The Hakusan Maru: The Civilian Days

Posted by Rebekah
Jun 28 2011


Postcard showing Hakusan Maru during her heyday in the 1920's.

Following WWII, the US Navy and Japanese Imperial Navy got together to swap records.  This was necessary for a number of reasons, but for Submarine Force, this was vital. 48 of the 52 boats had gone missing (the other four had grounded, and their fates and locations were known) and we needed to know why. Likewise, a LARGE number of Japanese ships had gone missing, and they wanted to know why.

So now they started a large game of cross-reference, in days before computers. “Our submarine claimed sinking a ship at this location on this date.” “Oh yes, here, we lost the ____ Maru at that location on that date.” Confirmed kill for the submarine, and the Japanese knew what happened to their ship.  “We lost a submarine after this date in this general area.” “Yes, we record a successful depth charge attack on a submarine in this area on this date.” The fates of Wahoo, Lagarto, Bonefish, AMberjack, Cisco, and a number of others were solved this way, though many of their wreck sites remain undiscovered.

Still, there were discrepancies, mix-ups, and since the Japanese had been in retreat for nearly three years, records were incomplete in places, and in other places, it didn’t matter (The Japanese, for example, have no records of attacking any submarine in the areas Capelin, Escolar and Scorpion were lost, and their cause and resting place remains a complete mystery. They also recorded destroying something like 500+ Allied submarines. Considering only 252 American submarines served, and a far smaller number of British and Dutch submarine, it’s obvious there were problems.)

For Flier’s remaining crew, this cross-check was somewhat disappointing, not because they didn’t know the approximate location and cause of their boat’s loss, for they did, but because this cross-reference re-wrote Flier’s score after the war from four confirmed sinkings, to only one: the Hakusan Maru. (And believe me, the Flier’s I’ve met or read their personal accounts on, they watched the ships they sank go down, so they never believed these final results. Who knows? Maybe the records were destroyed, or lost, or something. If someone has enough money and time and expertise, I have approximate coordinates. (You might even stumble across the wreck of USS Harder while you’re at it)

Recently, a lot of information has come to light about Hakusan Maru, and I couldn’t resist learning more about her, despite her end.

In Japanese, Hakusan means “White Mountain”, and there is a Hakusan National Park in Japan. Maru, simply means ship, it’s the equivalent of “SS” or “HMS” with a ship’s name. So the American equivalent might be the SS Yellowstone or something like that.


A postcard showing Hakusan at her home dock in Yokosuka, Japan in the 1920's to 30's. In an era before e-mail, television, internet, and radio was in its infancy, these postcards were very effective advertising.

The Hakusan Maru that would cross paths with Flier in 1944 was built in 1923, an era of beauty and wealth. She was a passenger and mail liner for the NYK Line (Nippon Yusen Kaisha), and regularly ran from Yokohama Japan to England via Singapore, Hong Kong, Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) the Suez Canal, Striats of Gibralter, and London. I don’t know how close to the White Star Line’s Titanic Hakusan was similar to in reference to her interior, but photos of her sister ships’ insides show pools, formal dining salons, beautiful  glided hand-carved woodwork. She was likely a stunning ship.

And the food!  Did her passengers ever eat well!

Check this out. This is a menu from the second saloon on 12 August 1936. The menu features a Permesan Sea Bass, Veal Cutlets, Roast Duck with Orange Sauce and Watercress, Egg Curry and Rice along with a cold buffet of roast beef sirloin and corned pork plus frozen desserts.  In addition, there were fruits, and nuts.  This menu is disposable, meant for the customer to take with them. On the reverse…

It folds in thirds, showing all the routes NYK ships run. On one third is a space for postage, and on the other, a space for a message.  Now THAT’S advertising. You’re on the Hakusan Maru and send this to a friend who wants to/needs to go somewhere and here is a menu, showing the quality of the food, a map of where these ships go, and a message from you saying how thrilled you are to be here.

I  have images of three of these menus from 1936, all showing some artwork (a Japanese Actor, a Japanese Samurai) a menu, (all of which make me hungry. I can’t read them before dinner!) and all available to be mailed home, to business, anywhere you want.

NYK had dozens of ships, and there was hardly a place they DIDN’T go in the two decades prior to WWII.  Though I have no records of Hakusan Maru going to America (at least, not as a civilian ship) note that several NYK ships did hit Honolulu, British Columbia, California, and Mexico and South America. It’s possible, that as German and Japanese influence grew more threatening, some people may have used NYK ships to get themselves and their families back to their home countries.

As Japan ramped up, and war looked inevitable (and one must remember, that for Japan and China, WWII began in 1931 with the invasion of Manchuria) the Imperial Navy looked at NYK Line’s fleet of ships and requisitioned the lot as freighters and troop ships. US Submarines would take a severe toll in the next few years.

Sometime in 1939 Hakusan Maru was officially taken and turned into a troop ship.  More on her military life tomorrow.


More Information:

NYK Line schedules from 1912 to 1953, showing Hakusan Maru’s routes.


6 Responses

  1. Mikael says:

    Hi there Rebekah,
    Thank you so much for this post on the Hakusan Maru from its civilian days! My grandmother was born and raised in Tientsin/Tianjin in China in the French concession, and tells me how when she was a little girl when Japan invaded, she and her family were given the chance to be transported out of Tientsin and back to France by the Japanese. She says that she left Tientsin on the Hakusan Maru, and she was delighted to see pictures from the ship that rescued her and her family from there. Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to show my grandmother pictures of something from her childhood, all these years later!

  2. The Hosking family left Shanghai in 1939 and sailed to England on a Japanese ship called the Haku San Maru – we have many photographs.
    We stopped off in places like Italy where we had time to visit Pompei (I have a carved shell lamp bought for me by my father there. We arrived in England safely.

    We have photographs of my family on board (I was only 5 years old) and I have very happy memories.
    To my great sadness I heard recently that those travellers still on board the Haku San Maru were caught up in the war as Japan entered and I am afraid they may have been taken back to prison camps in Japan. Signed Sally Hosking (now CEDAR)

  3. My family left Shanghai in 1939 and sailed to England on a Japanese ship called the Haku San Maru. The crew were so kind and lovely with us children it is very sad to think that shortly after we disembarked in England Japan entered the War. It seems War makes enemies of people who should be friends.
    Sally Hosking (Now Sally Cedar)

  4. Nothing more to add. My emails have both been returned, I made the second one shorter –
    what is the problem?????
    Sally Hosking Cedar

  5. Gordon says:


    I enjoyed viewing the scan of the Hakusan Maru Postcard at Yokosuka.

    I am writing a book about my Dad’s wartime service for the allied forces after the time the Hakusan Maru was taken over by the Japanese military.

    I have two questions, and a statement:

    1. Do you have access to a higher resolution image of the postcard?

    2. If so, is there any way I could obtain permission to use the image in my self-published book?

    3. If getting a higher resolution version of the image would involve some costs, I would be happy to discuss paying for this work.

    Thanks for your response.

  6. Jonathan Hume says:

    My grandfather, Alexander MacAuley sailed from the UK in 1929 to join the Shanghai Municipal Police aboard another ship called the SS Rajputana, but returned to the UK on the SS Hakusan Maru.
    I still have his ship menu card, very similar to the one shown on this site.
    My grandfathers menu however, is dated Friday March 18th 1932 and has a different picture.
    The ships commander is listed as J. Tsuji.

Trackback URL for this entry