On April 25, 1930, Hikawa Maru was completed by Yokohama Dock Company Ltd. (currently Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.). After being assigned to the Japan-Seattle line on the North America route, Hikawa Maru provided splendid service as a cargo-passenger liner on journeys across the Pacific for 11 years and three months before the ship’s route was suspended due to the outbreak of the Pacific War. During that time, Hikawa Maru carried about 10,000 passengers on 73 voyages across the Pacific.
At that time, ships were the only means of crossing the ocean, and Hikawa Maru transported many prominent guests. Charles Chaplin, who visited Japan after he finished filming “City Lights,” left for home aboard Hikawa Maru from Yokohama. On October 2, 1937, Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Chichibu, having attended the coronation ceremony of King George VI in the U.K. on behalf of the emperor, boarded Hikawa Maru at the port of Victoria in Canada for the passage to Yokohama. Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kodokan Judo, in March 1983, attended the IOC general meeting held in Cairo. After promotional activities of judo, he boarded Hikawa Maru at Vancouver on April 22 and returned to Japan.
●Suspension of the Japan-Seattle Line and Repatriation of Japanese Citizens Abroad
The Second Sino-Japanese War began in 1937, followed by World War II in 1939. After that, services on ocean routes had to be suspended one after another as the war worsened. The situation in the Pacific rapidly intensified. The Japan- Seattle line was suspended on August 17 of the same year, bringing to close a history of 45 years of service since 1896. Hikawa Maru’s final prewar voyage (73rd voyage) came to an end when the vessel arrived in Osaka on July 20, 1941, in October of the same year, the ship was requisitioned by Japan’s Ministry of Communications to serve as a repatriation ship. Hikawa Maru then ran between Yokohama and Seattle.
●Becoming a Hospital Ship
Immediately after Hikawa Maru arrived at Yokohama, the ship was requisitioned by the navy and remodeled to serve as an auxiliary hospital ship. On November 21, 1941, the vessel was moored at a wharf of the Shipbuilding Department of the Yokosuka Naval Yard for refitting and outfitting. This was finished at the end of December. In accordance with the international treaty, the hull and funnel were painted white, one green line was painted on both sides of the hull, and the Red Cross emblem was painted at the center of both sides of the ship and funnel. Although the first-class and second-class lounges, the deluxe cabin, the central stairway, and some other areas were left unchanged, most of the cabin and hold areas were refitted and hospital equipment and sickrooms were installed.
●Heading for the Southern War Zone
The hospital ship to take aboard injured and sick soldiers and transport them to Japan. The ship’s other duties included medical treatment, hygiene inspections, disinfection, and supplying medicine to the war zones and warships. Hikawa Maru would travel to Truk, Rabaul, Balikpapan, Jakarta, Saipan, Manila, and other places during the three and a half years before the war ended, taking aboard and transporting over 30,000 wounded and sick soldiers back to mainland Japan on a total of 24 voyages. Hikawa Maru also struck mines on three separate occasions the ship was able to avoid major damage thanks to its steel plates,which were thicker than those of other ships.
●Transportation of Demobilized Soldiers
Hikawa Maru, which stayed at Maizuru when the war ended, was chartered by the Department of Veterans Affairs II and transported demobilized soldiers from September 15, 1945 to August 15, 1946, while also serving as a hospital ship. The destinations of Hikawa Maru for the rescue of these demobilized soldiers included Wake Island, Kusaie Island, Wewak, Fauro Island, Rabaul, Keelung, Morotai Island, Manado, Seram Island, Halmahera Island, Salmis (New Guinea), Hollandia (New Guinea), and Shanghai. In total, the ship transported almost 20,000 soldiers in seven voyages.
●Transportation of Repatriated Japanese Citizens
After completing its mission to transport demobilized soldiers, Hikawa Maru was transferred from the Department of Veterans Affairs II to the Civilian Merchant Marine Committee effective August 15, 1946. Hikawa Maru transported approximately 8,000 people on three voyages between Huludao and Hakata and one voyage between Manila and Nagoya. On January 12, 1947, the ship’s mission in the hands of the government came to an end.
After being derequisitioned as a hospital ship, Hikawa Maru was docked at Yokohama Ship Yard & Engine Works (currently Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.), where the vessel spent approximately one month being refitted as a merchant ship. The holds were restored to how they were when the vessel had been a cargo-passenger liner, and the hull and funnel were repainted jet black. Since the GHQ did not yet permit Japan to operate routes to foreign countries, under the control of the CMMC, Hikawa Maru launched a regular service in March 1947 connecting Osaka and Yokohama with Hokkaido.
It was September 1949 when Hikawa Maru returned to an irregular ocean liner service. The ship was tasked with the mission to transport rice from Burma (currently Myanmar) and Thailand. Around this time, the controls placed on Japan’s shipping industry were gradually being eased. Although Hikawa Maru had been under the control of the CMMC since April 1949, ship management was the responsibility of the ship’s owner (NYK), and the vessel obtained Lloyd's Register of Shipping certification again in December. In April 1950, ships could once again be independently operated.
●Path to Return
In 1950, NYK submitted a request to the GHQ for permission to resume the Japan-Seattle line. The following year, the GHQ permitted a regular liner service of once per month, and four cargo liners were assigned to this line in October. From March 1951, Hikawa Maru underwent a major refitting that took about two and a half months and restored its prewar form as a cargo-passenger liner. The ship was assigned to the Japan-New York and Japan-Europe lines, and then returned to the regular Japan-Seattle line.
●Returning to Service on the Japan-Seattle Line
Having returned to service on the Japan-Seattle line, Hikawa Maru made seven voyages annually connecting the Japanese cities of Kobe, Nagoya, Shimizu, and Yokohama with the North American cities of Seattle and Vancouver on the outward voyage, and then Seattle with the Japanese cities of Yokohama and Kobe on the return voyage (temporarily calling at Honolulu). Many young people — including American Field Service (AFS) students, self-financed foreign students, and Fulbright students — crossed the ocean aboard this ship. The number of Fulbright students who crossed the ocean on Hikawa Maru reached 2,500 in seven years from 1953.
●The Final Voyage
Although Hikawa Maru was active as a cargo passenger liner again after returning to the Japan-Seattle line, the ship’s age and the growth of airline services led to the decision to finally decommission the vessel in 1960. With more passengers now traveling by air and more cargo being transported by dedicated vessels, NYK withdrew from the passenger business. Hikawa Maru brought down the curtain on the Japan-Seattle line launched by NYK in 1896. Having been in service for 30 years, Hikawa Maru made 254 voyages across the Pacific Ocean and carried more than 25,000 passengers in total during its lifetime.
●Mooring at Yokohama Harbor
Finding Hikawa Maru moored outside the port of Yokohama, the city of Yokohama and the prefecture of Kanagawa requested NYK to moor the ship at Yamashita Park to serve as a symbol of Yokohama and act as a museum ship that could be used as both an ocean classroom and accommodations to educate young people about maritime affairs and the ocean. Upon the completion of the refitting on May 17 1961, Hikawa Maru was pulled to the pier and moored. On June 2, which is the anniversary of the opening of the port of Yokohama, Hikawa Maru was opened as an ocean classroom and youth hostel. After that, an aquarium, restaurant, beer garden, and other businesses were developed, and the accommodation business, mainly targeting students on school trips, continued until 1973.
●Reopened to the public
Hikawa Maru was closed at the end of 2006, for a large-scale repair and restoration project. The interior was restored to its original state based on photographs and various materials before the war, and the ship reopened to the public as “NYK Hikawamaru” on April 25, 2008. In 2016, Hikawa Maru, the only surviving Japanese cargo-passenger ship built before World WarⅡ, was designated as an Important Cultural Property by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
|1930||Apr: Completed. May: Set out on her maiden voyage|
|1931||Oct: The third-class cabins were refurbished, and the passenger capacity was increased|
|1932||Jun: Charlie Chaplin was onboard(Yokohama to Seattle)|
|1937||Oct: Prince and Princess Chichibu were onboard(Victoria to Yokohama)|
|1938||Apr: Jigoro Kano was onboard(Vancouver to Yokohama)|
|1939||Jun: Members of Takarazuka Girls Revue Company were onboard(Seattle to Yokohama)|
|1941||Aug: The Japan-Seattle line was suspended. Oct: Requisitioned to serve as a repatriation ship
Nov: Requisitioned by the navy and remodeled to serve as an auxiliary hospital ship
Dec: Dispatched to Roi Channel as a hospital ship
|1945||Sep: Started transporting demobilized soldiers|
|1946||Aug: Under the control of the CMMC, transported repatriated Japanese citizens|
|1947||Mar: Launched a regular service connecting Osaka and Yokohama with Muroran and Hakodate in Hokkaido|
|1949||Sep: Resumed the non-regular overseas voyages (transporting rice)
Dec: Obtained the Lloyd's Register of Shipping certification again
|1950||Apr: Back to the control of NYK
Sep: Assigned to the North Pacific for the first time since 1945
|1951||Mar: Underwent major renovations and returned to serve as a cargo-passenger ship
Aug: Assigned to the Japan-New York route
|1952||Aug: Assigned to the European route|
|1953||Jun: Refurbished with an American-style design
Jul: Returned to the Japan-Seattle line
|1959||Jul: Members of the Takarazuka Revue Company were onboard(Yokohama to Vancouver)|
|1960||Aug: Set out on her final voyage
|1961||Transferred to Hikawamaru Tour Co. Ltd., refurbished, and then moored at Yamashita Park
Jul: Princess Chichibu boarded the ship
|1962||Jul: Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko, and Prince and Princess Takamatsu, boarded the ship|
|1967||Sep: Ownership transferred to Yokohama Marine Tower|
|1973||The accommodation business was suspended|
|1980||Apr: 50th anniversary|
|1996||Jul: “Ship whistles for the New Year at Yokohama Port, including Hikawa Maru” was selected as one of the 100 selections of soundscape in Japan by the Environment Agency (currently the Ministry of the Environment)|
|1997||Achieved a total cumulative number of 20 million visitors|
|2003||Nov: Named as a Tangible Cultural Property of the city of Yokohama|
|2007||Purchased by NYK and refurbishing was started
Nov: Designated as a Heritage of Industrial Modernization by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
|2008||Apr: Reopened as NYK Hikawa Maru|
|2015||Nov: The cumulative number of visitors has reached 2 million since the reopening|
|2016||Aug: Assigned as Important Cultural Property by the government of Japan|
|2018||May: Designated as one of the Ship Heritage sites|
|2019||Jun: The cumulative number of visitors has reached 3 million since the reopening|