Today in Transportation History – 1989: A New Old Ship for Japan

Just over six months after being launched, the Japanese training sail ship Kaiwo Maru was fully completed by Sumitomo Heavy Industries. The four-masted vessel, measuring more than 361 feet in length, was built to replace a 1930 training ship bearing the same name. (The original Kaiwo Maru is now a museum ship in the Japanese city of Imizu.) Though built with a 19th-century design, the newer ship was equipped with electronics, auxiliary engines, and many other modern features.

Along with being used by Japan’s National Institute of Sea Training to instruct fledgling sailors, Kaiwo Maru regularly participates in international tall ship events such as those sponsored by Operation Sail. Kaiwo Maru has also been a multiple winner of the Boston Teapot Trophy, which is awarded to sail training vessels that cover the greatest distance within a period of 124 hours.

The ship had a close call when Typhoon Tokage hammered Japan in 2004. While the large typhoon severely damaged Kaiwo Maru outside the port of Fushiki in the Bay of Toyama, the ship was repaired and in 2006 resumed operations.

In 2010, Kaiwo Maru and her crew of 170 (including 107 who were cadets or trainees preparing to be officers for the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force) traveled across the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco. The 5,400-mile voyage was embarked on to commemorate the one undertaken in 1860 by Kanrin Maru, the first Japanese ship to make an official visit to the United States.

Makoto Inui, the captain of Kaiwo Maru, noted during the welcoming ceremony in San Francisco that he and his crew sought to mirror the voyage of Kanrin Maru as closely as possible. “So we made 90 percent of our trip under sail,” he explained. Among those traveling on Kaiwo Maru for this commemorative voyage was 72-year-old retired businessman Yoshiharu Masai, whose ancestor Kosugi Masanoshin had been an 18-year-old engineering officer aboard Kanrin Maru. “I wanted to experience what my ancestor did,” Masai told the San Francisco Chronicle. Masai demonstrated his enthusiasm by climbing to the top of the mainmast – nearly 160 feet above the deck- while Kaiwo Maru was at sea.

The following year, Kaiwo Maru was on her way from Japan to Hawaii when a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami slammed the Tōhoku region in northeast Japan. Kaiwo Maru was diverted to that area, providing accommodations for workers who tackled the major accidents which had been triggered at the Fukushima Dauchii Nuclear Power Plant by the natural disasters.

For more information about the newest version of Kaiwo Maru, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaiwo_Maru_(1989)

Further details about the vessel’s 2010 visit to San Francisco can be found in the San Francisco Chronicle article “Japanese ship docks in wake of momentous voyage” (8 May 2010) at http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Japanese-ship-docks-in-wake-of-momentous-voyage-3189625.php

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