HMS Montrose has said ‘sayonara’ to Japan after a fortnight in the land of the Rising Sun.
A combined anti-submarine hunt with the US and Japanese navies in the Pacific south of the main island of Honshu brought the curtain down on the fourth visit by a British warship to the country inside 12 months.
Montrose spent six days in Tokyo, berthed just three miles from the city centre alongside her host, Japanese destroyer Murasame, whose crew introduced the Brits to Japanese cooking and culture, and offered tips on the ‘must-see’ sights of their capital.
Both warships opened their gangways to the Japanese public... with the visiting Brits proving to be a big draw, enticing nearly 10,000 people on board for a look around during an open weekend.
Montrose’s sailors and Royal Marines then had time to explore Tokyo – and beyond, for some crew grabbed a bullet train and headed into the mountains for a spot of skiing.
Others were content with the capital’s heady mix of tranquil temples and shrines and the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s great metropolises, such as Shibuya Crossing – the busiest junction on the planet (think: a Tokyo version of Times Square).
“Tokyo is definitely a unique place to visit and I found it a complete sensory overload,” said Weapon Engineering Technician Simon Hallett.
There was still time to host a Defence and Security Industry Day, allowing British firms to showcase their wares – including some of the systems installed on the warship during her recent refit – and discuss opportunities for cooperation with Japanese officials and companies.
And finally, the ship staged a capability demonstration giving an idea of the grit and expertise of a British sailor and the equipment they use. Among attendees was Defence Minister Kenji Harada who led guests in the traditional toast of “Kampai!” (Cheers!) to mark Montrose’s visit.
“Our time in Tokyo was enjoyed by all and goes to further strengthen our relationship with the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force and Japan,” said Commander Conor O’Neill, Montrose’s Commanding Officer.
“We built on the near-persistent Royal Navy presence in the area and recent visits to Japan, continuing to demonstrate the Royal Navy’s commitment to this vital region and our ability to operate seamlessly with our allies.”
Montrose is the third British frigate – all from Plymouth – to visit Tokyo after HMS Sutherland (last April) and Argyll (over New Year), while flagship HMS Albion spent a month in Japan last summer.
As she left Tokyo, Montrose passed Japan’s flagship Izumo – a ‘helicopter destroyer’ or, in Royal Navy parlance, ‘helicopter carrier’ – and exchanged salutes before getting stuck into the submarine hunt, where the ‘enemy’ was played by a Japanese boat.
Some of the Brits experienced life aboard the Murasame, which is powered through the Pacific by the same Rolls-Royce engines as Montrose, to understand Japanese naval customs and ways of working – many are similar as the Japanese Navy was originally modelled on the Royal Navy.
The two warships formed the heart of a hunting force which was assisted by a Japanese P8 maritime patrol aircraft – similar to those being acquired by the RAF to safeguard the UK’s submarine force – tracked down the enemy below.
“This was a great opportunity to hone the skills of the sailors onboard and to work with our allies with live assets, demonstrating our capabilities in this field of warfare,” said Lieutenant Chris Daly, HMS Montrose’s Principal Warfare Officer (Underwater).
Such joint training is intended to generally support peace in the western Pacific Rim and specifically to put pressure on North Korea and Pyongyang’s illegal nuclear programme.
Montrose is now making her way to Bahrain via a couple of brief stops in the India-Asia region. Once in the Middle East, she’ll stay there for up to three years conducting security patrols, with crew being replaced every four months to sustain her long-term security/peacekeeping presence.