Identity Revealed of Tokei Maru Captain Who Rescued 100s in 1922 Catastrophe

THESSALONIKI – In a presentation on April 9, Zachos Samoladas, director and animator of the film Tokei Maru, revealed the identity of the captain of the Japanese ship which saved hundreds of people during the 1922 Smyrna Catastrophe.

He told The National Herald: “On Saturday, April 9, I had the honor of presenting the story of Tokei Maru and its brave captain and crew in an event commemorating the centennial of the Destruction of Smyrni. After many years of research and many questions that rose from the scattered information, I have the long awaited answer. The name of the Japanese captain who helmed Tokei Maru and saved more than 4,500 Greeks and Armenians in Smyrni was T. Norito.”

“I found his name while searching in old English language Chinese newspapers,” Samoladas continued. “I have attached the results of the findings, cross checked from newspapers, port authorities’ registries, books, and Commerce Chamber bulletins across Asia.”

“In addition, I discovered a second Japanese ship sailing at the time in the Aegean, new evidence about the relations between Greece and Japan and the existence of a Japanese Industrial Museum in the heart of Athens in 1922,” Samoladas said. “And not only that, in my research I found the names of three Japanese captains who helmed Tokei Maru, Captain Sato (1915-1918), Captain Masake (1918-1921) and Captain T. Norito (1921-1931).”

The front page coverage from the newspaper Eleftheron Vima on September 2, 1922 concerning the Smyrna Catastrophe. Photo: Courtesy of Zachos Samoladas

Samoladas’ presentation follows:

Tokei Maru: A Ship Lost in the Shadow of Time

August 1922, a unique photograph taken at the port of Smyrni just a few days before the Turkish army entered the city, depicting the Japanese steamer Tokei Maru anchored a few meters away from the Quay and people getting ready to board, is a rare document from the twilight of the Christian populations of Asia Minor.

After many years of questioning the authenticity and the timeline when this photo was taken, we now know the date and frame that this picture was taken.

It was August 20, 1922 (September 2, 1922 with the Gregorian calendar), just a week away from the violent intrusion of the Turkish para-militants and the fire that swept the city. For about 80 years, it was forgotten, lost in old newspapers and painful memories.

Yet, following the work of scholars, researchers, filmmakers and many testimonies from the descendants of the Smyrna refugees the pieces came to place and details of the Japanese intervention are now revealed. And now we know not only the name of the brave and humanitarian captain, but the captains who preceded him at the helm of Tokei Maru.

Tokei Maru was built in 1882 at the Newcastle upon Tyne shipyard owned by William Dobson and Company. It was 85.35 meters long with an average speed of 8.5 knots. It was named “La Serene” and its maiden voyage was to London in 1883. The ship sailed the open seas with Captain E. Jones at its helm for the first time in 1896, carrying people and goods to Mumbai, India. It was sold in 1900 to the Australian Adelaide Steamship Co., owned by William Dobson, renamed as Moonta and traveled between Melbourne and Darwin in the coastal waters of the continent. Following the rise of Japanese exports and the rapid growth of Japanese marine commerce Moonta was sold to Towa Kisen KK, headquartered at the port of Dairen (present day Dalian port in China) and Kobe in Japan. Commanding officer of Tokei Maru was Captain Sato. The ship sailed the seas of Asia, delivering goods and carrying people. In 1918, Captain Masake is assigned as commanding officer as the ship continues to travel. His name appears on page 14, of the July 17 issue of the South China Morning Post among many listings in the marine traffic section of the newspaper. The identity of the two captains was recently discovered in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) and The North China Herald newspapers, and the registers office of the ports of Saigon and Shanghai.

The newspaper Astrapi reported the Japanese ship Tokei Maru rescuing 627 refugees from the Smyrna Catastrophe. Photo: Courtesy of Zachos Samoladas

Tokei Maru will have another captain by 1921, the one who will be remembered for his brave act.

On May 17, 1922, Tokei Maru departs from Karatsu Port in Japan carrying 1412 tons of various goods with Captain T. Norito. The news of the arrival and departure of Tokei Maru is recorded in the SCMP newspaper, on page 14. Tokei Maru will travel to Keelung in Taiwan and then to Hongay in Vietnam as noted on page 14 of the SCMP May 24th issue. The ships long journey will take it through the Singapore straits and Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea- a 10,000 nautical mile journey before arriving at the port of Smyrna on August 20, 1922.

After 100 years, the name of the captain is finally known. Captain Norito appears in many and different listings at the shipping news of many issues and in different dates in the SCMP newspaper.

How did we find the date of the ships arrival at Smyrna? By reading a book written in 1928 and published in 1930 by Lieutenant Colonel Spyridon Klaudianos, titled Scenes of Horror from the Asia Minor Tragedy, where we found the first clue. Klaudianos mentions in his book “…the ship was filled with people who paid to escape the city, then it sailed heading for the island of Lesvos, were people disembarked and three days later on August 24, the ship (Tokei Maru) was back at Smyrna. It took only an hour for the ship to be again crowded with terrified people and the ship sailed again for Lesvos, Thessaloniki, and Piraeus” (page 176). By midnight of August 26-27, 1922 the ship arrived at the port of Piraeus. The news is recorded in the pages of the newspaper of Piraeus Astrapi (ΑΣΤΡΑΠΗ) and Fos (ΦΩΣ) in Thessaloniki. Both newspapers mention 1,600 refugees on board Tokei Maru and also, the arrival of judges, higher and lower court officers, and 25 Turkish prisoners held for high treason. By cross referencing the newspapers and Klaudianos’ book, we understand that he was present in the process of loading refugees as he presents details. According to the book, Tokei Maru made four rescue journeys to Lesvos, Thessaloniki, and Piraeus (pages 176-177). This is also testified from the newspaper listings of Tokei Maru bringing refugees to Piraeus, a load of 1,000 people, another with 2,000 people (as noted by the newspaper Rizospastis, and a final load of 325 people according to the newspaper SKRIP, or 825 people according to the newspaper Empros (ΕΜΠΡΟΣ).

A headline from the Simaia (Flag) newspaper dated September 3, 1922 mentions a Japanese governor and the rescue of women and children. Photo: Courtesy of Zachos Samoladas

The dates of arrivals, correspond to the number of journeys mentioned by Klaudianos, given the fact that the ship would sail on full steam and maximum speed. The newspaper Αthinai (ΑΘΗΝΑΙ) mentions Mr. Lou as the ship’s captain, a misunderstanding that led many researchers questioning the identity of the captain (Chinese or Japanese) and even the accuracy of the name. The truth is that there were two Mr. Lous onboard the ship, brothers and Chinese in origin, delegates and company representatives, assisting the captain (who is not mentioned in any of the Greek newspapers). But as Captain Norito was the captain in the journey from Dairen/ Dalian to Suez, he would also be the captain of the ship for the rest of the journey. All of them, Captain Norito, the Lou brothers, the Japanese commander of Tokei Maru (who is mentioned by SKRIP) rescued Greeks and Armenians from the creeping death of the burning Smyrna. As the newspaper SKRIP from September 4 (September 17 with the new calendar) reported: “The captain was indignant of the situation as it evolved from the vindictive demands of the Turkish soldiers and the horrible spectacle of the decomposition of corpses in the sea and the blood flowing from everywhere.”

Tokei Maru will sail for a short time carrying goods and people between Chania and Heraklion in Crete and Alexandria in Egypt. In Piraeus, one of the ship’s agents was Konstaninos Athanasoulas, a founding member of the International Nautical Union who would become later president of the organization, and in Crete Ioannis Adamis, one of the powerful marine agents of Crete.

On September 30, 1922, Tokei Maru sails back to Japan and on November 24, 1922 we find again Captain Norito at the helm of the ship. The Information comes from SCMP, in the Arrivals section of the shipping news on page 16, in the November 27, 1922 issue. And on February 23, Captain Norito registers at the port of Saigon as noted by the “Bulletin de la Chambre de Commerce de Saigon” in the issue of February 28-March 13 and in the shipping news of SCMP, page 13, February 27, 1922. Captain Norito will remain as commanding officer of Tokei Maru until 1931, when the ship is dismantled and turned to scrap in Tokyo. Between 1922 and 1931, we find Captain Norito in different posts of the shipping news, carrying goods, facing Marine Court before Lieutenant Commander. G. F. Hole in December of 1925, when according to the research so far, he disobeyed orders given by the coastguard. And Captain Norito will also be involved in a marine accident when Tokei Maru and the Norwegian steamer Ravnefjell collided in the Lower Huangpu at about 5:30 PM on Thursday, February 24, 1927.

These new findings, came when a single piece of evidence, the listing of the Saigon Chamber of Commerce reached my hands. It was provided by Panagiotis Sotiriou, a young historian who thought that it might be of interest for me. It took about two years to trace Captain Norito in newspapers and port registers. My research provided also clues and evidence of stronger ties between Japan and Greece between 1921 and 1923. Dating back to 1921, a Hellenic-Japanese association was founded by former parliament member and ex-minister of the Trikoupi government, Athanasios Tipaldos-Mpasias. The Hellenic -Japanese Association had offices at the Japanese Industrial Museum, at number 16 of Panepistimiou Street in Athens. Little is so far known about the Japanese Museum and the works of the Association. In fact on January 30, 1922 a newspaper ad reports a journey to Japan for businessmen and news reporters to attend the International Trade Fair of Tokyo, also known as the Peace Fair, which took place in May of 1922. Those who had interest for one of the 22 reserved seats had to register at the office of the Association, located inside the Japanese Industrial Museum.

Another important element is the discovery of a second Japanese ship sailing in the Aegean, Dijon Maru was stuck on a reef outside the port of Piraeus in April of 1922 and was towed by a barge named Averof. Dijon Maru carried 9,000 tons of wheat and cereal from the USA to Piraeus. The Dijon Maru accident is reported in the newspapers Empros and SKRIP. The ship’s arrival and departure is also reported in the Piraeus Chamber of Commerce report in April 1922.  At the time when Tokei Maru is at the port of Piraeus on September 12, 1922, a Japanese envoy with the Ambassador of Japan in Paris, Mr. Kosida, or Kohida, or Kojida (there are several similar names in the newspapers) arrives in Athens. The Japanese ambassador will meet with Mr. Polychroniadis, the head of the political bureau of the Prime Minister of Greece, and with M.r Kalapothakis who was the head of the Press Office. A week later on September 19, the Japanese ambassador in Athens Count Riokuro Moru arrives at Piraeus from Italy with the steamer Chelio. He is accompanied by the military attache Hirokiosi Nisiyama.

The Tokei Maru is among those on the list of ships from the port of Saigon. Photo: Courtesy of Zachos Samoladas

Evidence gathered by the Armenian researchers Anna Vardanyan and Tehmine Martoyan provide clues for the whereabouts of the Captain Norito between 1930 and 1931. Several Armenians met the captain in Tokyo in the early 30’s. We have strong evidence about Captain Norito and we have finally answers to the questions that rose more than 10 years ago about the story of Tokei Maru.

A hundred years after the rescue of refugees by Captain Norito and the crew of Tokei Maru, we are now focusing the research on the major ports and also in newspapers from Asia. The extended research on the Greek newspapers of 1922 from Athens, Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Heraklion, and Alexandria in Egypt is paying off. It is time to unite our forces and search deeper. As history is making rounds and the world is again in turmoil, we must keep the memory alive of the brave act of Captain Norito and never forget.

As my friend and fellow researcher from Armenia, Anna Vardanyan said: “Nothing is forgotten, no one is forgotten”


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