Museum Ship San Juan Batista at Ishinomaki, Japan

We travelled north from Fukushima Prefecture on July 30, 2012 to Miyagi Prefecture and past the capital city of Sendai, the scenic coast of Matsushima Kaigan, and along the coast on to Ishinomaki, a town no longer reachable by train due to the destroyed train tracks from the 2011 Tsunami. The Senseki Line train goes as far as Matsushima Kaigan from where a bus takes passengers to a temporary transfer station and another train continues the journey to Ishinomaki.

Ishinomaki reported in June 2011 a total of 3,097 deaths and still some 2,770 persons missing while about 29,000 residents lost their homes. Okawa Elementary School was completely destroyed and 70 of their 108 students were killed in the tsunami. Parts of the city remain empty today while other areas and being reconstructed. Across the bridge from the Manga Museum Island and a few miles from the city center is the Museum Ship San Juan Bautista, also called “Date Maru” (伊達丸) in Japanese after the famous Sendai Daimyo who ruled the area in the 1600s. It is a replica of one of the first Japanese-built Western-style sailing ships called “nanban-sen” (南蛮船) by the Japanese. The Daimyo of Sendai Date Masamune commissioned the construction of a western style Galleon ship that was built in Japan and sailed across the Pacific to Mexico in 1613.

Hasekura Tsunenaga led the Japanese diplomatic mission of 180 people across the Pacific accompanied by Spanish frier Loius Sotelo and after bringing the Japanese mission to Acapulco the San Juan Batista sailed back to Japan. Hasekura then traveled across Mexico, the Atlantic, and the sourthern of Europe to reach Rome. It was Japan’a first mission to Europe and the Vatican. See
Hasekura returned to Japan but conditions had changed and Japan was closing itself off to world with its Sakoku or isolationist policy. This environment would not change until the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853. In 1993 a replica of the San Juan Batista or Date Maru was constructed to be used as a museum. The Tsunami of 2011 did damage to the ship but it survived and it is now being rebuilt for a re-opening of the museum to take place in the fall of 2013 and to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the historic first Japanese trans-Pacific voyage.

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For the past few years I have been fortunate to have been able to visit some interesting maritime museums and replica ships during my travels in Asia. The San Juan Batista Museum is one of the most scenic locations and the afternoon sun on the ocean presented a peaceful scene in contrast to the photos of the tsunami at the height of its devastation. Chris took some great photos of the ship while I visited with Takahashi-san a member of the museum staff who is working on the remodel of the ship and exhibits and planning for next year’s re-opening of San Juan Batista.

We look forward to the reopening of the museum in 2013 and the celebration of history both ancient and recent that tells the story of the people of this region. The San Juan Batista is a member of the Japan Floating Ship Association (日本フローティング船協会) and the eight ship member group has a weather camera and blogspot for each ship. See

In addition to maritme museums in Japan I have visited some in Taiwan, Korea, and China. In 2009 I visited the Evergreen Maritime Museum in Taipei, Taiwan and met with friends and owners of the Ming Replica War Junk “Princess Taiping.”

In 2010 my wife and I visited Jejudo Island in South Korea and hiked along the coast to find the Hamel Museum Ship a fascinating story of the first Europeans to arrive in Korea. Then it was back to Taiwan and a visit to Fort Zeelandia in Tainan another old Dutch outpost from centuries ago. In 2011 my planned visit to Japan was cancelled due to the earthquake and tsunami disaster so I returned in 2012 to continue the adventure of traveling to some of the more remote places in Japan where some of the most interesting even if little known events in Japanese history have taken place. After our visit to Ishinomaki Chris and I returned via Matsushima to Sendai and caught the all-night “Hokutosei” train for Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island where we would visit Cape Soya, Japan’s northernmost point!


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3 Responses to Museum Ship San Juan Batista at Ishinomaki, Japan

  1. Pingback: Summer Readings and Meetings with Authors | mockford

  2. Pingback: 24th Annual Maritime Archeology and History of the Hawaiian Islands Symposium | mockford

  3. Michael Berolzheimer says:

    I know the Japanese fellow who rebuilt this ship.

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