Wrapping up the search for the Kanrin Maru

Looking back, our trip to Hokkaido in November 2017 has been a great way to see how the story of a Dutch-made vessel has become so firmly rooted in the hearts and minds of the Japanese people we met along the way.

To recap, the scope of the current project was to gather and analyse information that could help assess whether the Kanrin Maru shipwreck could still be found. This has been a project conducted under the banner of the Shared Cultural Heritage of Japan and the Netherlands. And, while the search for the Kanrin Maru shipwreck based on desk studies conducted in both the Netherlands and Japan has been the main theme of research, the underlying aims of the project centred around knowledge exchange and capacity building.

These aims were achieved by having dr. Iwabuchi and the author of this blog, together with Hiromu Akamatsu, a student of Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology (TUMSAT), go on an expedition to meet important stakeholders and informants in the field. Through the mutual efforts of the team on the one hand, and all the enthusiastic stakeholders and informants on the other, the project has resulted in a wider understanding of the Kanrin Maru heritage and its importance to the community, while the project team also came closer to solving the mystery of the Kanrin Maru shipwreck. At the end of March, the project will be completed.

To wrap up the research, it has become clear that, according to historical documents, the Kanrin-maru did wreck and sink at Saraki Misaki. It also became clear that, while the size and weight seem to match, the ‘Kikonai anchor’ differs in its design from the 1850s Royal Netherlands Navy style anchors that were originally equipped on the Kanrin Maru, making it at this point not so likely that the anchor belonged to the Kanrin Maru.

While we also recorded the approximate location of a wooden wreckage spotted by a local diver, it remains to be seen whether the wreckage is indeed a shipwreck and whether it still can be located to begin with. This is mostly due to the fact that it was last seen in 2007, while the project team furthermore could not verify the claim of it being a shipwreck as there simply is no (visual) evidence to back that up.

For now we must therefore conclude that, although anything is still possible, the archaeological evidence is not convincing enough to suggest that the wreck could have survived without having severe reservations. With no concrete evidence, a large-scale underwater search would at this point be laden with more risk than certainty. With this in mind, the current research comes to a close.

A word of thanks goes to the representatives of the Kikonai Municipality (Mayor Mr. Ōmori, Vice-Mayor Mr. Ōno, Mr. Nomura, Mr. Hirano, Mrs. Wakayama, Mr. Shibuya & Mr. Kimoto), representatives of the Society of the Kanrin-maru Crew Descendants (Masuo Fujimoto, Nobuko Munakata, Yoshiharu Masai & Kengo Kobayashi), representatives of the Society of Dreaming About the Kanrin Maru (Mr. Kubo, Mr. Satō, Mr. Tada & Mr. Yoshizawa), the Kamiiso Fishermen’s Association (Mr. Mikami) and the individuals who contributed greatly to our understanding of the Kanrin Maru situation (Mr. Gōda, Mr. Yoshida, Mr. Niida, Mr. Miura). Thanks are also due to Bas Valckx & Ton van Zeeland at the Dutch Embassy in Tokyo, and to Isabel van Daalen, for supporting the project in Japan. Last but not least, special thanks go to prof. dr. Akifumi Iwabuchi at TUMSAT for his patience and enthusiasm for the project, and Hiromu Akamatsu for his help in interviewing the informants, and to Mr. Hayashibara of the Asian Research Institute of Underwater Archaeology for his contribution.