O.S.K. Line's Technical Division

My interest in ships was rekindled by my reunion with the Sansui Maru at the Tempozan Pier (Osaka Port). I went to Tempozan almost every week, revisited ships which were dear to me, and met with ships which I had never known. The Kogane Maru, the queen of the Seto Inland Sea plying on the Beppu route, Nishiki Maru and Sumire Maru - they were all safe and sound. I met for the first time with the old passenger ships Oigawa Maru and Tonegawa Maru with slim and tall funnels, O.S.K. Line's favorite style in its early days. They had been built in 1897.

As I saw real ships one after another, the ships which I had known only through photos and articles in magazines or on picture postcards, I seem to have become irreversibly ship-happy.

It was about the time that war story books came into circulation, and they told me the previously unknown fact that the warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy were sunk in one battle or another, leaving only a handful surviving the war, including the battleship Nagato. But I could find few reports on merchant ships. Then I wrote letters to every shipping company, which had owned large fleets before the war, asking which of their ships were lost during and which survived the Pacific War.

As all the Japanese merchant ships were controlled by the Occupation Forces then, perhaps shipping businessmen might have little work to do, or they were surprised at a boy so enthusiastic about ships, probably a rare interest at the time. Every shipping line gave me a kind reply. Almost every company's letter saddened me, reporting the loss of all the ships I had known, leaving only low-grade 2A and 2E wartime standard cargoships barely surviving the war

Of these replies, that from O.S.K. Line particularly excited me. It was accompanied with a plenty of picture postcards depicting my favorite passenger ships. Of course, the postcards were no longer of any business use, because the objects of the pictures were all gone. I felt as if my picture postcards lost in air raids had revived. There also was a thick special album with slots for postcards. Not just that. Coming with the report was an invitation to drop in at O.S.K. Line's office. I hardly have to tell you that I opened the door to O.S.K. Line's Technical Division room a few days later.

The gentleman who told his staff to give me that kind reply was Shuzo Arita in charge of general affairs at the division. He was a stout but very kindly man. The person who actually wrote the reply was an office clerk, a charming young lady with particularly beautiful eyes. Incidentally, I met the lady again a few years ago aboard the Shin-Sakura Maru on a round-Japan trip after a long, long interval. It was on February 23, 1948 that I visited O.S.K. Line for the first time, and the reunion was in May 1982, as many as 34 years later. I found her a teacher of calligraphy, married to a naval architect at MOL. I was a senior pupil at secondary school. Probably she was a few years older. As a married woman, she was no less beautiful than she had been.

Let me go back to the early postwar days.

Mr. Arita introduced to me a young naval architect, who Arita-san said knew everything about ships. He was named Koji Kanou. He looked somewhat nervous, perhaps because of his slender face, but a chat with him immediately changed my impression. He was another kindly man. As I was told afterwards, he was a rookie naval architect, who had graduated from the naval architecture department of Tokyo University two years before and joined O.S.K. Line. He was eight years older than I.

The Technical Division is responsible for designing ships, and all its staff members are naval architects. When I was an elementary school boy, I read a collection of essays entitled Ships, and the figurative beauty of ships described in the essays impressed me. The book's author, Haruki Watsuji, had been a naval architect at O.S.K. Line, where he was eventually promoted to a senior managing director. The Argentina Maru and Brazil Maru, which used to carry Japanese emigrants on O.S.K. Line's South America-bound routes and which my ship-happy friends admire as the most beautiful ships of all, had been designed by Dr. Watsuji. (Both were the firsts to bear the respective names, built in 1939, 12,700 tons.) I found that most of the ships which had attracted me since my childhood were the works of Dr. Watsuji. Those ships embodied figurative beauty, which found its way into every fine detail of the designs.
Often visiting the office of O.S.K. Line's Technical Division to which had belonged Watsuji-san, my hero and idol, and surrounded by the atmosphere of ship designing with all its desks for drawing designs and arrangements and curved rulers, I was reminded of my childhood dream to become a ship architect of the Navy. I wanted to become a naval architect for merchant shipping.

However, already a senior high school student, no longer a schoolboy, I was not naive enough to believe I could make my dream come true. I had to realize my school records did not justify pursuing my dream to become a naval architect. My marks in scientific subjects including mathematics and physics were miserable. From during to some time after the war, I had been away from school. As my home was burnt down in an air raid, I had to take refuge in the country side. That blank in schoolwork and my near inability to read what the teachers wrote on the blackboard, as I was shortsighted but could not afford glasses, made me lag behind in learning. I judged myself unsuitable for a career in naval architecture, and instead went to art college.

Kanou-san was also glad to know I chose fine arts instead of shipbuilding. He encouraged me, saying it would be more fun to become an artist than to work in shipping. Looking back, I think Kanou-san was right.。

(Excerpt from Yanagihara Ryohei's Museum of Ships, issued on July 25, 1985 by Toyo Keizai Shimpo Sha)