Notes on Japanese ship-naming conventions

Yeah, I know. That title. You’re already disinterested, but hey – hang tight – you might just learn something today.
I know I did.

Japanese fishing vessels have been all over the news lately. If you count the one that ran aground on Clifton Beach last month and the one that was found drifting off the coast of Canada in April, that is.
The former has sadly dropped out of the news and even now, no-one is really sure how it ended up parked among the holiday homes of the German elite. The latter was a victim of the March 2011 tsunami and has been drifting across the Pacific ever since.

Their names: the Eihatsu Maru and the Ryou-Un-Maru. And I’ll use this handy opportunity to chuck the name of the only other Japanese fishing vessel I know in there too: the Meisho Maru 38. Some of that one lies aground near Cape Agulhas and has surely featured in many photographs, but most notably, this one:

Eagle-eyed readers should really give the eagle its eyes back, but in the meantime, they will have noticed the common “Maru” in the names of all these vessels, because eagles are good at spotting that sort of thing.

When you look  up Maru on Google translate, it tells you in mean “circle” and also, if you look a little below that, “suffix for ship names”. But why?

Well, god bless the internet, because Wikipedia can help us out with an answer on their helpfully named: “Japanese ship naming conventions” page, which discusses and explains Japanese ship naming conventions. And it tells us:

The word maru (meaning “circle”) is often attached to Japanese ship names. The first ship known to follow this convention was the Nippon Maru, flagship of daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s 16th century fleet. There are several theories which purport to explain this practice:

  • The most common is that ships were thought of as floating castles, and the word referred to the defensive “circles” or maru that protected the castle.
  • That the suffix -maru is often applied to words representing something that is beloved, and sailors applied this suffix to their ships.
  • That the term maru is used in divination and represents perfection or completeness, or the ship as a small world of its own.
  • A legend of Hakudo Maru, a celestial being that came to earth and taught humans how to build ships. It is said that the name maru is attached to a ship to secure celestial protection for it as it travels.
  • For the past few centuries, only non-warships bore the maru ending. It was intended to be used as a good hope naming convention that would allow the ship to leave port, travel the world, and return safely to home port: hence the complete circle arriving back to its origin unhurt.
  • Note also that Hinomaru or ‘sun-disc’ is a name often applied to the national flag of Japan.

Today commercial and private ships are still named using this convention.

Of course, there are many superstitions and traditions in Japanese society and there are probably (at least) an equal number in the seafaring community, so it seems perfectly reasonable that when these two behemoths of folklore come together, we get this well-observed custom of nomenclature.

That said, many of the reasons given above are centred around the protection of the vessel and its safe return to port and that hasn’t really held true for any of the ships I am aware of (n=3). Let’s not forget that one ended up on a local beach, another ended up on some fairly local rocks and another was sunk by the US Coastguard “for safety reasons” (and, let’s be absolutely honest here, fun).

Look, I recognise that it’s Friday afternoon and you aren’t in the mood to learn stuff. But you’ll be thanking the Japanese Seagods and 6000 miles… at your next pub quiz, believe me.

Assuming there’s a question about this sort of thing, of course.

In the background…

I’m still messing around with (literally) about 1000 photos that I’ve taken over the past two or three weeks – you’ll get to see them in due course. In the meantime, here’s one of the lighthouse at Cape Agulhas that it has been suggested might make a nice desktop background.

If you want it as yours, please feel free, by downloading the original here (handily in 16:9 format).
And – assuming I remember – I’ll try to prevent any staleness and stagnation by giving you something new to look at behind your each and every month.

Sunset at the shipwreck

When in Rome, do as the Romans.

When in Agulhas, do sundowners at the shipwreck. Got it?


The Meisho Maru 38 ran aground between Suiderstrand and Cape Agulhas on 16 November 1982.

Since then, it’s been slowly breaking up, and the bow now sits proudly on the shoreline near the Southernmost point, acting as a magnet for cormorants and photographers alike.

Once the kids were safely tucked in, I took a large glass of red wine and headed out for a brief session of long exposure (the camera, not me). It was brief because I quickly ran out of red wine.

Pics to follow once we’re back just 6000 miles from civilisation…

In other news, I learnt, via Serendipity, how to resize images while posting from my phone.

Game on! (assuming it works)

Going South?

If you’re headed anywhere near L’Agulhas this holiday – you could do a lot worse than pop in here:

Quoin Rock (which is expected to sell for ±R120m later today) and Land’s End (their 2008 Syrah is magnificent) would be my pick of the bunch, but there’s plenty of others there to enjoy too…

Wine Boutique is on the crossroads in L’Agulhas.

Bit shaky

It’s been distinctly wintery in Cape Town this weekend.

I’m a bit shaky, since a quick trip down to Agulhas proved no escape and upon our return, I somehow, somehow found myself at the Good Food and Wine Show at the CTICC.
This probably doesn’t sound too bad to most people, but we were really there just to see Katy Ashworth from CBeebies.
Well, the kids were, anyway.

Considering the lack of patience generally shown by young children, ours stood very patiently through an awful lot of queuing: to get in, to get into the kids section, to get in to the CBeebies show, to get back into the kids section etc etc etc.
All in all, it was horrendously oversubscribed and unbelievably overcrowded – and the kids loved it.
For these parents, while gaining much pleasure from our kids excitement, it was perhaps less enjoyable. The highlight for me was noting that Heston Blumenthal is a bit of a shortarse, the lowlight was some guy trying to sell us flour by claiming that he had been cured of Multiple Sclerosis by eating wholemeal bread for three years in Australia. Utterly disgraceful.

It was another lesson that having kids makes you view things in a whole different way. If it wasn’t for them, we probably would have ended up drinking wine, whiskey and several litres of Klipdrift Gold, which obviously would have been terrible.

Wait. What?

Oh, and: The Insurance Guy finished the Comrades in 9:48:59 – an unbelievable achievement.