Tag Archives: Japanese warship

Researching the Kanrin Maru – First Update

Research of the Kanrin Maru continues…

In mid-May, 2013, I receive a set of plans from the maritime museum in Rotterdam after more than 6-months of trying. It was a long process, and it ended up costing around $200 for the plans, bank transfer fees and “shipping,” which consisted of having digital copies uploaded to a file transfer site. But, I have them now. The plans are all digital copies and it took me a while to even understand the scale as the units were in Dutch. Also, I had to print out some of the drawings, adding to the total cost.

Kanrin Maru plans

Plans of the Bali and sister ship the Japan, which the Japanese renamed the Kanrin Maru.

One thing that was free was access to photos of a model of the Dutch ship Soembing in one of the Dutch museums. The Soembing was the ship that steamship that the Dutch first presented to the Shogun, becoming the Kanko Maru, Japan’s first steam warship. This one was a paddlewheeler launched in 1853 and the significance is in that she, like the Kanrin Maru, was Dutch built, and only a few years older than the Kanrin Maru. She had a similar rig to the Kanrin Maru, but the question for me is how similar? The Soembing also gives an example of Dutch naval cannon, providing a better idea of how the Kanrin Maru was armed. Continue reading

Researching the Kanrin Maru

Researching this vessel has been slow going. I started off by digging through the Internet and this gave me various leads and some basic information about the ship. Wikipedia is always a good place to start. You can’t rely on the information that’s posted there, but it provides good leads and I got a few that were very useful, including the basic history of this ship and the fact that it was Dutch built.

Being that there was a recent celebration of the Kanrin Maru just a couple years ago, and I completely missed out on that one since it was before I became seriously interested in the ship, I started following links and contacted people associated with the events. Unfortunately, once the celebration was over, those links quickly led to dead ends. Emails to people associated with the events provided a little support, but very little information. Even a call to the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco got me nowhere.

The most difficult part of researching the Kanrin Maru was the fact that she was a Japanese vessel and all Japanese resources were only available in Japanese. Also, the Japanese maritime museums don’t seem to have the same kinds of public links for researchers that Western museums do.

I sought out some help from the ship modeling community by contacting the Ship Modeller’s Association in Fullerton which has members in Japan and also the Nautical Research Guild, which again has members in Japan, but I could get no replies from their contacts. A direct attempt to contact the Japanese ship model society called The Rope, also yielded nothing.

Woody Joe Model

Digging around the Internet a little more, I did find that an old company in Japan, Imai, had made a large wooden model kit of the Kanrin Maru. Their kits are apparently now made by a company called Woody Joe, which I’ve posted about before. I contacted them hoping to find someone who knew some English and I did manage to get a response from someone who directed me to a company that sells their kits internationally.


Figuring that this was my best hope for learning about the ship, I saved up for the updated and slightly smaller kit, and bought it from Japan. The kit is a 1/75 scale wooden model that I’ll probably post a review about later. Anyway, this at least gets me a leg up on building a model of the ship, though I’m not sure how accurately. Still, it’s a place to start.

Dutch Maritime Museums

Meanwhile, I took the information about the ship having been built by the Dutch and did a search of maritime museums in the Netherlands. Navigating some pages that were only in Dutch, I did find a couple images of plans and I proceeded to ask how I could obtain copies. I was referred to another museum where the plans collection was kept and to their web site where I began a new request for information.

This all took place around November/December of 2012. I got a reply back from the maritime museum in Rotterdam pretty quickly and they seemed very supportive and willing to help. That is, before I had replied and cleared up the name confusion and let them know I was not a woman, but in fact a man named Clare. After this, I couldn’t get a response from them for about 3 months. After several email attempts in different forms, I finally researched enough Dutch phrases online that I place an international call from across the globe to find out what was going on. After explaining that he was just really busy, the process of obtaining plans got on track again about 4 weeks later.

It is now May and while I still don’t have the plans,  they have been paid for (after two visits to the bank, some online research, and spending an hour at my bank trying to get an international wire transfer in Euros to The Netherlands) and I’m confident that I’ll have them shortly.

Recently, my attentions turned to other leads from Wikipedia, specifically the Journals of John Brooke, who sailed as an advisor aboard the Kanrin Maru on her voyage across the Pacific. A visit to the San Francisco Maritime Library had the book in my hot little hands and I spent an afternoon reading through his very enlightening notes. I won’t go through the details at this point, but I will say that this is very interesting reading, and probably one of the most useful sources of information I’ve found to date.

Since then, I’ve also perused through the Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa, who was one of the men who sailed aboard the Kanrin Maru on that same voyage. Some very interesting contradictions between these two accounts. But, more on that later as well.

To date, these are my sources of research on the Kanrin Maru:

  • Japanese Warship Kanrin Maru, Wikipedia
  • John M. Brooke’s Pacific Cruise and Japanese Adventure, 1858-1860, by John M. Brooke and George M. Brooke.
  • John M. Brooke, Naval Scientist and Educator, by George M. Brooke, Jr.
  • As We Saw Them: The First Japanese Embassy to the United States, by Masao Miyoshi
  • The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa, by Yukichi Fukuzawa and E. Kiyooka
  • Z.M. Schroef-Schooner Bali / Japan (Kanrin Maru) plans from the Maritiem Museum Rotterdam

Link to the my follow-up post Researching the Kanrin Maru – First Update