Hellenic Electronic Center

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Stavros Stavridis Special to The National Herald

E-mail Print PDF


>>   HEC Home Page >>  HEC Projects >>  The Japanese Hero >>  >>Stavros Stavridis Special to The National Herald


By Stavros Stavridis
Special to The National Herald


– When I visited the West Coast of the United States in 2003 and 2004,
some of the my Greek American friends told me a story that their
parents and grandparents had told them about a Japanese ship involved
in the transportation of Greek and Armenian refugees to Piraeus from
Smyrna in September 1922. My initial reaction to this information was
one of skepticism, but I also kept an open mind.

On my return to Australia, I checked my files and couldn’t find any evidence of a
Japanese ship being in the harbor of Smyrna at the time of Greek exodus
from Asia Minor. Considering my initial disappointment, I let the
matter rest until a few weeks ago, when I accidentally stumbled across
some newspaper articles and a U.S. Department of State document
mentioning an unnamed Japanese ship in Smyrna. The news articles and
documents are reproduced below:

ATHENS (Sept. 18, 1922, pg. 2) –

Refugees constantly arriving from Asia relate new
details of the Smyrna tragedy. On Thursday last, there were six
steamers at Smyrna to transport the refugees, one American, one
Japanese, two French and two Italian. The American and Japanese
steamers accepted all comers without examining their papers, while the
others took only foreign subjects with passports.

(Oct. 15, 1922, pg. A9)

Smyrna Horror Described by Atlantan John S. Owens
Jr., Writes of Horror to Parents Here (an excerpt from a long article)…
There was a Japanese warship in the harbor, Contrary to the action of
every other man-of-war in Smyrna, this warship took board every refugee
it could possibly find room for. There was also a cargo boat from
Nippon there. When it saw this, it dumped a large part of its cargo
overboard, and took off all the refugees and carried them to Piraeus.
American, British, French and Italian, and everybody else told the
refugees that they could only take their own nationals on board, and it
remained for the lowly Japs to prove their mettle…

(October 21, 1922, pg. 6)

Consul Tells of Suffering in Near East, U.S. Official
Praises Work of American Colony at Smyrna (excerpt from article)… A
Japanese merchantman brought succor to the refugees en route to Greece,
and gave them the kindest treatment…

(December 3, 1922, pg. E4)

Japanese at Smyrna, Mrs. Anna Harlowe Birge, Wife of
Professor Birge of the International College at Smyrna, Tells of an
Incident when Smyrna Was Being Burned. The desperate refugees were
crowding each other off the wharves, and the harbor was full of men and
women swimming around in the hope of rescue until they drowned. In the
harbor at that time was a Japanese freighter which had just arrived,
loaded to the decks with a very valuable cargo of silks, laces and
china, representing many thousands of dollars. The Japanese captain,
when he realized the situation did not hesitate. The whole cargo went
overboard into the dirty waters of the harbor, and freighter was loaded
with several hundred refugees, who were taken to the Piraeus and landed
in safety on Greek shores.


George Horton, American Consul General, Athens, Greece to the Secretary
of State, Washington, Sept. 18, 1922 (an excerpt)… “A Japanese boat
brought off some refugees, and I have heard threw overboard some of
their cargo for the purpose. Passengers on the ship speak in the
highest terms of the kindness of the Japanese officers and men.”
are four conclusions which can be drawn from the evidence presented
above. First, the news articles and Horton’s dispatch mention an
unnamed Japanese ship and an unnamed captain and his crew who deserve
to be honored and remembered for their fine humanitarian assistance
rendered to the Asia Minor refugees. Second, these news stories were
published in respected U.S. and Japanese newspapers. Third, the
Japanese are portrayed in a positive light. And finally, all accounts
refer to one Japanese ship except John S. Owens Jr.,  who mentions two
Japanese ships in Smyrna harbor.
I conducted a further search of the
U.S. Department of State records on Turkey to locate additional
materials on the unnamed Japanese ship. The war diary entries compiled
by Admiral Mark L. Bristol, the U.S. High Commissioner in
Constantinople (1919-27), for the period September-December 1922 did
not shed any light on this very interesting story. Why such a piece of
information wasn’t recorded in the war diaries is difficult to say. I
can only guess that, with all the confusion and chaos taking place
along the Smyrna quay, it would have been very easy to overlook this
Japanese ship, as thousands of Greeks and Armenians were trying to flee
from the Kemalists. The war diaries list the names of American,
British, French and Italian and Greek ships involved in the evacuation
of foreign nationals and refugees from Smyrna.
On September 20, 1922
Bristol recorded a conversation he had with Mr. Uchida, the Japanese
High Commissioner in Constantinople, in his war diary regarding the
Near East crisis. Uchida had come to find out information on what
happened in Smyrna. According to Bristol, Uchida was sympathetic to the
Turks. Admiral Bristol was also a known Turkophile.
I also checked
the Japan Times & Mail, a Japanese newspaper published in English
in Yokohama, for clues regarding shipping movements destined and
leaving the port of Yokohama covering September-October 1922. I
couldn’t find information of any Japanese ship being in Smyrna harbor
in mid-September 1922. But there are four Japanese ships – the Suwa
Maru, Altai Maru, Fushimi Maru and Mishima Maru – which worked the
European service from London, Hamburg via Marseilles, Port Said Suez,
Colombo, Singapore and Hong Kong to Yokohama route. There may be a
possibility that one of these ships, enroute between Marseilles and
Port Said, could have diverted its course for Smyrna.
I regard this
article as work in-progress, as additional sources will need to be
checked in the hope of ascertaining the name of the Japanese ship and
its heroic captain who threw a part of the ship’s cargo overboard into
the polluted water of Smyrna harbor. The Bristol papers and Japanese
foreign office documents held in the Library of Congress and Japanese
national archives, respectively, could also provide some information.
Moreover, surviving records of Japanese commercial shipping companies
operating in European and Mediterranean waters might provide the name
of the ship.
My initial research findings raise more questions than
answers; but it also offers the opportunity to examine Japanese
diplomacy and trade in the Near East in the post-1919 period. A lot of
Japanese historical research covering the period 1919-23 concentrates
on Japan’s relations with Soviet Russia, the United States, Great
Britain, China and France concerning issues of economic concessions in
Siberia and China and naval disarmament in the Pacific.

The examination of the Asia Minor Catastrophe from a Japanese point of view
will help to broaden and deepen our knowledge of the blackest page in
Modern Greek history. A comparison of the Japanese view (Far East) with
that of the Europeans (Western view) would make a very interesting
study on the events which occurred in Smyrna in September 1922.

I would like to hear from individuals who may have information regarding
the unnamed Japanese ship and its crew, and also the attitude of the
Asia Minor refugees towards their Japanese rescuers.

Mr.  Stavridis is Historian/Researcher at the National Centre for Hellenic
Studies & Research at Latrobe University in Bundoora, Victoria


Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 February 2010 15:45  
Copyright © 2023 Hellenic Electronic Center. All Rights Reserved.

HEC Sponsors

greece.org - US Website Sponsor
ehk.gr - GR Website Sponsor



Parthenon Marbles

Credit or PayPal

Enter Amount: