On Sunday August 5 we visited the Soya Maru at the Japan Maritime Science Museum on the waterfront in Tokyo. The museum on shore was closed for renovation but the ship was open for boarding and we toured it as appeared in the 1950s when outfitted as an Antartic research and base supply ship.
Soya Maru at Japan Maritime Science Museum
The Soya Maru was launched in Nagasaki in 1938 and was originally intended for delivery to the Soviet Union as an “ice strengthened ship” and in partial payment for part of the South Manchurian Railway. But as war tensions grew in the Far East the ship was never delivered and instead it was reassigned to ice-breaking cargo ship duties as the Chiryō Maru. By November 1939 the war expansion had developed to a point where the Imperial Japanese Navy requisitioned her for use as an ammunition ship and survey vessel and in February 1940 she was given the name Soya Maru. During the war Soya Maru narrowly escaped destruction during an attack in 1943 by the submarine USS Greenling and again by aircraft from Task Force 58 near Truk when ten crewmen were killed and the ship was grounded. But the Soya Maru survived and after the war became a lighthouse supply ship.
Then she was extensively modified in 1956 for Antarctic research. For the next six years she sailed to the Antarctic but it was in 1958 that an incident occured that formed a story made for movies. During the rescue of researchers at the Syowa Research Station the severe weather forced the men to leave their dog sled team behind. One year later the Soya Maru made a return voyage to the area and found two dogs, “Taro” and “Jiro” still alive. The story made news around the world and later became the subject of films made in Japan (Nankyoku Monogatari or “South Pole Story” and shown as “Antarctica” in the USA and adapted by Disney in the film “Eight Below.” Because I had visited Cape Soya a few days earlier it seemed appropriate to board the Soya Maru and see first hand both “Soyas” in the same week.