The Toya Maru ferry disaster Japan

January 15, 2007

In 1954 the Toya Maru ferry sank during a typhoon in the Tsugaru Strait between the Japanese islands of Hokkaidō and Honshū killing at last 1139 people. In Yakuza Confessions the boss narowly missed boarding the ferry and this piqued my interest. Here is an extract from Wikipedia summarising the events:

“Typhoon No.15, Mary, which had blown through Honshū, was in the Sea of Japan at 1200 hours on September 26, 1954, proceeding Northeast at a speed of more than 100 kilometers an hour. It was believed that it was going to reach the Tsugaru Strait at around 1700 hours.

At 1100 hours, the Toya Maru arrived at Hakodate after its first journey that day from Aomori. She was originally scheduled to return to Aomori at 14:40 hours and to arrive at Aomori just before the Typhoon Mary was predicted to proceed toward the straight. However, the ferry was delayed loading and the captain of the Toya Maru decided to cancel the journey at 15:10 hours.

At 17:00 hours, following a lot of rainfall in Hakodate, the weather cleared up and the outlook improved. The captain presumed that the Typhoon had passed as predicted and the Toya Maru decided to proceed with its journey for Aomori. However, by this time the Typhoon had slowed and was to stay over the straight for an entire day.

At 18:39 she departed from Hakodate with approximately 1,300 souls aboard. Shortly thereafter the wind picked up. At 19:01, the Toya Maru lowered its anchor at the side of Hakodate Port to wait for the weather to clear up again. However, due to the high winds, the anchor did not hold and let her go. The Toya Maru came to be at the mercy of the waves. What was worse, water entered to the engine room due to the vehicle decks being not properly designed to be water resistant, causing its steam engine to stop and the Toya Maru to become uncontrollable. The captain decided to make the sea liner beach itself onto Nanae Beach, which is in the outskirts of Hakodate City.

At 22:26 hours, the Toya Maru beached itself. The waves were so strong that the sea liner could no longer stay upright. An SOS call was made right after it struck the beach.

At around 22:43 hours, the Toya Maru capsized and sank at sea several hundred meters off the shore of Hakodate. 159 out of 1,309 survived, while 1,159 (1,041 passengers, 73 crew and 41 others) died.

Four other ferries sank in the same typhoon and 1430 passengers were killed.”


16 Responses to “The Toya Maru ferry disaster Japan”

  1. Ernest W. Chapin Says:

    as member of the 15th Replacement co Ist Cavalry Div. we were being transported to Camp Whiington Japan. North of Toyko. We were in the same storm 15 to 20 miles out. I do not recal the LST’s name we were on but it was a scary time. Our captain pulled into a inlet after about 36 hrs into the storm. There we waited the storm out. a co. of troops from the division were on the Toya Maru and several were lost. I don’t recal how many. The memories have faded somewhat over the last 56 years. Anyone who was involved in this might email me as I have lost track of all my comrades from that trip. a A good many are probaly gone as I was one of the youngest of the company. I think 20 at the time. Thank all who served in the forgotten war. Your comrade in arms, Ernest Chapin

    • Peter O'Brien Says:

      I too was on an LST and we pulled into a beautiful little inlet – like a calendar. Stayed a couple of days there, then on to Sendai for offloading our 105’s etc.
      I just wrote a piece about the accident. And I have a list of those lost. Send me your email address and I’ll attach it for you.
      Best Regards,
      Peter O’Brien
      Foxboro, Mass
      61st FA Bn, HQ Bttry, 1954-55

      • sterling champagne jr. Says:

        i have a great uncle who was aboard according to pictures i came across after my grandmothers death a few years of the wreckage and of my uncle charlie champagne.any info would be greatly appreciated

  2. Bruce Hibbert Says:

    Dear Mr. Ernest Chapin,

    My Uncle Sid, Sidney LaRue Cline, Jr., (originally from Binghamton, NY) was on board the Toya Maru when it capsized on that fateful day. He was one of the 1159 who did not survive that tragedy. He was in the infantry, so my mom (his sister) says. Thank you for your service to our country during the Korean War. Where do you live now?
    Bruce Hibbert in Boulder, Colorado

  3. My name is Kent Gilchrist and I live in Washington State. I was the only American living in Hakodate when the Toya Maru disaster took place.I worked with the local police and fire dept. in recovering the American bodies. There was only one 1st Cav. survivor. If you have any questions about this disaster please feel free to contact me,

    • Robert Lee Aubrey Says:

      My name is Robert L. Aubrey and I was a soldier in the
      Headquarters Co. of the 99th Field Artillery Bn. First Cavalry Division Artillery, stationed at Camp Crawford
      Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan. I had been assigned with
      the Batallion since May 1954 as a Fire Direction Center
      specialist. In early September we were told that the
      Division Artilley of the First Cavalry would be moving
      from our base at Camp Crawford to Camp Youngans
      at Jinmachi city in Yamagata Prefecture North of Sendai
      in Honshu. We were told that an advance party of about 50 men in our company and the rest of the Batallion would be sent down by train to Hokodate port
      city of Hokkaido. The advance party would then be loaded on to a ferry boat and taken to the port of Aomori, Honshu. The train was to be rolled right on to the ferry with the men remaining in the train for the voyage. Many of us wanted to be in the advance party
      but only a few were chosen. I was not chosen but my
      best buddy Sgt. Bob Miller was. The party left on the
      train 25 Sept 1954 for Hokodate. On the night of 26
      September the rest of my platoon was sleeping in our
      barracks when we were woken by high winds and loud
      noises and the door was flying open periodicly.
      We knew then that a huge storm had hit Hokkaido.
      The next day we could see damage to our barracks
      when we went out for morning muster. Suddenly we
      were informed that the storm had hit the ferry our
      avance party was on and all except one of the 50 men
      has been killed. We did noit know at that time who had survived. But later we were reading in the Stars and Stripes newspaper and heard the survivor was from our
      barracks. I knew him as Bill(do not remember last name). He was from Dubuque, Iowa near my own home
      town of Davenport, Iowa. I was very sad to learn my
      dear best friend Sgt Miller was not among the survivors.
      In the day after the storm we were ordered to go down to
      Hokodate port in trucks to recover the dead bodies of
      our comrads. I was sent down and was asked to identify
      bodies as were other soldiers in our company. I was
      able to identify Sgt. Bob Miller because he had a huge
      tatoo on his back that ran all the way to his waist. I had
      seen it many times when in the showers and in the barracks as his bunk was next to mine. I have forgotten
      now if it was a dragon or a tiger but it was very brightly colored.

      I had been very upset that I was not on the advance party but now I can see I was very fortunate not to have
      been on the Toya maru when it capsised and turned
      upside down. In a later month the rest of our battalion
      including my HQ company was transported by train down to Hokodata and put on another ferryboat to
      cross over to Aomori where we continued our train ride
      down to Camp Youngans. When we were on our ferry
      in Hokodata we could see that the Toya Maru ferry was still upside down in the same place it had sunk. All we could see was the red painted hull above the water line.

      • Gordon Ward Says:

        Hi Robert…I was at Camp Crawford during the summer and fall of 1952, with Armed forces Radio. Our station was next to the post theater and across from the “Pentagon”. I rode the train ferry several times, but we never stayed in the train cars during the water transit. We always transferred to seats in the cabin of the ferry. Gordon Ward

      • Kathie Forman Says:

        Hello. Do you remember Cpl Francis Edward Forman?

      • Gordon Ward Says:

        No, I’m sorry I did not know Francis. I was with Armed Forces Radio and we were housed in a barracks near the “Pentagon” headquarters. The barracks held what we called “misfits”. It was the staff of the radio station, along with the guys who ran the theater, and, I believe the PX. None of us was in a combat unit. Gordon Ward, Sylvania, Oh.

  4. Gordon Ward Says:

    Do you have any information on Dean Leeper, an American who was head of the YMCA in Japan. He was aboard the ferry and reportedly gave his life jacket to a Japanese lady holding a baby. Thanks for any info.
    Gordon Ward, Sylvania, Oh

  5. Bill Bukovsan Says:

    Most of the 99th FA Bn were on the Toya Maru when it went down. I read a partial list of those that were lost in The Chicago Tribune. I was in the 99th Fn but luckily I left Japan on June 3, 1952. Bill Bukovsan

    • Robert Lee Aubrey Says:

      You are wrong Bill. Only an advance party of 35 to 50
      men were chosen to go down to Camp Younghans
      I was in the HQ Battery(Co) of the 99th FA BN and had
      been chosen to go but, few days before the 26 Sept 54,
      I was told by my good friend Sgt Bob Miller(who died on
      the Ferry) that I had been bumped by another soldier
      in our Company because his Japanese wife was pregnant and she was to travel down with him. He was
      a Corporal who I had gone thru training with in FDC at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas in early 1954. I can not
      remember his name but his duty was as the armorer
      in our company. There was only one soldier who was
      saved and he was also living in my barracks. His name
      was Bill I can not remember last name but he was from
      Dubuque, Iowa a city only 80 miles from my hometown
      of Davenport, Iowa. Bill told me later that he did not
      know how he escaped from the ferry but he did and
      he was the only survivor of the advance party.

  6. Gordon Ward Says:

    In earlier entries I inquired about about Dean Leeper, an Americaan YMCA executive who headed the Y in Japan and was aboard the Toya Maru;. He gave his own life jacket to a Japanese woman and her baby and perished with the ship. I just came across a lengthy story that supports that story and more. I don’t know how to attach it to this message, so I will send it separately. Gordon Ward, Sylvania, Ohio December 18, 2017

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