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The cover of the 2006 manga edition of Kani kōsen.

Kani kōsen (蟹工船) published in English as The Cannery Boat (1933), The Factory Ship (1973), and The Crab Cannery Ship (2013) is a novel by Takiji Kobayashi, written in 1929. Written from a communist point of view, it concerns the crew of a crab fishing ship's hardships as they struggle under capitalist exploitation. The book has been made into a film and as manga. It is a short work, totalling around 80 pages in its English translation.


A crab fishing ship goes to the open sea off Kamchatka (now in Russia but then in the Soviet Union). The crew are not optimistic about their prospects; one crewman declares "We're going to Hell!" When the drowning crew is saved by Russians, they find that foreigners are human beings just like themselves and the Russians tell that the proletariat worker is a great being. A student worker says that the labour situation at the crew is worse than The House of the Dead by Dostoevsky. The crew ultimately revolt against their sadistic manager and foreman, form a union and take over the ship. However the new order on board is suppressed by the Imperial Navy sailors.

The book expresses its pessimism from the beginning, not only in the opening remark but in the description of the harbour of Hakodate being filled with rubbish, and the smaller boats being compared to insects.[1]

Revival of interest[edit]

Interest in the book has revived recently[dubious ] as the 2008 financial crisis has led to economic pressures on many Japanese workers.[2] Interest increased after an article discussing the book appeared in the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper on 9 January. This was followed by further articles in other papers, which came to call the revival the "Kanikōsen boom". Headlines like "Kanikōsen - Sad reminder, lamenting disparity, young people’s empathy" (Yomiuri Shimbun 2 May) reflected its popularity among many disaffected young Japanese workers.[3]

The Shinchōsha Publishing Company originally planned to release 7,000 copies, to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the author's birth. As of May, 50,000 copies have been printed to cope with demand.[4] As of August 2008, the book was near the top of several of Japan's bestseller lists, a remarkable feat for a book of this type.[5]

Other versions[edit]

In 1953 the film Kanikōsen was released, directed by Sō Yamamura and starring himself, Masayuki Mori and Sumiko Hidaka. It was awarded the best cinematography prize at the 1954 Mainichi Film Concours.

A manga version of the book first appeared in 2006, the first of four so far. During 2009, two stage adaptations of the novel were produced in Tokyo, another was produced in 2012.

A remake of the film Kani kōsen, directed by Hiroyuki Tanaka and starring Ryuhei Matsuda and Hidetoshi Nishijima was completed in 2009.


  1. ^ Valdo H.Viglielmo.The Sea as Metaphor: An Aspect of the Modern Japanese Novel, in A.-T.Tymieniecka (ed.), Analecta Husserliana, Vol.XIX: Poetics of the Elements in the Human Condition (D.Reidel Publishing Company, 1985), 149-169.
  2. ^ Ward, M. Kanikosen: a proletarian literature classic comes back to life in Seekjapan.jp
  3. ^ Hirokazu Toeda in The “Kanikosen” Boom - Reflecting Present Day Suffocation
  4. ^ Koki Hayashi Sales surge for '29 book about labor movement (Asahi Shimbun, 14 May 2008 (retrieved 28 October 2008))
  5. ^ Kubota, Yoko of Reuters. "Old Marxist novel revived by Japan's economic anxiety", International Herald Tribune, August 12, 2008. Accessed November 4, 2008. "It is near the top of several leading best-seller lists in the country, almost unheard of for a book of this genre."

External links[edit]