Restored model ship of ‘Kitamaebune’ left unhurt

By Kikki - Last updated: 木曜日, 4月 14, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

[From Ofunato city-my stricken home town]

-East Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Disaster-

‘Kesenmaru’ or a restored model of historical ship for northern-bound route

‘Kesenmaru’ left unhurt at Takonoura fishing port

Restored model of historical ship ‘Kesenmaru’ escaped from the big tsunami and left unhurt at Takonoura Fishing Port, Akasaki Town, Ofunato City. A large number of fishing boats were washed away or damaged in the same port, but this old style ship is survived. The ship was built totally depended on traditional technical skill of local shipwrights. ‘The ship really encourages us. It will be a symbol of our hope for reconstruction.’ Local fishermen think like that.

Over 11 meters high strong wave rushed into the port about 40 minutes later the earthquake. Marine products factories and private houses in the port were utterly destroyed by the tsunami, and over 50 fishing boats were washed away. Only three boats, including ‘Kesenmaru’ were left at the port. ‘Kesenmaru’ is a restored model of historical ship for marine transportation during the Edo Period that mainly dealt with shipment of shark fin and dried abalone from Ofunato to Edo (present Tokyo). It is 18 meters long, 5.8 meters in width, and weighs 27 tons. There are four restored ‘Kitamaebune’ ships in Japan, but only two, including ‘Kesenmaru’ are possible to sail on the sea.

‘It’s unbelievable! It could survive unhurt from the disaster.’ Even Mr. Tomenoshin Niinuma (80), a master shipwright was surprised. One possible reason is that it was moored to the pier with four strong ropes. Another is its structure. The ship has a bulge in its body and covered by plank which helped absorbing of shock wave.

Other shipwrights under Mr. Niinuma those who participated to build the ship are also delighted and said, ‘While many lives were lost and also fishermen lost their boats, there is a valuable one left here which we like to hand down to the next generations. It symbolizes our hope and makes us encouraged.’ ‘Kesenmaru’ was built for ‘JAPAN EXPO IN IWATE ’92’ sponsored mainly by the Ofunato Chamber of Commerce in 1992.

Kitamaebune, historical ship for marine transportation


The Kitamaebune (北前船,) was a shipping route (and also the ships involved) in Japan from the Edo to the Meiji periods. The route went from Osaka through the Seto Inland Sea and the Kanmon Straits to ports in Hokuriku on the Sea of Japan and later to Hokkaido.

The Kaga Domain, which sold approximately 70,000 koku of rice every year in Osaka, succeeded in sending 100 koku by boat through this route in 1639. The Tokugawa Shogunate also received rice from Dewa Province through merchant Kawamura Zuiken in 1672, but it is thought to be a response from these ships. Japanese ships at the time normally could only make one trip per year, but with the arrival of Western schooners in the Meiji Period, ships were able to make up to four trips annually.

However, the Meiji Restoration also brought the end of the feudal system and the introduction of the telegraph, getting rid of gaps between regional markets and making it difficult for the shipping routes to make large profits. The national construction of railroads further led to the end of the Kitamaebune.


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