On October of 2021, Ofunato City had started the on-shore displaying of the Sengoku Ship “Kesenmaru” which overcame the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. For today’s article I would like to introduce you all the ship which has become the new symbol of recovery for Ofunato.

What is a Sengoku Ship?

A Sengoku Ship (written using the Kanji characters which symbolize ‘thousand koku ship’), is a large-scale wooden sailing ship which had largely contributed to the development of Japan during the Edo-Period (1603-1868). The ‘Sengoku’ points to the fact that this ship can carry a thousand ‘koku’ or bags of rice. (Note, one koku is approx. 150kg and is the amount one adult will consume in a year.)”

Reproduction of the Sengoku Ship “Kesenmaru”

From long ago, the Southern Coastline of Iwate, generally known as the Kesen Area (the area includes Ofunato City, Rikuzentakata City, and Sumita Town) had been known to be flourishing in the fishing industry thanks to the Sanriku Fishing Spot where the cold and warm current collide. As such, the Kesen area’s ship building skills were very strong and the high-quality lumber (Kesen Cedar, Goyo Hinoki (famous Cypress Lumber of the area), Japanese Red Pine, Japanese Keyaki (Zolkova), etc.) available in the area made for a very competitive environment, leading to an even further enhancement of their ship building techniques and skills.

Unfortunately, as time passed the need for wooden ship building largely diminished. But the Kesen Ship Building Association, which is said to be the only ship building group in Japan, had challenged themselves to reproduce the Sengoku Ship using the knowledge and skills passed down from their ancestors. The formal name of the reproduction team which managed the construction was called ‘Kesenbune Shokai’ and after numerous days of hard work, on December of 1991, Kesenmaru was completed.

Half a year after its completion, Kesenmaru is showcased in the “Sanriku Sea Exhibition Event” in Kamaishi City, during which, is nominated as for the Japan Expo Awards. The Kesenmaru had been recognized for its beautiful curvature of the stern, in addition to the traditional techniques incorporated into assembling the parts and the artistic carvings found throughout the ship.

It should be noted that Kesenmaru was used in many other situations such as the Summer Festivals of the city as well as NHK’s Taiga Drama Series ‘Na no Hana no Oki’ and ‘Ryomaden’. (*Taiga Drama is Japan’s famous TV series featuring historical events and people aired on NHK, which is one of the major broadcast stations in Japan.)

Kesenmaru Mooring at the Fishing Harbor

Wooden Carving of the Phoenix at the Stern

Wooden Carving the Dragon at the bow

Details of the Kesenmaru

・Loadable Koku Amount: 350 Koku   –  Length: 18.70m    –  Width: 5.75m

・Depth: 1.70m                                          –  Height: 5.00m      –  Mast: 17.00m

・Sail Size: 85 Tatami (1 Tatami = 1.65m2 )                          – Total Construction Cost: 70.0mil yen

The Miracle Ship

On March 11th, 2011 (Fri) at 02:46pm, an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 and epicenter at the Sanriku Sea shook the Japan.

The Kensenmaru at the time had been mooring at the Tako-no-Ura Fishing Harbor in Akasaki Town of Ofunato City where Tsunami waves reaching over 7.0m were crashing down. Akasaki Town, many towns on the coast lines as well as Kensenmaru itself were hit with numerous of waves during this day. Although many were hit with devastating damages, even as a wooden ship, Kesenmaru had withstood the Tsunami waves and somehow escaped crucial damages, hereafter being called the ‘Miracle Ship’


The picture below shows Kesenmaru being left within harbor during the drawback of the Tsunami on 3/11/2011. (Indicated with the Red Circle)

Drawback of a Tsunami Exposing the Ocean Floor of Tako-no-Ura Fishing Harbor (Picture Provided by: Mr. Toshihiro Mori)

2 Days After the Earthquake, Kesenmaru Surrounded by Wreckage and Debris (Picture Provided by: Mr. Toshihiro Mori)

Damage Summary of Akasaki Town

–  Death: 52 people                                –  Missing: 6 people

–  Full Destruction: 540 homes           –  Large Scale Partial Destruction: 86 homes

–  Partial Destruction: 108 homes      –  Partial Damage: 183 homes


The Beginning of the On-Shore Display

Although this ship had been loved by many from the day it was built, the damages and rotting of different parts had become eminent after the 30 years in addition to withstanding the Tsunami. As such, the decision to begin Kesenmaru’s reinforcement and repairment construction was set forth as of August 2020.

One year after the repair, in September 2021, the newly reinforced Kesenmaru had once again been put up for display, only this time situated in the ‘Business and Trading Facility Area’ (AKA. Kyassen Ofunato) as one of the new ‘Face’ of the area. It is believed that Kesenmaru will shoulder and pass down the knowledge and traditions of the Kesen shipbuilders going forward.

Kesenmaru Being Transported by Sea

Kesenmaru Being Hung by Crane

The On-Shore Display of Kesenmaru

The View of Kesenmaru from the Observation Deck of the ‘Disaster Prevention, Tourism and Exchange Center’ (AKA. Ofunaport)

Please be sure to stop by the Sengoku Ship ‘Kesenmaru’ when you come visit Ofunato. We will be looking forward to seeing you!



※ 米1石の重さはおよそ150㎏で、成人1人が1年間に消費する量。

[写真1] 漁港で係留されていた気仙丸
[写真2] 船尾右舷に施された鳳凰の彫刻
[写真3] 船主付近に施された龍の彫刻

○積石数 350石積み  ○船の長さ 18.70m  ○船の幅 5.75m
○船の深さ 1.70m  ○船の高さ 5.00m  ○帆柱 17.00m
○帆の広さ 畳85枚分(畳1枚 1.65㎡)  ○総工費 7000万円


[写真4]海底が見えるほど水が引いた蛸ノ浦漁港(提供:森 利弘 様)
[写真5]震災発生から2日後、瓦礫に囲まれる気仙丸(提供:森 利弘 様)

 ○死者 52人   〇行方不明者 6人 
〇全壊 540世帯  〇大規模半壊 86世帯
〇半壊 108世帯  〇一部損壊 183世帯