NYK Line (Nippon Yusen K.K.).



1930sCommerceTransportation
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NYK Line children’s nursery, aboard the Tatsuta Maru, c. 1940.

“To visit Japan on an NYK liner is the delightful and logical way to go. Once across the gangplank you feel you are already in Japan. On ships of the NYK line you will find pleasant and interesting fellow passengers. You will take deep interest in the unsurpassed NYK table and cabin service, so smartly American in standard, yet so promptly, courteously and smilingly Japanese in accomplishment.”

The Rotarian, May 1928

NYK Line, Yokohama, c. 1920.

NYK Line, Yokohama, c. 1920. Departure of the Hakozaki Maru. (Note: Photo was reversed before printing on postcard.)

Departure. NYK Line, c. 1930.

Departure, NYK Line, c. 1930.

Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK) traces its history back to the Tsukumo Shokai shipping company founded by the Tosa clan in 1870. In 1875, as the renamed Mitsubishi Shokai, the company inaugurated Japan’s first passenger liner service, with a route from Yokohama to Shanghai. In 1885, a merger with Kyodo Unyu Kaisha (founded 1882) led to the adoption of the company’s present name.

The majority of Japanese merchant ships, tankers and liners sailed under the NYK banner between 1900-1940. Regular services linked Kobe and Yokohama with South America, Batavia (Dutch Indonesia), Melbourne, Cape Town; and frequent cruises to Honolulu, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver. Other routes connected local Chinese cabotage vessels on the Chinese coasts and upper Yangtze River.

Map: NYK worldwide passenger and freighter shipping routes, and connecting lines, 1927.

NYK lost 185 ships in support of military operations in the Pacific. Before the war, NYK had 36 passenger ships; by the time of Japan’s surrender in August, 1945, only one survived, the Hikawa Maru (now, permanently berthed as a museum ship at Yokohama near Yamashita Park).

An elevated view of Yamashita Park, Yokohama, ca. 1960. The black-hulled ship moored at center is the Hikawa Maru, the only surviving NYK passenger liner (of 36, pre-war) of the Pacific War. In the foreground is one the post-war “Empress” ships of the Canadian Pacific Steamship Co.

N.Y.K. Line, Chichibu-maru, San Francisco, CA, c. 1930.

N.Y.K. Line, Chichibu Maru, at San Francisco, CA, c. 1930.

“The Social Hall”, NYK Lines, c. 1930.

Dispositions of the NYK steamships portrayed above:

Kamo Maru,  8500 tons, launched 1908. Sunk by torpedo 1944, East China Sea.
Mishima Maru, 8500 tons, launched 1908. Scrapped 1934.
Yokohama Maru, 6500 tons, launch 1912. Sunk by air raid 1942, off Lea-Selame, New Guinea.
Hakone Maru, 10500 tons, launched 1921. Sunk by air raid 1943, Straits of Formosa.
Hakozaki Maru, 10400 tons, launched 1922. Sunk by torpedo 1945, East China Sea.
Hikawa Maru*, 11600 tons, launched 1929. The only NYK passenger ship to survive WWII.
Tatsuta Maru (nursery picture)**, 17000 tons, launched 1930. Sunk by torpedo 1943, off Mikurajima.
Chichibu Maru, 17000 tons, launched 1930. Sunk by torpedo 1943, East China Sea.

* In October 1941 HIKAWA MARU became the last NYK ship to visit a US port before the Pacific War broke out. She brought US refugees to Seattle, and on her return voyage she repatriated 400 Japanese nationals. When Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945 HIKAWA MARU was one of only two Japanese large passenger ships to have survived the war. The other was another hospital ship, Osaka Shosen Kaisha’s (OSK) Takasago Maru. In 1961 HIKAWA MARU was permanently berthed at Yamashita Park, Yokohama as a floating museum, hotel and restaurant.

 

** In December 1941 TATSUTA MARU was part of an elaborate Japanese deception plan to mask the unannounced attack on the US Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor. She sailed from Yokohama on 2 December bound for San Francisco with the task of exchanging American evacuees from East Asia for Japanese nationals in the United States. She was scheduled to reach the US on 14 December and despite rumours of war the American press wrongly concluded that meant nothing was likely to happen for some time. The master of the ship had sealed orders to turn around at midnight on 7 December and return to Japan while maintaining radio silence. Subsequently, with the start of the Pacific War, the TATSUTA MARU was requisitioned for use as a troopship for the Imperial Japanese Navy. It was torpedoed and sunk off Mikurajima, 120 miles south of Tokyo Bay, in 1943.
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