Visit NYK Maritime Museum and Mitsubishi

日本郵船歴史館と三菱史料館訪問 2018.08

— The museum lively shows a history of Japanese maritime industry and Mitsubishi Zaibatsu development

NYK- Logo x01.JPG      I recently had chance to visit the “NYK Maritime Museum ofNYK- Maritime x14.JPG History” in Yokohama and Mitsubishi Historic Museum in Tokyo. These Museums clearly show the development story of shipping industry in Japan from the Meiji period to now and the evolution by Mitsubishi Group.  By visiting two museums, I felt to be able to understand NYK- Maritime x23.JPGslightly how Japanese maritime and shipping industries were formed and advanced as well as the history of Mitsubishi Zaibatsu which had first built maritime business in Meiji as a foundation and grew to the Japanese major industrial giant.NYK- Mitsubishi x06.JPG

So, I could understand a bit about the development process of maritime industry of japan by visiting the museum, and I was able to learn of certain pattern of business development process of Japanese conglomerate like Mitsubishi and others.

This is a description of visiting impression.

♣  History and exhibition of NYK Maritime Museum

  NYK- Illust x02.JPG   “NYK Maritime History Museum” located in the Yokohama Yusen Building near Yokohama Port. This historic museum exhibits the NYK- Maritime x07.JPGdevelopment story of NYK as well as the evolution of Mitsubishi business group from the early Meiji era. The founder of the business was Iwasaki Yataro, a former lower class of Samurai in Tosa, Shikoku, who set up a maritime company called “Tsukumo Shoji”, and NYK- Maritime x04.JPGadvanced it to “Nipponkoku Yubin Jokisen Kaisha (Postal Steam Ship Mitsubishi Co.”  The museum describes how the Iwasaki family established of Mitusbishi group and established the NYK Line as a major maritime enterprise. This way of development looked like representing the advancement of maritime business as well as heavy industries in the whole Japan since Meiji period.


♣  Exhibition is arranged by timeline of f NYK Lines development.

NYK- Maritime x05.JPG      The first displays are the story of dawn era of NYK from the period of “Tsukumo” to the born of NYK. The second corner is describing the expansion process of maritime business of NYK which hadNYK- Maritime x01.JPG cultivated the full-fledged international routes for the first time, the third part treats with the situation of shipping business at the period of wartimes, when was forced to be mobilized NYK- Maritime x03.JPGinto military operation and got devastating damage with it. The fourth exhibition is for the period of the postwar story proceeding to the revival and new advancement of shipping business in the post war’s innovative way. (Museum categorize them into 1 to 9 corners in the category)

And in each corner, various model of ships used in each period, operation instruments and machinery of ships, photographs and maps for NYK- Maritime x06.JPGsailing, maritime related documents, and other exhibits are displayed in rich with the commentaries in detail. Many of them are designated as the “Japanese Industry Historic Treasury “.
The main ones are listed as follows.


< Principle exhibits in the museum> >

There are lots of exhibits are shown in the Museum, for example.NYK- Maritime x24.JPG
NYK- Logo x05.JPG The Rainwater Tank (made around 1870) used in the “Tsukumo” period, memorial document of NYK Establishment Order (Government ordered the merger of the “Mitsubishi” and “Kyodo”, and established “NYK Line in1885),      Scale model of Takasago Maru which was a memorial ship for the first overseas route vessel (built in the UK in NYK- Maritime x25.JPGNYK- Maritime x23.JPG1859), window frame of Suwa Maru which was a passenger ship first built by Mitsubishi Nagasaki Shipyard for the European navigation route(1914),
Time bell of the Tenyo Maru (1909) used for the San Francisco route, A model of the luxury liner Asama Maru built in 1929, a maritime hexagon tool used in Hikawa Maru (first operated in the North Pacific routes in 1930s), An inscription of Noto Maru discovered in the Manila NYK- Ships x07.JPGBay where the ship was sunk by US Army inked sea (Displayed as a symbol of war damage), etc.
Besides these materials, there are many exhibits, such as the structure model of mammoth tanker vessel constructed in Nagasaki Shipyard in the 1970s and others, the elaborate model of latest luxury passenger liner “Asuka” in 1990s, and others.NYK- Illust x04.JPG
Looking at these exhibits, it can be known how Japan began to launch into the maritime business in the Edo and Meiji period, and how created the “NYK Line” for opening overseas shipping routes as core of the operation, and how the Mitsubishi Group was involved in this shipping field.

Also, the unforgettable fact was revealed too in the exhibition that shows howNYK- Ships x08.JPG Japan’s maritime lines were closely interconnected with the Japanese Navy practices, not only engaging in the private merchant businesses in terms of their shipbuilding and also navigation. And during wartime, the special adoption of commercial ships for military use caused NYK- Illust x14.JPGserious sacrifices and damages in large scale. These facts were exhibited in photos and commentaries, and even a large memorial statue for war victim was placed in the hall to show this.


♣  Development of Mitsubishi Zaibatsu and NYK Line

NYK- Mitsubishi x03.JPG     After visiting NYK Maritime Museum, I stopped by “Mitsubishi Historic Museum” to examine the relation NYK- Mitsubishi x05.JPGbetween Mitsubishi Zaibatsu and its shipping industry. This museum located in Ueno, Tokyo. Nearby there’s a Mitsubishi’s luxurious “Furukawa Residence” situated which had been built in the Meiji era, so the location looks clearly associated with Mitsubishi group from the early time.

NYK- Mitsubishi x08.JPGAt the entrance hall of the museum, a large statue of Yataro Iwasaki (a founder of Mitsubishi Zaibatsu) has proudly placed.  The museum exhibits a lot of panels, photographs and documents which show the NYK- Mitsubishi x07.JPGfounding history and development of Mitsubishi business group in the various forms.

It is believed that Mitsubishi group’s founding is deeply involved in the shipping industry in the early Meiji.  As it’s well known, Yataro Iwasaki NYK- Mitsubishi x01.JPGfirst launched the “Tsukumo Trading” company under the Tosa clan just before the Meiji restoration, and established his own company “Mitsubishi Trading Co.” NYK- Mitsubishi x11.JPGlater under the strong support from the Meiji government.  And the company first embarked the maritime business by its own ships which had been assigned to transport trade and military goods for the Meiji government. Then, with this operation, NYK- Mitsubishi x10.JPGNYK- Logo x02.JPGMitsubishi could hold a leading position in the shipping industry for the first time. However, in the midst, the head-to-head competition started with the newly born “Kyodo Unyu Co.” (Joint transportation company) of Shibusawa which was against the monopolistic action of Mitsubishi shipping business. NYK- Ships x02.JPGUnder these circumstances, the two companies were finally going to merged for avoiding competition and formed the new “NYK Line Company” by the government arbitration. However, even under the new NYK company, the influence of Mitsubishi was still significant that theNYK- Mitsubishi x12.JPG management of new company has been continuously operated under the Mitsubishi’s leadership for the long time.      However, the business focus of Mitsubishi group itself had been gradually shifted from marine NYK- Illust x05.JPGtransportation to the other businesses field like shipbuilding, machinery, electric products, finance, and trading and others. And it successfully took advanced on the way to big conglomerate

through radical expansion of transformation of business afterward.

NYK- Mitsubishi x09.JPGIn summary, Mitsubishi, which built the foundation in marine business in Japan, had rapidly involved in the coal mine business in Kyushu (Takashima coal mine, etc.), shipbuilding business in Nagasaki (Nagasaki Shipyard), monetary and finance industry (later Mitsubishi Bank), warehouse industry (Mitsubishi Warehouse and real estate), and so on.

NYK- Mitsubishi x13.JPGIt was said that Iwasaki Yanosuke and its Hisaya (They were the second and third generation of Iwasaki family) had played a key role to do this diversification, with adopting modern management style in this expanding process.
Japanese industry, which originally started from the shipping industry aiming to NYK- Illust x16.JPGpromote business overseas after ending isolation policy of Edo, shifted the development target to the variety of fields, like shipbuilding industry and coal, steelmaking and mining development, and continued to multiply the manufacturing industrial fields. In that sense, Mitsubishi typically followed in this line.

♣  Genealogy of Ocean Liner on NYK Line

NYK- Illust x07.JPG  As mentioned above, the NYK Historical Museum exhibits lots of scaleNYK- Ships x01.JPG models of ocean ships and memorial goods in the hall.  Looking into the development history of international ocean lines of Japan, “Tosamaru” was the first ship explored the international route to Europe in 1896, and consecutively the NYK- Ships x04.JPGdomestic “Tenyo maru” which produced by a Japanese shipbuilder was setting up service on the Pacific route in 1908. These are well exhibited in the museum as historic evidences of Japan’s shipping liners.     As for the luxurious passenger ships, the subsequent “Asama Maru” (1929 -),  Chichibu Maru (1930 -) and other ocean liners which become famous for their elaborate facilities and services are displayed too.

The Museum exhibits an array of scale model of these historic passenger ships alongNYK- Maritime x22.JPG NYK- Maritime x08.JPGwith dining tables, artistic interiors, memorial photos and so on which would make recall their flourishing days.      Among them, the large luxury liner “Hikawa Maru” operated by NYK Line in the North Pacific routes in 1930, was well known for her artistic shape and marvelous interiors on which many NYK- Maritime x15.JPGcelebrities such as Chaplin and others international figures had been on board.  NYK- Logo x03.JPG     But this Hikawa Maru experienced the turbulent fates, in which the ship was one time diverted to a hospital ship during wartime, then used as a home-returning ship for war victims just after the war, and backed to the ordinary commercial ship in 1960s. Currently, the ship is moored in the harbor park of Yokohama being served as a facility attached to the NYK NYK- Maritime x16.JPGNYK- Maritime x21.JPGMuseum.When visiting this Hikawa Maru’, I was very much impressed by the elaborate interior, good looking guest rooms, wonderful restaurant room, and so on. It could remind us the good old flowing days of Japanese ocean liners.


♣   NYK Line cruiser which was wrecked by war

NYK- Maritime x20.JPG     Many ships, including NYK Line, were forced engaging in military transport services, or diverted to the military ships during the war time, because they were under the strong control of NYK- Ships x10.JPGJapanese navy. As a result, during the Pacific War, many people, crew members, and the ships themselves were experienced severe damages and sacrifices. The Museum provides a lot NYK- Ships x06of space for the war damages corner with strong attention to this tragic period in the exhibition.

According to the material, the number of ships NYK- Maritime x10.JPGwhich lost by NYK was over 185 thousand tons (2568 grubber tonnage 8.4 million tons total in Japan), and, in addition, it is said that 5,000 sailed employee crew members had been sacrificed. If it counts the civilians and military personnel who were ravaged, the numbers would be multiplied.         NYK- Illust x03.JPG   This symbolic display for this was a rusted ship name board of the “Noto Maru” which was bombed and sunk, and later pulled up from the deep sea after the war.This is an clear evidence of the war tragedy and the fate of commercial ships recruited for the military purpose.   A lot of photos of vessels which had lost during the war were also displayed in the museum, so we can’t help surprising huge scale of the sacrifices by the war.

♣  Resurrection and development of the postwar shipping business

NYK- Illust x11.JPG       The restoration of postwar shipping lines started from the catastrophic wartime damage and the strict control at the Allied occupation, so it was never easy way. The new shipping service was begun with the transport of overseas returnees and a small scale of maritime operation only NYK- Ships x11.JPGaround the coast of Japan in this period.     However, it is said that the revival of shipping business has been advanced quickly by the special recruitment from the Korean War around 1950s. NYK- Ships x09.JPGAnd in the 1960s, the shipping service was accelerated by playing a major role as industrial infrastructure building along with the fast economic growth of Japan. This movement was also strengthened by the revival of postwar Japan NYK- Maritime x12.JPGshipbuilding industry and the increasing demand of freight shipping that were promoted Japanese overseas trades and business activities. NYK- Ships x12.JPG      This representative was “Heian Maru” of NYK Line, which was inaugurated in 1951. After that, the regular freight lines began to operate in Japan one after the other, and during 1960s it reached NYK- Maritime x13.JPGto the exceeding level of shipping capacity at the pre-war time. Among them NYK played a major role, and the shipping business began to be diversified into the operation of big oil NYK- Illust x13.JPGtankers and others responding to the strong demand of oil import from the Middle East.     Also, since the 1970s, NYK further diversified its business with beginning of LNG carriers and container ships business to promote the efficiency of NYK- Illust x10shipping services (for the example the container ship “Hakone Maru” built by Japan shipbuilder).
Of course, these are the general trends of shipping industry throughout Japan, but NYK played a leading role in this movement.

Meanwhile, the business of passenger liners was largely behind in comparison with Europe and the United States, but in this century, NYK- Maritime x19.JPGa luxury liner “Asuka II” was born by NYK, following the operation of the first “Asuka” in 1990s, it was beginning of challenges again in this field too. I was happened to observe the scale model of this “Asuka II” which was displayed even only for the promotion purpose in the Museum,Although it is still uncertain whether this cruise ship business can be successfully formed as lucrative business in Japan, but I felt the spirit of NYK is still in life there.


Last remark

NYK- Logo x01.JPG    Through this visit, I could slightly understand how the shipping industry had been deployed in Japan from the initialNYK- Ships x05.JPG period and how rapidly diversified its businesses to other areas like seeing in the NYK development, and could also find the origin of the Mitsubishi Zaibatsu which had started with shipping NYK- Illust x16.JPGbusiness in the early time of Meiji.
I felt that there are some implications in the exhibition how Japanese shipping industry, especially NYK, has evolved responding to the changes of Japanese economy and society there. I thought it was a valuable museum to know the development pattern of shipping industry in Japan as well as history of business conglomerate Zsaibatsu like Mitsubishi.

(Note) Because photographing of the exhibits in the Museum was forbidden, the pictures and photographs in the site have referred to the museum guide, pamphlets, photographs, various materials on the website.



  • 「日本郵船歴史博物館」 案内書 (日本郵船)
  • 「三菱の歩み」 三菱史料館
  • A brief history of Mitsubishi (Mitsubishi Economic Research Institute)
  • 日本郵船歴史博物館HP:
  • 産業技術史資料共通データベース:
  • 日本の海運史(日本船主協会)
  • 近代日本の海運史を伝える ~日本郵船歴史博物館と日本郵船氷川丸〜(鈴木久美子)
  • 氷川丸 – Wikipedia
  • 浅間丸 – Wikipedia
  • 天洋丸級貨客船 – Wikipedia
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