Monday, September 12, 2011

SS Tenyo Maru

The SS Tenyo Maru was a Japanese passenger liner built in 1908. At that time it was the heaviest ship launched in Japan or in the Pacific Ocean. As far as I can tell, this is the first of three ships named the Tenyo Maru. There was another passenger liner that was eventually requisitioned for World War II, and there was (is) also a fishing vessel of the same name that was involved in a nasty oil spill.

The Ships list. com has this to say about the Tenyo Maru:
13,454 gross tons, length 558ft x beam 61.9ft, two funnels, two masts, triple screw, speed 20 knots, accommodation for 275-1st, 54-2nd and 800-3rd class passengers. Built 1908 by Mitsubishi Dockyard & Eng. Works, Nagasaki for Toyo Kisen K.K., Tokyo and used on Hong Kong - Yokohama - San Francisco passenger services. In 1926 the company became Nippon Yusen K.K., Tokyo. 1930 laid up, 1933 scrapped in Japan.
This postcard shows the reading room with its amazing furnishings. The ship is initially reported to have had a room where Chinese passengers could go to smoke opium. There must have been a limit to the amount though. Other reports I have seen (including one in the Overland Monthly, Volume 58, 1911) refer to opium being seized in searches of ocean liners coming from the Orient. In one seizure in 1911, eighty tins of opium were taken from the Tenyo Maru.


My favorite story is from Time Magazine, 1929, which details the plight of Mrs. Sui'e Ying Kao, wife of the Chinese Vice Consul at San Francisco, who imported a large quantity of opium on the Tenyo Maru, thinking that she had diplomatic immunity. Alas, the customs agents disagreed. They confiscated $600,000 worth of opium (1929 prices!) from Mrs. Kao. In any case, the reading room shown above seems like the perfect place for smoking opium.

Here's the back of the card.


  1. It is amazing how quickly they were willing to scrap a ship like that. I suppose they melted it down to make aircraft.

  2. Dark room...The worst place for drug users/dealers is Singapore, from what I've read. Death penalty for a relatively small quantity.

  3. I read recently that an order of McDonald's french fries releases the same 'dope' effect as smoking marijuana. Wonder what the opium equivalent would be:)ha! I just can't feel sorry for the Chinese Vice Consul whose opium was seized....

  4. The frame around the photo adds to the allure...very art nouveau-ish

  5. Oh how I would love to walk around on the ship. Love to see what the staterooms looked like.

  6. Quite an unusual card, with the interior view framed by the exterior landscape. Although it is art nouveau/Asian stylistically, to me the composition feels almost medieval- a Virgin Mary and a couple angels would feel right at home in the space.

  7. Thanks for this! I just found your blog when I was searching for info about the Tenyo Maru. Apparently my grandmother emigrated from Okinawa to Hawaii on the Tenyo Maru.

  8. My grandmother emigrated to the USA in 1924 on this ship.



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