
  • Admission: Free

(Originally written in English. Banner photo: The hull of the Changyu 3705.)

  • [2018.01.19]

Japan and Korea correspondent for London's Daily Telegraph. Completed a postgraduate course at the University of Central Lancashire. First arrived in Japan in 1992 and currently resides in Yokohama.

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