Japanese Screw Steamer Kanrin MAru, 1856


Kanrin Maru

In the 1850s, seeing the advance of Western technology and what the Western powers were doing to China, the Shogun or military ruler of Japan, requested the Dutch to sell Japan a warship using state of the art technology. The Dutch were hesitant to do this, but to appease the Shogun, they gifted Japan with the small Dutch paddlewheel steamer Soembing. This became Japan’s first steam powered warship and was named the Kanko Maru.

But, with the arrival of Perry’s squadron in Japan and the new treaties with America, the Dutch decided to proceed with the Shogun’s request and build a new screw-steamer which they named the Japan. The ship was a 300-ton, 3-masted corvette, about 164 feet long and equipped with a 100 H.P. steam engine and screw propeller.

The ship was relatively small and carried 10 to 12 guns. With a load of 30 tons of coal and burning it at a rate of up to 5 tons a day, she had enough for only about 6 days of steaming. That was probably sufficient for travel along the Japanese coast, but crossing the Pacific Ocean, she was basically a sailing ship.

In 1860, the ship was assigned to escort the first Japanese Embassy to the United States, and was commanded by Katsu Kaishu with a crew that included several other officers that were to become prominent figures in Japanese history including Yuukichi Fukuzawa, who would later go on to found the prestigious Keiyo University, and Manjiro Nakahama, who as a young fisherman was shipwrecked and rescued by an American whaler, living in the United States for a time before successfully returning to Japan, and later serving as an interpreter for the Japanese government.

The Japanese embassy itself traveled aboard the American warship USS Powhattan. The two ships separated during the journey and the Kanrin Maru and its inexperienced crew encountered extreme weather conditions throughout the trip. It was fortunate that the ship was also carrying the American officer John M. Brooke and a handful of American sailors, who became indispensable to the survival of the ship on the stormy seas.

The Model

This model is a 1/75-scale replica based on a kit manufactured by the Japanese model company Woody Joe. The kit is very accurate in basic hull shape and deck layout. But because Woody Joe has made an effort to make their kits more easily constructed by non-ship modelers, it is a bit lacking on detail. This is not a problem as details will be based on what research material I have been able to obtain, beginning with a set of plans obtained from the Rijksmuseum in Holland.

At this scale, the completed model will be approximately 32” long and 19” high. The plank-on-bulkhead model is primarily constructed from Japanese cypress, but the deck planking will be made from Castello Boxwood and the masts will be from  birch or beech wood.  Deck furniture accents will be either Swiss pear or Peruvian walnut. The model will be copper sheathed like the original ship.


The Rijksmuseum in Holland has a large collection of plans of this ship, and I was able to obtain several of the most useful of these directly from the museum, though at some expense. Through the help of contacts at Woody Joe, I was also able to obtain a copy of the museum book that was published in Japanese on the subject. This book includes views of other plans from the Rijksmuseum collection and also a few photos of the model in the Tokyo Museum of Maritime Science.

There are no known photos of the ship, but I was able to locate an image of her sister ship, the Dutch Navy’s screw-steamer Bali. The ships were similar in construction, though fitted out slightly differently. The most notable difference being that the Bali has square sails only on the foremast, while the Kanrin Maru has square sails on both the fore and main masts. While the Bali is generally referred to as a schooner and the Kanrin Maru as a Bark, I believe they both may have retained the full rig of a three-masted schooner, the only difference between the two being the additional square sails on the Kanrin Maru’s mainmast.

We are also fortunate to have notes from the log of then Lieutenant John M. Brooke, who later became the namesake for the Brooke Rifle, a large caliber gun used by the Confederacy during the Civil War. Brooke was in Japan when the Kanrin Maru was to be sent on a voyage to the United States and Brooke was invited to travel aboard her as an advisor.

As the ship visited San Francisco and was repaired by the Navy Yard at Mare Island, there is an information display about the ship at the Mare Island Museum. This model is scheduled to be added to that exhibit when it’s completed.

Visit the Mare Island Museum.

Built by the Dutch for the Japanese Shogun in 1856, the Kanrin Maru became Japan’s first screw-steamer and her second steam powered warship.

On March 17, 1860, the vessel arrived at San Francisco as an escort for the first Japanese embassy to the US, becoming the first Japanese naval vessel to visit the United States.

The Kanrin Maru model is a 1/75-scale modified plank-on-bulkhead kit. Deck planking is boxwood, hull planking is Japanese cypress, and a mix of other woods will be used for details.

She will carry three masts, and the completed model will measure about 32” long and 19” high overall.