Kashima, Yamagiri, Amagiri 

 Arrival of three ships of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force JMSDF as part 
of the 2006 Defense Training Squadron World Tour Welcomed to Tampa

Story By Al Jacobs 

(Port Tampa, Pier Three - 02 July 2006) They are sleek, and look fast just sitting dockside. And they are immaculate. They exemplify the word "shipshape". 

These are Japanese Destroyers, usually referred to as DD's, about 25 years old, and about 450 feet in length. The “Kashima” lead ship of this fleet is designated TV 3508. It is the largest of the three visitors and is converted for training purposes with additional bunks and classrooms. 

The twins also Destroyers, are the Amagiri and the Yamagiri, They are in line formation at the docks and will be open to the public for viewing this week. 




I got the call from the Command and local paper to cover it.  But the story is not about the ships. The story is about the people that man these ships and their six month cruise around the world on a goodwill familiarization mission for the crews. It is also a story of the warmth and friendship extended to these visitors by the city of Tampa, Florida. And the warmth and friendship that came back in return. 

The cruise encompassing more than half the world, made stops in Miami, Pearl Harbor and Tampa is an inauguration for nearly two hundred newly commissioned officers in the Japanese Navy. the trip has provided these new officers with training in the areas of leadership, seamanship and cooperation with their allies. 

A trip of discovery, difference and similarity, cultural diversity and common interests. Sunday, noon and it was hot enough to fry eggs. It feels like 92 in the shade and the humidity was a pleasant 80+ percent. A few drops of rain, just enough to wear you out standing in place. Glasses, lenses, didn't matter, they all fogged over. 

As we waited for the dignitaries to arrive I kept thinking of how times have changed in this global world, how enemies become friends and coalitions form and how new threats continue to emerge. The three ships were berthed in Tampa's main port channel across from the oil storage tanks. Security was high as it is in Tampa Bay‟s Port.  It seemed higher today with all the dignitaries and officials including the Mayor and the Japanese Ambassador. 

Even the media was told what to do and where you could go as long as you had escorts to take you there. Tampa’s port Security is rated as normally VERY FIERCE.  We are a fuel depot.  I was lucky I had a purple ID card — all access  — There are good reasons though. Just looking at 40 five-story fuel tanks and the ships berthed alongside made you think.  I needed to get some shots and from a vantage point, I managed to see an image I wanted…albeit a long shot from the stern of the Kashima for a shot of the Amagiri. I walked out through the fence and I was stopped by one of the Port guards. “ You can't go out there”.  I said, "OK., but can I lean over the line for a second, did so, later followed up with a shot from the stern ”.  Then he saw my Badge but I had to get back to the group who were moving on to the next station. 

Welcomed by Mayor Pam Iorio, members of the city council and local dignitaries, it was quite the occasion. The gentleman next to Pam Iorio is the Japanese Ambassador to the US 

Sometimes you look into the shot and you see something.  At the stern of the Amagiri sits the stern of the American Victory. A World War II Victory Class (2nd generation Liberty Class freighter called the Victory Class) which I had the pleasure of photographing, and writing about earlier this year. 65 years later, who would guess, a Japanese destroyer and American Victory Class ship berthed together —  

Past: One has to understand the 60 year relationship with the Japanese Navy after the Second World War. Testy in the beginning and welcomed today as a partner in a dangerous  part of the world — 

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We have to go back in time when thoughts of Japan having a Navy after we sent a large portion of it to the bottom of the sea didn‟t make sense. But the visionaries who saw change in that region knew that Japan had to be able to defend herself. 

Writers often use the phrase "shifting sands", that region had shifting countries. Through the efforts of Admiral Arleigh Burke and his Japanese counterpart, the JMSDF was formed and we have had for almost 60 years, an extremely close working relationship between the U.S. Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. 

As partners and allies the two navies maintain more than the usual intelligence, technology, and specialized equipment that Navies usually customize for their needs. Today that bond is closer than ever.

Both navies today share the Phalanx CIWS, Sea Sparrow, Harpoon Launchers and ASROC systems, supplies and resources. The basic structure down to grades and rank stem from the fact both navies‟ policies and customs came from the British Royal Navy. 

Two navies, oceans apart basically had read the same training manual. The common denominator, the sea hath it's own set of rules. 

Rear Admiral Takanobu Sasaki (above at podium) commands the Training Squadron. He and other senior officers will make courtesy calls on military and elected officials at Tampa and other cities on the tour, attend friendship events and visit to pay respects at several Memorials. On Wednesday a group attended a Devil Ray's Game. (They won, maybe the second greatest thing that happened) 


 Eternal Father, strong to save, Whose arm hath bound the restless wave, 
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep, Its own appointed limits keep; 
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea! 



This was the key bonding element when the Naval officers from the US and Japan after the war were, as professional soldiers, well understanding of their new role for the Japanese Navy. 

Both sides were devoted to the success of the mission which was to create the JMSDF. Though language, customs and traditions were different, these were the men of both sides who had common bonds. 

This commonality makes for a good working relationship. In other words today neither wishes to be less than perfect in performance in the eyes of the other:   There exists a        “ espirite de corps” and cooperation not usually seen in such a diversity of culture. 

The subsequent leadership of the JMSDF today has maintained the traditions of the Japanese Navy though limited in the role the new Navy could play. 

They have today, a first rate Navy trained by the UNITED STATES experienced and professional officers and enlisted men. Their training is second to none. Suddenly that bond grew tighter as North Korea launched seven missiles in one day in the sea of Japan and as reported two of the seven had the range to reach Japan. 

I spent a few days there and it was an eye opener, I spent time with both officers and enlisted men, and was quite impressed, the thing that imprinted in my mind is that this crew is like a Swiss Army knife, many different tools performing their job but all fitting in a neat compact case.   Many of the officers probably all to a degree, spoke English as they do a lot of Joint Exercise’s with our Navy. Their ship computers can interact and integrate with our military systems  — 

Politeness, cleanliness, sharp, consistent, business like, professional.  I saw, attended and ate with both officer and enlisted men, enlisted messes food being a second love of mine. The attention to detail is something else and the Captains Personal Chef prepared a special greeting for the party on board.  See the photo above.  Incredible, Immaculate, Indescibly beautiful is the only way to describe it.  

When the ships came up the narrow canal and berthed, there were men in bosun’s chairs over the side touching up the black marrs left by the rubber tires from their tugs and last docking.  They made a nice, call it perfect presentation upon arrival.  They parked three Destroyers faster than I parked at a Target or Wal-Mart on a weekend.


The less formal celebrations took place at an early evening cocktail party for the staff of Macdill AFB CENTCOM and SOCCOM Commands. General Abizaid, Commander of the Central Command (CENTCOM) at that time, second from right was the senior officer attending.

The hors d'oeuvres were incredible and the friendship was consummated by the ritualistic opening of the SAKI drum.  It looked like about twelve gallons of prime Japanese saki and it was very, very — incredibly delicious.  I was working but not going to miss an opportunity.

I was shooting for the Command at Macdill, the paper,  and worked with the Japanese shipboard photographer who I presented with a set of Gold Cross pens for being my guide about the ship and translating for me when needed.  I gave him a CD of my shots and he gave me a CD of the other events they had partaken of on this cruise.  I liked him, and even ate in their mess hall.  They sure eat a lot of rice. They had a rice cooker I could have done pool laps with.

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Quite a schedule was planned for the following days. Monday we are going to WW-II Memorial in Bushnell for a wreath laying ceremony. This is as big as a symbolic ceremony can get. That‟s what these things are all about. 

Gestures are a way to heal wounds; this is one of the warmest receptions I have ever attended. It's been great so far. They have been most gracious, polite and about as hospitable as any event I have covered in my life. There will also be a concert performed by the Japanese Self Defense Force's Training Squadron Band. 

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It is no easy task being captain of a Japanese warship. There are China’s rising maritime ambitions, North Korea’s sanction-flouting missile antics and the shifting parameters of a pacifist constitution to deal with.

And for Commander Miho Otani, there is one more challenge to add to the list: the responsibility that goes hand in hand with being the nation’s first female captain of a Japanese destroyer. And it is the Yamagiri, one of the three that visited Tampa in 2006  — in a story I covered --

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Commander Otani, 45, made Japanese maritime history earlier this year when she was promoted to the senior-ranking position of captain of the Yamagiri destroyer, overseeing a crew of 220, only ten of whom are women.

The Yamagiri, a destroyer, moored at Yokosuka army base near Tokyo CREDIT: Androniki Christodoulou

The Maritime Self-Defence Force (MSDF) appointment marked a major step forward for Japanese women in the armed forces, long renowned as a male dominated world mirroring the nation’s sharp gender imbalance across the professional spectrum.

Today, there are 2,530 female MSDF personnel out of 41,774, with defence officials having set the fairly modest goal of raising the percentage of women service members from 6 per cent to 10 per cent within 15 years.

Commander Otani, however, has long been blazing a trail for women within the MSDF, with a growing list of “firsts” under her belt: she was one of the first female graduates at the National Defence Academy and more recently, she become the first female skipper of a training destroyer in 2013.

Her latest promotion carries even greater significance, with Commander Otani, who is also a married mother, facing a myriad of sensitive geo-political challenges, ranging from increasingly heated territorial tensions to tempering the rising maritime power of China.

It’s also a timely appointment for the prime minister Shinzo Abe, neatly complementing his policies of womenomics which aim to help revitalise the world’s third largest economy by supporting more women in the workplace.

However, speaking to the Telegraph on board the destroyer Yamagiri, docked in a picturesque green bay at the Funakoshi base in Yokosuka, 28 miles south of Tokyo, Commander Otani conceded her path had not always been smooth sailing.

After marrying at the age of 29, she was immediately asked by a male colleague when she was going to leave her job – a common assumption still facing many working Japanese women today.

Miho Ootani takes the captain's chair CREDIT: Androniki Christodoulou

She also admitted that male attitudes still needed to change today, in order to make policies supporting working women effective, while admitting her own personal “dilemma” of attempting to balance her career with being the mother of a now 12-year-old daughter.

Poised, polite and cautiously friendly, Commander Otani, dressed in immaculate top-to-toe whites with a neat black bow tying back her hair, talked from the head of a table in a meeting room with military-style clocks, photographs of Japan’s most senior politicians (all men) and reproduction Impressionist paintings on the walls.

Describing the inspiration behind the start of her maritime career more than 20 yeas ago, she said: “I was living life as a regular university student and I saw the Gulf War on the news.

“I was shocked to see what was going on in the world and how different it was from my life in Japan. I felt a sort of patriotism when I saw the news. That’s when I saw a newspaper ad for the National Defence Academy (NAD) recruiting female officers and I decided to join.”

She smiles recalling how she first encountered opposition e not from her male classmates, but closer to home: “My family was opposed to the idea. My father felt that the NDA was not a place for a woman to study, it was more a man’s thing.”

This, however, failed to curtail her ambitions in carving a new path for female officers:  “I wasn’t really thinking in terms of going up the ranks. I felt more compelled to fulfill my duties as one of the first female students of the NDA and to pave the way for future female students who would follow in my footsteps and open doors for them. I feel responsible as a female to open up doors for other female officers.”






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