Searching for sailors in Yokosuka: Real life Shenmue locations


Back when I was a young fella, and still had hopes and dreams that hadn’t been beaten into submission, I spent my days wandering the streets of Yokosuka, Japan. I got into fights, rode motorbikes, chased crooked travel agents, and collected toys from capsule machines with my much younger friend Tatsuya Yamamoto. They were dark days, as my father had recently been murdered by a Chinaman and I was struggling with my sexuality, but I made it through it all with the help of my friends Fuku-san and Guizhang, as well as my girlfriend Nozomi.

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I should probably point out that this is all part of the award-winning Dreamcast video game Shenmue, which I played a lot back in 2001. My father is still very much alive and currently renovating Port Macquarie’s Fantasy Glades amusement park, and my sexuality has never been in question. But as a kid I loved living the life of Ryo Hazuki in the midst of a sprawling martial arts quest, so when I visited Japan it was, in part, to visit Yokosuka. Even though it wasn’t really my father who was murdered, I needed to find Iwao Hazuki’s killer – and that meant heading to the seediest streets of Yokosuka in search of sailors.

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A few years ago I visited the locations from Shenmue II, including Aberdeen, Kowloon and Guilin, and loved seeing the similarities and differences between the game world and the real world. Yokosuka is a little over an hour from Tokyo, and the buildings never stop the whole journey. A sea of grey slid past the window until, finally, I rolled into Yokosuka and stepped out into a land that I’d never been to, but which I had spent so much time in. It was pouring rain, but nothing could dampen my spirit as I walked past the harbour that plays such an important role in Shenmue.

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The bulk of the game takes place around Dobuita Street, and it’s only a short stroll from the station. When I got there, it felt incredibly familiar. The game was made 16 years ago and set 14 years before that, but the feel of Dobuita carried through all of that and welcomed me. Yokosuka has long held an American military base, and Dobuita Street is where Japanese and American cultures melt together to create something truly unique. Jacket shops and bars are clustered together to create a place unlike anywhere I’ve been before.

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Any place full of American culture must have huge, heart-wrecking fast food, and Dobuita is no exception. There are plenty of burger shops, but one serves a meal that would stump even the chunkiest Yank. The 7th Fleet Burger costs around $60 Australian and has more meat in it than my ex-girlfriend did while I was at work. I’m sure if I’d waited around long enough I would’ve seen some poor bastard get wheeled out of there on a trolley, but I had a murder to solve.

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I figured the best place to find sailors would be by the water, so I headed to the harbour, where the legendary battleship Mikasa floats proudly. Built in the late 1890s and first put to use in 1902, it remains an impressive ship, but it was an absolute beast back in the day. The pride of the Japanese fleet, she rumbled with the evil Russians for years, causing all sorts of problems for the vodka drinkers. According to signs on the ship, the Mikasa basically destroyed Russia without any trouble – I’m not sure that’s quite true, but the ship is still an incredible sight.

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I didn’t find any sailors out there, however, and trudged dejectedly into a nearby disable toilet. To my surprise, I found a number of sailors in there and they were quite pleased to see me, but it was at that point that I realised I didn’t really want to find sailors after all.

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As day turned to night I headed back towards Dobuita street, and when I spotted an empty carpark I decided it was as good a place as any to work on my karate moves. I was a martial arts prodigy in my younger years and could’ve become a master if I’d pursued it, and it felt good to bust out some roundhouse kicks and dragon punches. Then a Japanese woman came over and asked me if I was having a seizure, so I stopped.

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One of Shenmue’s most-loved characters is Tom Johnson, an African American stereotype who spends most of his time dancing out the front of his hotdog truck. I was gobsmacked to find a truck that was strikingly similar to Tom’s, selling delicious kebabs instead of hotdogs. Tom wasn’t grooving in front of it, but I didn’t let that deter me, and cruised over to throw out some of my best moves. Just as I was getting into ‘the orangutan’, a very angry man poked his head out from the truck and told me to go fuck myself, which is certainly not something that happened to Ryo. I assumed I’d misheard him and kept shakin’ my groove thang, but when he pulled out a large knife and thrust it in my direction, any miscommunication was cleared and I left.

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On the train ride home, I reflected on how much fun I’d had in Yokosuka. I’d spent 16 years wanting to come to this place, for no reason other than a video game. And it was everything I’d hoped it would be – for a few hours, I was able to feel like I was in the world of Shenmue, without getting my head kicked in. Sure, Yokosuka doesn’t offer too much for the average tourist (although there are worse ways to spend a day – and it’s certainly better than Kyoto), but to me it was the most special place on the planet. I didn’t get to root Nozomi and no children asked me to wrestle, but I loved Yokosuka!

2 thoughts on “Searching for sailors in Yokosuka: Real life Shenmue locations

  1. Love the article. Too bad thr U.S.S. O’Brien, DD-975, (the one in the game) was sunk in 2006 for a training exercise. Awesome attention to detail, by the game developers using actual weather data.


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