Special Report

The NYK Maritime Museum
Not only the history of a company, but also the history of Japanese maritime transport

A guide to NYK’s history across 8 zones
The NYK Maritime Museum is inside the Yokohama NYK Building, which was constructed as NYK (Nippon Yusen Kaisha)’s Yokohama branch in 1936 (photo 1). This building has great historical value itself. On the first floor is the museum, where the exhibition rooms introduce the history of NYK alongside the development of modern Japan, together with valuable materials and models of successive luxury liners and cargo ships.
The exhibition area is divided chronologically into eight zones, showing the history of NYK from before the establishment of the company at the time when Japan opened up to the world during the last days of the Shogunate, right up until the present day.
When you follow the exhibitions in order of era, the first thing you catch sight of is a rainwater tank used by the Tsukumo Shokai shipping company, the predecessor of the Mitsubishi Mail Steamship Company, which later became NYK (photo 2). This tank stored rainwater in for use in case of fire, and it is engraved with an early version of the Mitsubishi three-diamond logo. This piece was inherited by NYK at the time of its establishment, and it apparently escaped the Metal Collection Act during the war due to having been stored in the Yokohama City Museum.
At the time, promotion of maritime transport was one of the national policies, and NYK advanced into one shipping lane after another with the State’s support in the background.
Meanwhile, ships were commandeered by the army in times of emergency, which led to the episode where during the Russo-Japanese War the Shinano Maru became a merchant raider, quickly came across the Baltic Fleet, and NYK was sent a letter of gratitude by the famous admiral Heihachiro Togo.

The Hikawa Maru, a ship that sailed through the chaotic period from pre-war to post-war
Next, I entered the period from the shipping boom after the First World War to the glorious era of luxury liners. Around this time the Kamakura Maru and Asama Maru were launched on the San Francisco route, and famous persons from both Japan and abroad used NYK’s ships. In the exhibition area there is a recreation of a dinner that was served on the Asama Maru (photo 3). Furthermore, in 1930, the Hikawa Maru, which sailed through the chaotic period from pre-war to post-war and was even used in return transportation of soldiers, was built as a liner to Seattle. The Hikawa Maru was withdrawn from the front line in 1960, after reaching 30 years of service. However, even after its retirement, the ship remained close to the hearts of the people of Yokohama, where it was moored, and in 2003 it was designated as a Cultural Property of the City of Yokohama (photo 4).
By the way, the history of NYK’s passenger ships temporarily stops here; there was a period of hiatus until the launch of the Asuka.
As a lesson from history that must never be forgotten, there is a zone that looks back at the tragic history of NYK’s ships that were requisitioned in the Pacific War. The names and locations of ships that were sunk in the Pacific Ocean, along with a map with the dates and times of their destruction can be seen here (photo 5). I am sure that visitors will feel a renewed respect for the peace that we now live in, when you see just how many ships were destroyed while sailing as unarmed transport vessels.
After this, there are zones such as an introduction to the Hikawa Maru’s journey towards setting out again on the American sea routes during the period of postwar reconstruction, and an explanation of the specialized carriers such as container ships, automobile carriers and ore carriers that began to sail all over the world along with the recovery from devastating damages incurred in the Pacific War and rapid economic growth, and the cargo handling methods of these ships. In any case, the shipping industry will surely continue to be the backbone of Japan’s economic power in the future, too. No matter how advanced the technology of air transportation has become, the fact remains that over 99% of Japan’s international trade is carried by ship. So, why not turn your thoughts to the ships that venture into the open seas from the port city of Yokohama?
In addition there is an area about passenger ships, where you can enjoy a video of the luxury liner Asuka II, and an Orientation Room where you can peruse books.
Near the entrance to the museum is the Museum Shop, which sells goods such as models of passenger ships, replicas of posters and tableware from storage, Hikawa Maru curry, and books on topics related to ships (photo 6).

The NYK Maritime Museum is on the first floor of the Yokohama NYK Building, which was constructed as NYK’s Yokohama branch in 1936.

Photo 2
A rainwater tank used by the Tsukumo Shokai shipping company (constructed in 1870). The copperplate engraving on the lid was by Hyakken Uchida, who later became NYK’s writing instructor.

Photo 3
A recreation of the dinner menu that was actually served on the Asama Maru on August 12, 1936. NYK’s meals had a good reputation; the recipes were transmitted directly by a chef invited from France.

Photo 4
The Hikawa Maru is moored in Yamashita Park, and its interior remains in the style of the passenger ships of the time. It is about 15 minutes’ walk from the NYK Maritime Museum.

Photo 5
Many of NYK’s ships were requisitioned during the Pacific War. The ships that were destroyed in the war are shown along with their photos.

Photo 6
How about some souvenirs from the Museum Shop? No admission fee is required if you only visit the shop.