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Question about Meiji maritime history

Hama

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Hello everyone!
I'm sorry if this question is too specific, my mates who are in to history don't know much about this particular topic so I thought I'd ask a bit online, and this site looks like a friendly discussion place. :)

I'm just curious to know if there were examples, or even if it would have been possible, for foreign traders or ship owners to register vessels in Japanese ports during the Meiji era?

Reason I ask is I've an interest in maritime affairs of Japan during the Meiji period, and one thing I was curious about was the idea of flags of convenience (e.g. foreign vessel owners registering ships in other nations, often to make things like customs or port fees easier).
I know it really picked up around the 1910s but I've seen examples of it happening earlier in some countries.
I just don't know much myself on this thing happening in Japan, and I was wondering if during the Meiji era there would have been any restrictions to foreigners in Japan owning/registering vessels there? I read that extraterritorial rights for outsiders were abolished in 1899, would that have had any effect on the situation?
 
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Mike Cash

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Isn't the primary motivation for flags of convenience the ability to pay seamen lower wages, have lower manning requirements, and to avoid costlier safety regulations? Those weren't really a factor anywhere in the world prior to the whole Titanic debacle, were they? Seafarers wages and working conditions were notoriously poor worldwide in the era you're asking about. Safety equipment and considerations were likewise not yet an issue that were really being addressed to the point that companies felt a financial incentive to avoid them, were they?

I've done just a quick bit of searching on the subject and easily found papers discussing the subject in postwar Japan (I suspect regarding Japanese ships registering overseas, but I haven't read the papers yet) but haven't seen anything regarding the practice in Meiji Japan yet.
 

Hama

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Well yes that's a main reason these days, but I was also wondering about North-Pacific whalers who might have thought of Japanese ports as a closer alternative for their vessels rather than, say, Hawaii which was used as a base by many. Would it have been possible for the owner of a whaler to register in Japan if he wasn't Japanese?
 
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Mike Cash

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Well yes that's a main reason these days, but I was also wondering about North-Pacific whalers who might have thought of Japanese ports as a closer alternative for their vessels rather than, say, Hawaii which was used as a base by many. Would it have been possible for the owner of a whaler to register in Japan if he wasn't Japanese?

I don't know and I kind of doubt it, but I am curious and I will try to find some information. I don't know what the situation was back then, but currently the crews of Japan registered ships have to be Japanese citizens. Japan has a very active and extensive domestic maritime and the citizenship requirement is hurting their ability to keep their vessels manned, as there are fewer and fewer young people wanting to go into the work (and I suspect a general lack of knowledge through most of the country that the career field even exists).

The ports a vessel uses as bases need not be their port of registry.
 

Hama

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I don't know and I kind of doubt it, but I am curious and I will try to find some information. I don't know what the situation was back then, but currently the crews of Japan registered ships have to be Japanese citizens. Japan has a very active and extensive domestic maritime and the citizenship requirement is hurting their ability to keep their vessels manned, as there are fewer and fewer young people wanting to go into the work (and I suspect a general lack of knowledge through most of the country that the career field even exists).

That's interesting, I didn't know they required crews to be Japanese these days. So many other countries are outsourcing ratings from places like India or Southeast Asia today because of things like cost and availability of workers, it never occurred to me that Japan might do things differently in that regard.
If you do find any info on the subject from the Meiji (or even Taishō period if records are more available) please do share. :)
I'm not fluent in Japanese so it limits somewhat the sources I can look up myself.

The ports a vessel uses as bases need not be their port of registry.
True, but just logisitcally and practically it's usually easier for things like paperwork, repairs, customs, long-term stays, etc. if you are a local vessel rather than a foreign one. Especially since you mention the emphasis Japan has placed on it's domestic maritime affairs, I imagine you'd have an easier time of it if you were well known to the harbour master and under Japanese registry rather than on a foreign-flagged vessel.
 
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Mike Cash

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That's interesting, I didn't know they required crews to be Japanese these days. So many other countries are outsourcing ratings from places like India or Southeast Asia today because of things like cost and availability of workers, it never occurred to me that Japan might do things differently in that regard.

Japanese ships engaged in international trade are very rarely Japanese flagged and they make extensive use of crews from the usual countries that everyone else uses because of the cheap labor. (NYK even operates their own maritime academy in the Philippines to train officers).

For domestic trade, we have the equivalent of the Jones Act, requiring all the vessels working from Japanese port to Japanese port to be Japanese registered and the crews to be Japanese citizens.
 

Hama

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Japanese ships engaged in international trade are very rarely Japanese flagged and they make extensive use of crews from the usual countries that everyone else uses because of the cheap labor. (NYK even operates their own maritime academy in the Philippines to train officers).

Ah I see. There's our modern flags of convenience cropping up... ;)

For domestic trade, we have the equivalent of the Jones Act, requiring all the vessels working from Japanese port to Japanese port to be Japanese registered and the crews to be Japanese citizens.

Interesting knew about the Jones Act but didn't know they had same in Japan. These days that kind of stuff isn't as prominent where I am what with Schengen and all.
Jones Act was in the '20s though yeah? So prior to that would it have been acceptable to use non-US crew for domestic trade (assuming you could get past the unions)? Would be interesting to know how old the similar Japanese law is...
 
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Mike Cash

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I found the answer to your flagging question. The answer is a resounding "Not just no, but HELL NO!" foreign ship owners would not have been able to register their ships under a Japanese flag. The relevant law is from early 1899 and establishes that for a ship to be registered in Japan it must fit the following:

1. Be owned by a Japanese governmental body (national, regional, local)

2. Be owned by a Japanese citizen.

3. Be owned by a company established under Japanese law and of which at least 2/3 of the managing directors are Japanese citizens. (This requirement was eased somewhat in 1999).

4. If owned by some entity other than the above then ALL of the managing representatives must be Japanese citizens.

Prior to this, as far as I can tell, there was no law providing for ship registry so there has never been any time in Japanese history when a ship owner would have been able to register a ship which did not fulfill the above conditions.

https://ja.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/船舶法
 

Hama

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Great information, thanks for digging that up! Glad I came to the right place with this question.

Does that article say anything about nationality requirements for crew on Japanese vessels? Off the top of my head the closest example I know of where foreign crews worked for Japan was much later, during WW2 (e.g. the Finns on the ship Tornator) though that was a non-Japanese ship that was requisitioned, so not the same thing...
 

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I found the answer to your flagging question. The answer is a resounding "Not just no, but HELL NO!" foreign ship owners would not have been able to register their ships under a Japanese flag. The relevant law is from early 1899 and establishes that for a ship to be registered in Japan it must fit the following:

1. Be owned by a Japanese governmental body (national, regional, local)

2. Be owned by a Japanese citizen.

3. Be owned by a company established under Japanese law and of which at least 2/3 of the managing directors are Japanese citizens. (This requirement was eased somewhat in 1999).

4. If owned by some entity other than the above then ALL of the managing representatives must be Japanese citizens.

Prior to this, as far as I can tell, there was no law providing for ship registry so there has never been any time in Japanese history when a ship owner would have been able to register a ship which did not fulfill the above conditions.

https://ja.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/船舶法
Honestly , I couldn't have imagined otherwise considering the isolationist policy recent to then, the focus on establishing laws during the Meiji restoration, and the Japanese propensity towards self-protection.
 

Hama

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Honestly , I couldn't have imagined otherwise considering the isolationist policy recent to then, the focus on establishing laws during the Meiji restoration, and the Japanese propensity towards self-protection.

Yep I'd wondered about that, but I also knew Japan was still bound by some of the unequal treaties up to 1899 which gave foreigners from some nations certain special rights (for example the building of warehouses and property leases) so I was curious whether that might have had any effect on restrictions for things like vessel ownership/operation.
 

Mike Cash

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Great information, thanks for digging that up! Glad I came to the right place with this question.

Does that article say anything about nationality requirements for crew on Japanese vessels? Off the top of my head the closest example I know of where foreign crews worked for Japan was much later, during WW2 (e.g. the Finns on the ship Tornator) though that was a non-Japanese ship that was requisitioned, so not the same thing...

Cabotage was established in that same 1899 law.

Japan has some rather complex and extensive laws regarding maritime issues and has essentially a three-tier system for dividing up shipping activities: coastal; nearby waters; and global. Officer licensing is done on six levels with, again, a complicated set-up regarding what posts one may hold aboard a ship depending on vessel size and area of operations. The top three correspond to the regular officer licensing one encounters worldwide. The lower three are for local and coastal vessels. I looked into this topic rather extensively a couple of years ago and am going by memory, so don't hold me to the exact details. There is, as far as I know, no information on it available in English and it was all more than I care to look up again or translate or summarize just to satisfy someone's idle curiosity.

Foreign crew may serve on Japanese flagged vessels engaging in global or local trade, but not on vessels engaged in coastal trade.

If you are able to read Japanese there are plenty of resources online regarding the current state of ship ownership/registration/crewing/etc and trends over the past years or decades.
 

Hama

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Alright, cheers for that information. Sorry if my idle curiosity has been causing you trouble, I'm still a beginner in Japanese so I'm limited on what I can read about this topic. History's my area of study at the moment (not this specific topic though, so no worries no auxiliary research going on here) and as I'm from a bit of a maritime family myself it's a topic I've always been curious about.
Appreciate your help anyway. Learned some interesting things here. :)
 

Mike Cash

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No trouble at all. I looked up what I didn't know as much for the challenge of it as anything else. If you're ever in any sort of academic or professional need of the information I don't mind hunting it up rather than asking you to be content with my recollection of the facts.
 

Hama

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Would you know (just from your own recollection of the facts ;) ) if Japan requires recreational craft to be on the books? In the UK and Ireland it's not compulsory to register pleasure yachts and the like if they're operating within local territorial waters. I was curious if Japan has something similar?

edit: Interestingly though it seems the current exemption for pleasure craft in local waters hasn't always applied in the UK and Ireland. The UK's Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 apparently didn't list pleasure yachts on it's list of exemptions from compulsory registration (with a few small exceptions like if they were under 15 NRT). So it seems the current exemption is a newer thing...
 
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Mike Cash

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There is a separate law that covers craft up to 19 tons, including not only the registration requirements but also licensing of the operators (two classes, essentially one is restricted to remaining within about 5km of shore and the other is clear beyond that). I'm not sure if there is a minimum below which craft need not be registered or (more likely) fall to local governments to register.
 
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