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  • Japanese: 伊呂波丸 or いろは丸 (Iroha maru)

Iroha-maru refers to two different ships built in Bakumatsu era Japan.

The first was a three-masted Western-style sailing ship, constructed at Iso (in Kagoshima) in 1854, under the orders of Shimazu Nariakira. The ship was built as part of efforts by Nariakira to strengthen Satsuma domain's naval defenses in light of the number of British and French ships which had begun to visit the Ryûkyû Islands.[1] In 1851, Nariakira had a shipyard built at Iso, measuring 100 meters long, 20 meters wide, and three meters deep. The three-masted Iroha-maru was completed at that shipyard in 1854, while another Western-style sailing ship, the Shôhei-maru, was completed the same year at another Satsuma shipyard at Setomura on Sakurajima.[2]

A Western-style steam-driven sailing ship by the same name was involved in a famous incident in 1867. This 100 ton Iroha-maru steamship was lent by Ôzu han to the Kaientai trading company for a 15-day period; under the command of Sakamoto Ryôma, the ship departed Nagasaki on 1867/4/19 to transport guns, sugar, and other goods to Osaka. Four days later it crashed into a Kishû Tokugawa clan warship, the 887 ton Meikô-maru, in the Inland Sea, just off of Tomonoura (a notable port in what is today Hiroshima prefecture), late in the night on 1867/4/23. This was the first maritime crash in Japan to involve a steamship.[3]

The Meikô-maru began to tow the disabled Iroha-maru to Tomonoura, but the Iroha-maru sank along the way; its 32 crew and passengers were safely transported to Tomonoura aboard the Meikô-maru. Ryôma then famously engaged in negotiations with Kishû representatives, demanding reparations from them,[4] while staying for five nights at the home of Masuya Kiyoemon in Tomonoura, which has today been transformed into a small museum about the incident.[5] Kishû issued orders for the Meikô-maru to leave Tomo on 4/27, and negotiations were moved to Nagasaki.[3]

For roughly a century after the shipwreck, fishermen periodically brought up coal in their nets, leading local wisdom to surmise the precise location of the shipwreck. Underwater archaeological efforts beginning in 1988 recovered a number of objects from the shipwreck, which are now on display at that same Iroha-maru museum in Tomonoura.[5]


  • Explanatory plaques at Iroha-maru Museum, Tomonoura.[5]
  1. See, for example, Bernard Bettelheim, and the Sabine and Alcmene.
  2. Plaques at former site of Iso shipyard, Kagoshima.[1]
  3. 3.0 3.1 Gallery labels, Fukuzen-ji, Tomonoura.[2]
  4. "Irohamaru jiken," Asahi Shinbun keisai, 3 June 2011.; Shirarezaru Ryûkyû shisetsu 知られざる琉球使節, Fukuyama-shi Tomonoura rekishi minzoku shiryôkan (2006), 41.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Explanatory plaques, Tomonoura harbor.[3][4]