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


(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 15 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. 


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 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 90+ 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. 

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. 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 managed to see an image I wanted…

I saw something, I caught an angle, 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 ”. 

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. 

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. 

From our own Naval Anthem the words exemplify those rules…

 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 “spirit 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 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, 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 Target 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.

Quite a schedule was planned for the following days. Monday we are going to WW2 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. 

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)