The Shikishima class was an improved version of the Majestic-class battleships of the United Kingdom's Royal Navy. At this time, Japan lacked the technology and capability to construct its own battleships and they had to be built abroad. Hatsuse was 438 feet 8 inches (133.7 m) long overall and had a beam of 76 feet 6 inches (23.3 m) and a draught of 27 feet 5 inches (8.4 m) at deep load. She displaced 14,312 long tons (14,542 t) at normal load and had a crew of 849 officers and ratings when serving as a flagship. The ship was powered by two Humphrys Tennant vertical triple-expansion steam engines, each driving one shaft, using steam provided by 25 Belleville boilers. The engines were rated at 14,500 indicated horsepower (10,800 kW) using forced draught and were designed to reach a top speed of 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph). Hatsuse, however, reached a maximum speed of 19.1 knots (35.4 km/h; 22.0 mph) from 16,117 ihp (12,018 kW) on her sea trials. She carried enough coal to give her a range of 5,000 nautical miles (9,300 km; 5,800 mi) at a speed of 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph).
The ships' main battery consisted of four 12-inch (305 mm) guns mounted in two twin gun turrets, one forward and one aft of the superstructure. Their secondary armament consisted of fourteen quick-firing (QF) 6-inch (152 mm) guns, mounted in casemates on the sides of the hull and in the superstructure. A suite of smaller guns were carried for defence against torpedo boats. These included twenty QF 12-pounder (3-inch (76 mm)) 12 cwt[Note 1] guns, eight 47-millimetre (1.9 in) 3-pounders and four 2.5-pounder Hotchkiss guns of the same calibre, all of which were in single mounts. They was also armed with four submerged 18-inch (450 mm) torpedo tubes, two on each broadside. The waterline armour belt of the Shikishima-class ships consisted of Harvey armour 4–9 inches (102–229 mm) thick. The armour of their gun turrets had a maximum thickness of 10 inches (254 mm) and their decks ranged from 2.5 to 4 inches (64 to 102 mm) in thickness.