Notes on Japanese ship-naming conventions

Yeah, I know. That title. You’re already disinterested, but hey – hang tight – you might just learn something today.
I know I did.

Japanese fishing vessels have been all over the news lately. If you count the one that ran aground on Clifton Beach last month and the one that was found drifting off the coast of Canada in April, that is.
The former has sadly dropped out of the news and even now, no-one is really sure how it ended up parked among the holiday homes of the German elite. The latter was a victim of the March 2011 tsunami and has been drifting across the Pacific ever since.

Their names: the Eihatsu Maru and the Ryou-Un-Maru. And I’ll use this handy opportunity to chuck the name of the only other Japanese fishing vessel I know in there too: the Meisho Maru 38. Some of that one lies aground near Cape Agulhas and has surely featured in many photographs, but most notably, this one:

Eagle-eyed readers should really give the eagle its eyes back, but in the meantime, they will have noticed the common “Maru” in the names of all these vessels, because eagles are good at spotting that sort of thing.

When you look  up Maru on Google translate, it tells you in mean “circle” and also, if you look a little below that, “suffix for ship names”. But why?

Well, god bless the internet, because Wikipedia can help us out with an answer on their helpfully named: “Japanese ship naming conventions” page, which discusses and explains Japanese ship naming conventions. And it tells us:

The word maru (meaning “circle”) is often attached to Japanese ship names. The first ship known to follow this convention was the Nippon Maru, flagship of daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s 16th century fleet. There are several theories which purport to explain this practice:

  • The most common is that ships were thought of as floating castles, and the word referred to the defensive “circles” or maru that protected the castle.
  • That the suffix -maru is often applied to words representing something that is beloved, and sailors applied this suffix to their ships.
  • That the term maru is used in divination and represents perfection or completeness, or the ship as a small world of its own.
  • A legend of Hakudo Maru, a celestial being that came to earth and taught humans how to build ships. It is said that the name maru is attached to a ship to secure celestial protection for it as it travels.
  • For the past few centuries, only non-warships bore the maru ending. It was intended to be used as a good hope naming convention that would allow the ship to leave port, travel the world, and return safely to home port: hence the complete circle arriving back to its origin unhurt.
  • Note also that Hinomaru or ‘sun-disc’ is a name often applied to the national flag of Japan.

Today commercial and private ships are still named using this convention.

Of course, there are many superstitions and traditions in Japanese society and there are probably (at least) an equal number in the seafaring community, so it seems perfectly reasonable that when these two behemoths of folklore come together, we get this well-observed custom of nomenclature.

That said, many of the reasons given above are centred around the protection of the vessel and its safe return to port and that hasn’t really held true for any of the ships I am aware of (n=3). Let’s not forget that one ended up on a local beach, another ended up on some fairly local rocks and another was sunk by the US Coastguard “for safety reasons” (and, let’s be absolutely honest here, fun).

Look, I recognise that it’s Friday afternoon and you aren’t in the mood to learn stuff. But you’ll be thanking the Japanese Seagods and 6000 miles… at your next pub quiz, believe me.

Assuming there’s a question about this sort of thing, of course.

Not worth waiting for…

James Lech has finally released “Part 1” of his statement on the “incident” on Clifton beach. You can read it here, nestled neatly below an ad for yet another Pack Walk – this time in the Full Moon (rather you than me) – and a recipe for completely harmless Raw Cauliflower, Cashew and Chilli Mash.
That said, it’s probably not worth the effort of the clickthrough:

Learning is a Gift. Even when pain is your teacher.
Accidents are unfortunate, traumatic events that often have dire consequences. I have learned a hard lesson. Yet, I am not the first in my profession to be faced with this kind of challenge and I undertake to be more vigilant around such cases in the future. D has made remarkable progress in his rehabilitation process and has become a treasured pet and a valued member of my pack. I stand by my business ethic and rehabilitation practice as will be supported by the positive results and outcomes experienced by many dog owners and their pets, who have benefited from my assistance in South Africa and abroad over the past several years.

Unfortunately, due to this matter still being under official investigation that involves other parties, I am not yet at liberty to release documentation, reports and or specific details regarding the incident. Once the investigation has been completed and officially assessed, I shall then be given permission to publish material and information. We are working hard at fast tracking everything.

Meanwhile, Lech has been asked to remove more dodgy claims from his website:

Camps Bay “Dog Whisperer” James Lech has been instructed to remove “misleading, untruthful and deceitful” information from his website linking him to the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) and the Animal Anti-Cruelty League (AACL).

Lech has been asked to remove claims that he is linked to both organisations. His website lists him as a “consultant and speaker to the AACL” and a “guest speaker at SPCA fundraising and education events”.

NSPCA spokeswoman Christine Kuch said the claims were false.

“Both the Animal Anti-Cruelty League and the National Council of SPCAs afforded Mr Lech the opportunity to substantiate the statements, which he has been unable to do. We have approached him to substantiate it, and if he cannot, then to remove the information. We have circulated it to all SPCAs, and there is no link or endorsement of Lech.”

And the Cape Times reports today that the dog which attacked toddler Meeka Riley Lackay is to be “privately euthanased” at Lech’s request. Sadly, it seems the dog cannot request the same fate for its owner, who shouldn’t have been walking it on the beach where it attacked the little Meeka in the first place.

No comment

15 days on from the incident and shamed “shaman” James Lech still hasn’t released his statement detailing his version of events when of the dogs he was walking illegally on Clifton beach attacked a two-year old girl.

A post on his blog from 20th January states:

We are still awaiting information from 3rd parties. It is important that we receive the correct and confirmed facts due to the wide spread speculation that has been occurring in the media.

Obviously, we can only speculate what “correct and confirmed facts” he’s waiting for, but we’re guessing that they will surely be something along the lines of “one of the dogs I was walking illegally on Clifton beach attacked a two-year old girl”.

Thankfully however, James has found time to organise another “Pack Walk” this weekend.

Life’s all about priorities, right James?