This bedroom in a luxury suite is located aboard the ocean liner Hikawa Maru, which was Japan’s entry into the sweepstakes of the “floating palace” ocean liners between the two World Wars. Hikawa Maru was built in Yokohama, launched in September 1929, and made her first voyage for Japan’s NYK line across the northern Pacific in the spring of 1930. That’s presumably the time period to which this stateroom has been restored. The Hikawa Maru, one of only two large Japanese passenger ships to survive World War II, is currently a museum permanently moored at Yamashita Park in Yokohama.
We can learn a lot from this photo about the Pacific passenger liner trade of the 1930s, which was not quite as ostentatious or competitive as the North Atlantic trade with which most liner buffs are more familiar. Still, you’d be doing pretty well if you had to cross the Pacific in this crib. The woodwork is very intricate–note the matching end tables, the paneling and the hardwood work on the chair at the left of the photo. The watered silk on the walls is reminiscent of the Baroque and Rococo styles employed on North Atlantic liners of an earlier era; the Titanic leaps immediately to mind. Yet there’s also a very subtle Art Deco style to this room that you wouldn’t have seen in the 1910s. The portholes (or marine windows, can’t tell what they are) have been covered with decorative faux window-panes. Note also the call buttons above the bedside table. You can tell instantly this is a ship, because the electrical outlet is halfway up the wall. This is done in case there’s flooding in the room, such as through a broken window or something.
The Hikawa Maru was a beautiful ship with a fascinating career. After a luxury career in the 1930s, in the run-up to the Pacific War she brought many refugees, including Jews who had fled Hitler’s Europe, to the United States across the Pacific. She was one of the last Japanese ships to dock at an American port prior to the outbreak of the war between the U.S. and Japan in December 1941. Used as a hospital ship by the Japanese during the war, she was extraordinarily lucky to survive–most of Japan’s ships were sunk or otherwise destroyed, but Hikawa Maru came through the conflict. A checkered postwar career saw her working both for Japanese and American interests, sometimes as a passenger ship and sometimes hauling cargo. She was decommissioned in 1960 and has been a museum piece ever since.
This lovely bedroom embodies the essence of luxury ocean travel in the 1930s, and it lets us see what passenger accommodations were like in the Pacific instead of the usual North Atlantic route. If I ever visit Japan I’d love to tour the Hikawa Maru.