Kitamae Shipping—Two

Votive panel of a Kitamae ship at a Shrine in Fukura, on the western coast of the Noto Peninsula. By courtesy of Mr. Okizaki Photo © Copyright.
 Compact and tidy
The success of the shipping route along the Japan Sea coast was a result of a number of advantages and disadvantages.

A glimpses at a map will verify that there are more than 20 main ports at which the Kitamae ships could call.  Even for the larger ships there were safe havens that could be visited in times of need.

About 50 kilometres off the coast from the Noto Peninsula, for example, is Hegura island.  It used to be inhabited throughout the year but now it is mostly a point of departure for the Ama free divers between July and April (See blog Ama—Free Divers 13/12/2015).  In the days of the long-haul sea routes from Shimonoseki in Kyushu to ports in Hokkaido, the island provided a point of rest and a chance to replenish some supplies.

A shrine was built on the island with the idea of providing safe passage for the ships.  Sometimes the Master of a newly built vessel would visit the shrine to pray for the safety of his ship.

The ships themselves were not particularly large, especially when compared to western vessels.  Check the Japanese site:


simply to marvel at the compact nature of the design of the ships and the intelligent and careful planning of the way in which they were loaded.  The list below tells you what each of the capital letters stands for in the cut-away drawing.

Outline of Cargo and how it was Stowed (Following Nippon Zaidan diagram key.  Address above.)
Upper Level (Deck), Light Items
A  Rope, matting, rice-straw bags, rowing equipment.
B  Old clothing and light sundry items.

Middle Level
C  Cotton, tobacco and similar goods.
D  Paper and other sundry items.
E  Bolts of cloth and similar items.
F  Salt, sugar and grains.
G  Rice.

Lower Level—Heavy items stowed low down in the hull to lower the centre of gravity of the ship.
H  Vinegar, shoyu (soya), miso, oil and similar items.
I  Ceramic roof tiles.
J  Polished stone fragments (from stone mirrors).

The diagram on this site is of a ship of 240 tons (1600 Koku in Japanese measures), with a crew of between 14 to 20.  There was very little space for anything but the cargo.  In fact the way in which the cargo was loaded is reminiscent of the modern Japanese approach to an industrial design problem—taking up as little space as possible in the most compact way.  Crew?  Well they must have found a corner to rest, sleep and eat.  Modern health and safety laws would no doubt fail such a ship from the outset.

Votive panel of Kitamae ships riding a storm at a Shrine in Fukura, on the western coast of the Noto Peninsula. By courtesy of Mr. Okizaki Photo © Copyright.
Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright unless stated otherwise

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