Japanese ship-naming conventions

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Japanese ship naming conventions are different from those in the West. Japanese warships have never been named after people. Prior to World War II, Japanese ship naming conventions underwent several changes before being settled.

Merchant ships[edit]

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.

Several theories 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.
  • The suffix -maru is often applied to words representing something beloved, and sailors applied this suffix to their ships.
  • The term maru is used in divination and represents perfection or completeness, or the ship as "a small world of its own."
  • The myth 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 itself as it travels.
  • For the past few centuries, only non-warships bore the -maru ending. Its use was intended as a good hope naming convention that would allow a ship to leave port, travel the world, and return safely to home port: hence the complete circle arriving back at 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.

Warships[edit]

Early conventions[edit]

When the Imperial Japanese Navy was formed the Ministry of the Navy submitted potential ship names to the Emperor for approval. During the early years ships were often donated by the Shogunate or Japanese clans and the original clan names were kept.

In 1891 the procedure was changed due to changes in the government structure. Two ship names were submitted by the Minister of the Navy to the Lord Chamberlain who then presented the choices to the Emperor. The Emperor could either pick one of the suggested names or one of his own devising.

Ships captured during the First Sino-Japanese War kept their original names but with Japanese pronunciation. For example the Chinese battleship Chen Yuan became Chin'en in Japanese service.

In 1876 the Minister of the Navy was given the authority to choose the names of torpedo boats without imperial approval. In 1902 the authority to name destroyers was delegated to the Minister of the Navy as well.

In 1895 a proposal was made by the Minister of the Navy in an attempt to establish some standard. He proposed that battleships and cruisers be named for provinces or shrines dedicated to protecting Japan, that names of other warships be selected from the names for Japan or provinces.

Ships captured during the Russo-Japanese War were renamed with Japanese names. Some of these vessels were given names related to where they were captured or some other aspect of the war, such as the month of capture. Some Russian ships were given Japanese names that were phonetically similar to their original Russian names (example: Angara became Anegawa).

In 1921 the Minister of the Navy was given authority to name all ships except battleships, battlecruisers, and cruisers. In any event the Navy had to report the new name to the Emperor immediately.

And after 1 August 1905[edit]

On 23 April 1905, Naval Minister Gonbee Yamamoto reported to the throne about a new ship naming standard. It was decided on 1 August 1905.

However, second class cruiser and third class cruiser used the river name because it became complicated.

It passed through some changes afterwards, the broad categories of names are given here, with examples, however, if the name is the succession to a ship's name, it is excluded from following contents.

Post–World War II[edit]

Prior to the end of World War II Japanese ship names were rendered in kanji; after the end of the war this tradition was abandoned in favor of hiragana to separate the perception of the Maritime Self-Defense Forces from the old navy.

Translated names[edit]

The English translations of the Japanese warships provide names; the literal translation of the characters does not necessarily represent how the name is perceived to the Japanese. For example, Akagi is probably perceived as "red castle" by Japanese about as often as Philadelphia is perceived as the "city of brotherly love" by Americans.

There is a tendency for translations of Japanese names to be somewhat fanciful. For example, Shōkaku is often translated as "crane flying in heaven", but "flying crane" or "soaring crane" is a more accurate translation. Another fanciful translation is "land of divine mulberry trees" for Fusōfuso was a Chinese name for a mythical tree supposed to grow to the east, hence an old poetic word for Japan.

In World War II, the composition of the Japanese Navy was a military secret. US Naval Intelligence built up knowledge of enemy ships through photographic reconnaissance, interrogation of prisoners, and signal interception. Inevitably there were mistakes and misinterpretations; some of these have been repeated in post-war accounts that rely on US Navy documents. For example, a prisoner of war after the battle of Midway reported the existence of an aircraft carrier named Hayataka. This was a misreading of the characters 隼鷹 in kun-yomi, while they in this case are properly read in on-yomi as Junyō. Accordingly, many US documents refer to the carrier as Hayataka or its class as the Hayataka class.

References[edit]

  1. ^ JACAR, C13071953800, p. 25, Report to the throne "Nomenclature of aircraft carrier", 18 December 1933, Minister of the Navy of Japan.
  2. ^ Shizuo Fukui (1996), p. 45.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Monthly Ships of the World, "Kaijinsha".  (Japan)
    • No. 441, Special issue Vol. 32, "Japanese cruisers", September 1991
    • No. 453, Special issue Vol. 34, "History of Japanese destroyers", July 1992
    • No. 469, Special issue Vol. 37, "History of Japanese submarines", August 1993
    • No. 507, Special issue Vol. 45, "Escort Vessels of the Imperial Japanese Navy", February 1996
    • No. 522, Special issue Vol. 47, "Auxiliary Vessels of the Imperial Japanese Navy", March 1997
  • Daiji Katagiri, Ship Name Chronicles of the Imperial Japanese Navy Combined Fleet (聯合艦隊軍艦銘銘伝, Rengōkantai Gunkan Meimeiden?), Kōjinsha (Japan), June 1988, ISBN 4-7698-0386-9
  • Masahide Asai, Ship name examination of the Japanese Navy (日本海軍 艦船名考, Nihon Kaigun Kansenmeikou?), Tōkyō Suikōsha (fringe organization of the Ministry of the Navy), December 1928
  • Motoyoshi Hori, Destroyer - Technical recollection (駆逐艦 その技術的回顧, Kuchikukan, Sono gijutsuteki-kaiko?), Hara Shobō (Japan), June 1987, ISBN 978-4-562-01873-4
  • Shizuo Fukui, Stories of the Japanese aircraft carriers, Kojinsha, Japan, 1996, ISBN 4-7698-06558.
  • 1/700 Water Line Series Guide book of Imperial Japanese Navy ships, Shizuoka Plastic Model Manufacturers Association (Aoshima Bunka Kyozai/Tamiya Corporation/Hasegawa Corporation), October 2007
  • "Japan Center for Asian Historical Records (JACAR)". , National Archives of Japan
    • Reference code: C05110830400, [Data in English is under preparation] 官房306号 12.1.22 雑役船の公称番号及船種変更の件.
    • Reference code: C13071953800, [Data in English is under preparation] 第13類 艦船(4).