Why do Japanese ships have “maru” affixed to their names? (5)

Modern Japanese Ship Names and “Maru”

日本語は英語の下にございます。/ Japanese translation is below the English text.

This is the last of the five posts on: Why do Japanese ships have “maru” affixed to their names?:
=> (1) Japanese Ship Names Often End With “Maru”
=> (2) “Maru” is a Symbol of Perfection
=> (3) “Maru” in the Names of Other Things
=> (4) How to Fend Off Your Baby From Demons

(5) Modern Japanese Ship Names and “Maru”



1) “Maru” is no longer required in ship names
2) The official opinion
3) Modern ship names
4) “Maru” and the type of ships
5) Will “maru” stay with Japanese ship names?

1) “Maru” is no longer required in ship names

Today, the “maru” in ships’ names is so common that we just take it as a long-standing custom, without giving it much thought about its origin.

In 1900, the Japanese Government gave the custom a legal basis by making an instruction requiring that a Japanese ship be named with “maru”.

By doing this, it aimed to distinguish Japanese ships as more foreign ships sailed into Japanese territory as well as more Japanese ships sailed on the open sea.

One hundred years later, the law was no longer in effect. Since 2001, shipowners have been able to name their ships as they want. 

2) The official opinion

Before we put together this post, we searched for the official opinion on the etymology of the “maru”, by reading various websites of such organizations as The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, The Japanese Shipowners’ Association, Museum of Maritime Science, and a travel agent promoting expensive world cruise tours, among others.

They listed some of the theories we mentioned in our other posts (Please see: => Maru is a Symbol of Perfection and => “Maru” in the Names of Other Things) and concluded that there is no generally accepted theory. 

Interestingly, none mentions the theory of “maru” as a talisman to protect a precious property against demons (See: => How to Fend Off Demons From Your Baby). We think this opinion is most likely to be true, but it is introduced only by a few sites which are not related to the maritime transport business.

Japanese Shipowners’ Association commented in the past as follows: 

“However, recently, there are more merchant ships which have a foreign or Japanese word for their name without “maru”. In fact, we don’t feel any inconvenience in not having “maru” in our ships’ names. It may be a natural course of history that “maru” will disappear as time passes.” (Japanese Shipowners’ Association, 2018*)

There was some dryness in their tone. Do they not miss “maru”, a long tradition of Japan?

It makes us wonder if they actually believe in the “evil warding-off” theory and they are embarrassed to admit that it is just a superstition, let alone that “maru” originally meant dung.    

*Note: Currently, in this web page, they only mention some other theories and say “maru” in ship names are no longer required.

3) Modern ship names

After 2001, ”maru” is no longer a requirement; shipowners can name their ships what they want. Then, do fewer ships have names with “maru” today? 

We found a list of registered Japanese ships with radio in 2005, and counted the number of ships with “maru” and without “maru” in different categories, trying to see how many ships still bear “maru”. Below is the summary of the list:

Number and Percentage of “Maru Ships” to Total Boat Number, 2014

CategoryBoat Number in the CategoryPercentage to Total Boat NumberNumber of “Maru” Ships” in the CategoryPercentage to Boat Number in the Category
Misc vessels2,75617%1,73563%
Cargo Boats1,78011%1,18567%
Oil tankers1,0026%81782%
Passenger boats5773%20536%
Small boats/pleasure boats2952%11238%
Passenger & cargo boats2471%4117%
Fishing cargo boats20%2100%

(Based on the List of Ship Radio Stations, 2004, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications))

According to this, the majority of fishing boats, tankers, cargo and miscellaneous ships still have names with “maru”. 

On the other hand, much smaller percentages of the Maru Ships are found in the categories of passenger ships, small boats and pleasure boats, and passenger/cargo boats.

4) “Maru” and the type of ships

We wonder if “maru” will stay with Japanese ship names. There is no telling just from this table, but the following is our impression and guesses about the future.

Fishery is an ancient profession. It seems that most fishing people and companies choose to honor the tradition and keep “maru”, whether they regard it as a talisman or not against the evil spirits. We may continue to see many fishing boats named with “maru”.

On the other hand, miscellaneous boats and cargo ships may have much smaller number of the Maru Ships in the future. This list was made only four years after the instruction was voided, and already a third of the ships bore a name without “maru”.

We can see a similar move with oil tankers; almost 20% of them  already bore a name without “maru”. They may keep using the current name for an existing tanker but when they build a new one, they may name it without “maru”. Oil tankers’ duration of service is generally longer than fishing boats, so the change may take more time.

Compared with fishing boats, cargo ships, boats for miscellaneous uses and tankers are used for more “modern” businesses, and they may not really feel much need to keep the suffix which may make the name a little old-fashioned.

Probably for the same reason, and hoping to promote a more modern image to prospective customers or to look different from a traditional image, many owners of passenger boats, cargo/passenger boats and small boats and pleasure boats have already given their boats names without “maru”. To name a ship with “maru” is now a matter of taste, and the tendency for non-“maru” ships is likely to continue with these categories.

5) Will “maru” stay with Japanese ship names?

We also found another list, the more recent 2014 Japanese ships with radio. We wanted to compare it with the 2005 list above, but the image on the Internet was too blurry for counting and the list didn’t allow us to download except for page by page.

However, we did notice something in the 2014 list. The number of ships with radio was only 13,500 in 2014 while it was 16,615 in 2004, an almost 20% decrease in ten years. 

Our guess is that, of the three thousand decreases, many were owned by retiring fishermen. Many fishing boats are very small and owned by an individual or a small family business. In an aging fishing society, the owners retire at a fast pace without successors.

So, in the long run, the rate of fishing boats to the total number of Japanese boats will probably be smaller, and so will the rate of Maru Ships in aggregate. 

We will continue to see the changes with the “maru”.

                                                         [End of the English post]



=> (1) 「マル・シップ」~日本の船名に「まる」が多くついていること
=> (2) 「まる」は完全の象徴
=> (3) 他のものの名につく「まる」について
=> (4) 赤ちゃんが魔物にさらわれないようにする方法


1) 自由裁量になった「まる」付け
2) 「まる」についての公式見解
3) 現代の船名

1) 自由裁量になった「まる」付け





2) 「まる」についての公式見解

この投稿の前に、私たちは船名の「まる」の起源について、国土交通省、日本船主協会、船の科学博物館、豪華なクルーズ・ツアーを販売している旅行代理店など、いろいろなサイトを読みました。そこでは、前述した諸説(こちらをご覧ください: =>「まる」は完全の象徴、=> 他のものにつく「まる」について)を紹介していましたが、どれも主流とはなっていないようです。

しかし、これらには魔除け説(こちらをご覧ください: =>赤ちゃんが魔物にさらわれないようにする方法)は載っていませんでした。







3) 現代の船名























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