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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lucky Dragon No. 5: Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall

Lucky Dragon No. 5: Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall

by Armand Vaquer
(Special thanks to August Ragone)

(Originally published in G-FAN #80, Spring 2007)

A brilliant fireball was seen in the South Pacific at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands on March 1, 1954. The United States exploded a H-bomb in the first of a series of "Castle Test" detonations of hydrogen bombs by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. This bomb test was called "Bravo."

The explosive power of this bomb was equivalent to 15 megatons of TNT, almost 1,000 times greater than the atomic bombs that completely destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Unfortunately, twenty-three crew members of a Japanese tuna fishing trawler, Daigo Fukuryu Maru (Fifth Lucky Dragon) encountered radioactive "death ash" from the Bikini blast. They were located roughly 160 kilometers east of Bikini Atoll (see map below). At about 3:45 am on March 1, while some crewmen were staying in the boat's cabin for breakfast, they saw the window shine as if it were sunrise. At around 7:00 am, white ash began to fall on the ship and continued to do so for several hours.

Peace Society for the Lucky Dragon.

Later that afternoon, some of the crew began to feel headaches, nausea and eye irritation. A few days later, their faces began to become strangely dark. The captain and officers decided to immediately return to their home port, Yaizu in Shizuoka Prefecture, abandoning further fishing plans. Two weeks after returning home, most of the crew members were suffering from painful burns to their faces and hair loss, in addition to the earlier symptoms. Following a thorough medical examination by Doctor T. Oi, it was diagnosed that all crew members were seriously ill from radiation poisoning and were moved to larger hospitals in Tokyo.

Above, exhibits on the effects of radiation poisoning.

A survey conducted by Professor T. Shiokawa of Shizuoka University, found that the ship body, the crew and the tuna fish brought back aboard the Lucky Dragon were heavily contaminated by fallout from the "Bravo" test. Due to this ominous news, most of the Japanese people were seized by panic as their daily foods depend largely on marine products. Consequently, any fishing in the open ocean became practically impossible.

Despite the hard work by doctors, Mr. Aikichi Kuboyama, the Lucky Dragon's chief radio operator, succumbed on September 23, 1954. He became the world's first victim of the hydrogen bomb. Up to the present, ten other members of the crew have died due to cancer and other H-bomb-related diseases.

The Lucky Dragon was delivered to the Tokyo University of Fisheries to be used as a training ship in 1956. The radioactivity had previously been confirmed to have decayed to a safe level. After serving the university for ten years, the ship was sold to a scrap dealer and abandoned on Dream Island, the graveyard for wooden ships in Tokyo Bay (photo below). Plans were made to sink the ship, but a letter to the Asahi Shimbun on March 10, 1968 began a campaign to save and restore the ship for a memorial and reminder of what happened.

Peace Society for the Lucky Dragon.

After an expenditure of $800,000 and a full year of labor, the Lucky Dragon was completely renovated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and is now housed in a triangle-shaped building in the Koto-ku ward of Tokyo. The exhibition hall is located at Dream Island Park (Yumenoshima).

Above, restored, the Lucky Dragon No. 5 sits in its home in Dream Island Park.

The accompanying photographs of the Lucky Dragon No. 5 were made during my visit to the exhibition hall on April 15, 2007.

As many Godzilla fans know, the Lucky Dragon incident was one of the inspirations for Godzilla. In fact, some of the publications on sale (below) at the exhibit include references to Godzilla.

Up until recently, I did not know that the Lucky Dragon No. 5 was on display in Tokyo. Fortunately, a timely tip from August Ragone told me of the exhibit prior to my vacation departure to Japan. A visit to the exhibit is a must-see for serious Godzilla fans and history buffs. Although the incident is a sad one, and the exhibit is somber, it is still well worth a visit.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for good article about Lucky Dragon No. 5 accident. The war is daughter of death so I don't know why americans want to import their "democracy" to countries which they don't want it...

Armand Vaquer said...

We don't impose democracy. But we do respond to freedom fighters who only want to have the right for self-determination.

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