HAKODATE, HOKKAIDO – The Hokkaido town of Kikonai is promoting tourism by touting its relationship with the warship Kanrin Maru, which plied the Pacific to North America in 1860 but sank nearby about a decade later.
Residents in the town, which is on the southern tip of Hokkaido, formed a group in 2004 to raise awareness about the historical ship, which remains on the seabed of the Tsugaru Strait, and to revitalize the local economy.
“The Kanrin Maru did a great job, having traversed the Pacific Ocean, but ended up sinking as an unknown transport ship,” said Kenjun Tada, 63, who heads the group.
“We find the checkered history of the ship particularly appealing,” said Tada, who is also a local temple priest.
The Kanrin Maru was built as a warship at a shipyard in the Netherlands in 1857, by order of the Tokugawa shogunate, which was planning to build a navy.
The corvette was first used as a training ship at a naval school in Nagasaki.
The Kanrin Maru was chosen to escort the Japanese delegation to exchange instruments of ratification of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce signed between Japan and the United States in 1858. It left Uraga in Kanagawa Prefecture for San Francisco in 1860.
Katsu Kaishu, who later served as commissioner of the Tokugawa navy, captained the Kanrin Maru, and Fukuzawa Yukichi, an educator and founder of Keio University in Tokyo, was also aboard.
The ship survived the Boshin War of 1868-1869, fought between forces of the shogunate and those seeking to return political power to the emperor, and served as a ship to transport migrants to Hokkaido.
It ran aground and sank off Cape Saraki in Kikonai in 1871 while carrying former Sendai domain warriors who were migrating to Hokkaido.
It is widely believed the ship went down in a storm.
The Kikonai group, which now has about 400 members, has created a monument of the Kanrin Maru on Cape Saraki, and organizes a festival every May when tulips, planted to remember the ship’s relationship with the Netherlands, are in bloom.
The group also holds workshops on the history of the Kanrin Maru twice a year.
Since its opening in March, the Kikonai Town Museum has displayed an anchor that may have been used by the ship.
An anchor, which was made in Europe in the 19th century, was salvaged off the cape in 1984. Yet it remains unclear if it actually belongs to the Kanrin Maru, according to the group.
“We hope that more and more people will visit and enjoy our town after the Hokkaido Shinkansen Line starts operations (in March 2016) and that they will find out about the Kanrin Maru,” said Yutaka Kimono, 51, a curator at the museum.