The Tōya-Maru sinking

Over the last few days, due to something else I have been working on, I’ve been thinking again about the memorial to the Tōya-maru (洞爺丸) sinking.

For those unfamiliar with the accident, the key points (taken from Wikipedia) are that it was a Japanese train ferry constructed by the Japanese National Railways which sank during a typhoon, later known locally as the Tōya Maru Typhoon, in the Tsugaru Strait between the Japanese islands of Hokkaidō and Honshū on September 26, 1954. The Japanese National Railways announced in September 1955 that 1,153 people aboard were killed in the accident. However, the exact number of fatalities remains unknown because there were victims who managed to obtain passage on the ship at the last minute, and others who cancelled their tickets just before the incident occurred.

I visited the memorial in April 2016 as part of my research about public transportation memorials in Japan. The main focus of the article was about the modifications made to one of the memorials of the flight JL123 crash, which has subsequently been published in the journal Mortality. In that article, I mention the Tōya-maru Memorial as one of those that doesn’t appear to have had any modifications being made over the years. I would like to know more about why this is, but doubt I will be able to research it fully. But I am left wondering why we have not seen any changes to the site, more information about the accidents (one of the discoveries I made when I visited the site was that there wasn’t just one ship that sank) at the local museums and why – as far as I can tell – there haven’t been any significant TV dramatizations or movies based around the events. Please drop me a line if you know more.

Compared to many memorialisation sites it struck me how open the site is. Although there are trees along side the plot of land given to the site, it is very exposed from the road, and the main memorial itself is much closer to the road than it is to the nearby beach. There are no names of victims written anywhere, unlike the case of the JL123 crash, for example. Although the site was tidy, with flowers blossoming when I visited, grass had started to grow over pictures and information on the ground that point to where the various ships sank. Indeed, that was one of the surprises when I got to the site. I was aware that the Tōya-maru wasn’t the only ship that sank, but it wasn’t until I got to the site that I realised that the memorial was for all of the ships that sank. Indeed there’s a bit of mismatch between the English and Japanese writings about the events. Although the typhoon itself may have become known as the Tōya-maru Typhoon, and there are certainly Japanese books and pages on the Internet that focus upon Tōya-maru, many also include details about the other ships; Dai-Jūichi-Seikan-maru (第十一青函丸), Kitami-maru (北見丸), Hitaka-maru (日高丸) and Tōkachi-maru (十勝丸). This is much rarer in English – I suppose that this post hasn’t helped much in this regard with the title that I gave it, but I hope people will read the whole article to become aware of the scale of the tragedy. Across the five ships a total of about 1,430 lives were lost.

The lines lead you to information points about other ships that sank, as well as information about the location of the Seikan Tunnel between Honshū & Hokkaidō (which was built in part as a response to the sinkings)
The Tōya-maru information
The location of the memorial (marked with the red pin)

The memorial also features in my third novel, FOUR.

6 Comments Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s