Hunter Essay

1. Maizuru Maru

E.H. Hunter set up Osaka Iron Works, the predecessor of Hitachi Zosen, on the Ajigawa River in Osaka in 1881. Had Hunter not decided to make ships, Hitachi Zosen would not exist today, and we would have no colleagues with whom to clink cups of sake. Hunter's motivation for shipbuilding, according to the Seventy-Five Year History, came from his experience with Maizuru Maru*1 at E.C. Kirby & Co.(1)

Photo 1
Manufacturer: Edward Hazlett Hunter, E.C. Kirby & Co. (Englishman)
Vessel name: Maizuru

The Hundred Year History(2)has this to add. Edward Charles Kirby set up business in 1868 in Kobe "for Japan was a country surrounded by water, like his British homeland . . . [He] established Onohama Shipyards . . . Business was slow, however, and it folded for the present, except that Kirby had already accepted an order from Lord Hosokawa of the Higo [Kumamoto] Domain for the wooden steamship Maizuru Maru . . . Kirby resolved to complete the construction of Maizuru Maru, and he thought of Hunter for the project. As construction supervisor, Hunter brought the Maizuru Maru to completion and lived up to Kirby's expectations." The product of Hunter's pains is captured in an 1871 document (photograph) archived at Kobe University.(3)

An October 1874 survey by the Meiji government(4) says that Maizuru Maru was a steamship under the control of Shirakawa Prefecture (currently Kumamoto Prefecture), and it was manufactured in "Kobe, Japan" in "Meiji 4 [1871]" measuring "16.5 ken*2 [30.0 m] in total length" and "2.5 ken [4.5 m] in deck width." The New History of Kumamoto City(5) lists under Western ships owned by the Higo (Kumamoto) Domain, "Maizuru Maru: 40 horsepower, 171.5 tons, cargo capacity 160 koku*3 [24 tons], crew size 13 persons," suggesting it was a small transport ship.

At the onset of the Saga Rebellion in February 1874, Maizuru Maru carried Kumamoto soldiers from Hyakkanseki Port in Higo to Hayatsue at the mouth of the Chikugo River.(6) "Arriving at Hayatsue at 8 p.m. . . . it put the soldiers ashore, and was prevented by the low tide from departing, when it was seized by Saga rebels."(7) The ship was recaptured in March by Meiji government troops.(8) Meanwhile, the Shizoku (former samurai) uprisings went on and escalated into the Shimpuren Rebellion of 1876 in Kumamoto and into the Seinan War (aka the Satsuma Rebellion) of 1877 in Kumamoto. The Hundred Year History notes, "Many wealthy merchants made a colossal fortune from this [Seinan] war. Hunter was one of them. The large profits that he reaped from military supplies enabled him to reinforce the foundation of his business."(9) One only wonders if Hunter himself realized that the steamship he built played a role in linking the turbulence of Meiji-era Japan with his own destiny.

Hunter's eldest son, Ryutaro, spent his post-retirement years, from the Taisho (1912–26) to Showa (1926–89) periods, touring the Seto Inland Sea and the Kyushu coastal region in his yacht. He named this yacht Maizuru Maru.(10) He must have heard stories of the hardships his father endured in youth.

  1. *1The suffix Maru was frequently added to ship names in the Meiji era. Of the various explanations that exist, the most common dates to the 6th century, when the convention emerged to attach Maru to the names of people and pets, and even musical instruments and swords, as an expression of affection.
  2. *2Ken was a unit of length unique to Japan used until the 1950s. One ken was equivalent to 1.818 meters.
  3. *3Koku was a unit of capacity based in China and used in Japan until the 1960s. Fifty koku was equivalent to 7.5 tons.


  1. 1『日立造船株式会社七十五年史』、昭和31年、日立造船株式会社 3p
  2. 2『日立造船百年史』、昭和60年、日立造船株式会社 5p
  3. 3「D2-1404 蒸気船製造出来候ニ付き免状御下渡可被下願候」『神戸開港文書』、1871、神戸大学附属図書館(2020年3月26日閲覧)
  4. 4『全国艦船及び乗組員砲銃弾調査』、明治7年、太政官
  5. 5新熊本市史編纂委員会『新熊本市史通史編第5巻近代Ⅰ』、平成13年、熊本市 414p
  6. 6新熊本市史編纂委員会『新熊本市史通史編第5巻近代Ⅰ』、平成13年、熊本市 419p
  7. 7川副町誌編纂委員会『川副町誌』、昭和54年、川副町誌編纂事務局 251 p
  8. 8大宅由耿『郷土隠史肥前の軍事と風教を語る』、昭和11年 94p
  9. 9『日立造船百年史』、昭和60年、日立造船株式会社 6p
  10. 10『日立造船百年史』、昭和60年、日立造船株式会社 756p

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Hunter Essay