“Kitamaesen” (北前船), a ship used for trading between the northern island of Hokkaido and more southern ports during feudal Japan’s later years. The kitamaesen was just one of many vessels in a larger category of merchant Japanese ships called “bezaisen,” (弁才船), distinguished by their large, battened sails, sloping sterns, and long tillers.

An interesting note is that Japanese sailors knew only very rudimentary navigation and therefore did not venture far out of sight of land. Navigation was slowly introduced in part after 1850 by John Manjiro, who was the first Japanese person to live in America and had learned navigation from American sailors.

This is the Michinoku-maru, a replica of an Japanese Edo-period inter-island trading vessel (kitamaebune, or bezaisen). She was constructed in 2005 as a seaworthy vessel, 32 meters in length and a beam of 8.5 meters.

She was originally sponsored by the Aomori Traditional Wooden Boat Museum, located in Aomori City. Unfortunately, the museum closed in March of 2014. There wasn’t really any notice on the internet, so I actually went to the museum that June and found the notice of closing taped to the door. The saddest thing is that all the rest of the wooden boats inside the museum had been removed, except the Michinoku-maru, which was still sitting on the concrete floor all alone.

This photo was taken through the big glass windows of the abandoned museum. I’m not sure what’s going to happen to her now. I’ve found one or two petitions online, on people’s blogs, asking for ideas and help on saving her, but so far I don’t think anything has happened. Right now, it seems like she will continue to sit inside the empty museum, abandoned, and that’s really depressing.