Excellent Video: N.Y.K. Line passenger ship M.S. Chichibu Maru sets sail in 1935 for Shanghai, Hawaii and San Francisco.  The video is probably one of the few surviving films of NYK’s great passenger service. 

The NYK Line seal proudly graces the bow of each Crystal Cruises ship.

Crystal Cruise Lines, most commonly seen as Crystal Cruises, is a Japanese luxury cruise line founded in 1988 and notable for its two medium-sized, high-end ships, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, which each hold about 1,000 guests. The line is a wholly owned subsidiary of the large Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen Kaisha – providing excellent travel since 1885.

The Crystal Serenity: The NYK Line seal proudly graces the bow of each Crystal Cruises ship.

Cruising The Past awards Crystal Cruise Lines for offering a shipboard experience that reflects the luxury of the great liners during the 1950s. Crystal presents first class travel that is first class. Their ships are deluxe and are not floating Vegas Strip resorts. Readers of Condé Nast Traveler have voted the line Best Large-Ship Cruise Line for 17 years. Readers of Travel + Leisure have voted Crystal Cruises World’s Best for 16 consecutive years. Both ships travel the world and visit destinations. The luxury cruise line also offers a World Cruise on the Crystal Serenity each year of about 110 days in length.

Crystal Cruises announed that their cruise fares became all-inclusive starting in the Spring of 2012.

NYK LINE M.S. CHICHIBU MARU - California Orient Service 1930s...


“NYK gained prominence in the North American cruise market by building Crystal Harmony in 1990. We are pleased with what Crystal Cruises has become and accomplished in the market. We understand that the cruise population has tripled since the time when we started our study on cruise business back in 1988. NYK firmly believes in the continuous growth of the cruise market and therefore, we are committed to increase our presence in the cruise industry.”
— Mr. Takao Kusakari, President, NYK Line

OBSERVANT GUESTS ON BOARD Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity will notice the thick red lines painted on the radar mast. This marking carries on a proud sea-going tradition, which goes back more than a hundred years. Throughout this time, the ships of Nippon Yusen Kaisha, the NYK Line, parent company of Crystal Cruises, have proudly worn these same red stripes on their funnels.

The history:

Nippon Yusen Kaisha, which literally translates to the Japan Mail Steamship Company, was first created in 1885, the result of a sensible merger between two Japanese shipping companies, Yubin Kisen Mitsubishi Kaisha (Mitsubishi Mail Steamship Company) and Kyodo Unyu Kaisha (Union Transport Company). Two red stripes were adopted for the new company’s house flag, symbolizing the mutual goodwill of both companies and the hope that their combined fleets would one day serve the entire world. In due course, NYK Line became Japan’s national shipping company. Their subsequent passenger ships were given government-authorized mail-carrying status and therefore the highest priorities. The affixation was similar to the designation R.M.S. (for Royal Mail Ship) used by the most prominent British liners.

NYK Line grew and grew – their accomplishments, advances and overall success have been nearly continuous. As a worldwide logistics company, NYK Line now operates more than 800 ocean cargo ships including large container ships, car carriers and huge tankers, warehousing services and logistics, forwarders and consolidators, plus land and air transportation services.

Historically, NYK Line opened the first regular Japan-U.S. service in 1896 (the first arrival was met at Seattle with a 21-gun salute). They grew quickly. In 1901, just sixteen years after their formation, they already ranked as the seventh-largest shipping company in the world. A decade later, in 1911, an NYK freighter delivered the first cargo of trans-Pacific cherry tree saplings, a gift from the City of Tokyo to Washington, D.C. These same cherry trees line the banks of the Potomac to this day.

Along with a steady stream of ocean liners, passenger-cargo combination ships and freighters of many types, NYK built the first Japanese “super tanker” in 1959, then some of the world’s first container cargo ships in the 1960s, some of the first large car carriers at the same time, and highly specialized designs like the world’s first “wood chip carrier” in 1964. More specialized ships such as gas carriers, coal carriers and heavy lift ships followed. The company has pioneered in shoreside cargo handling systems as well.

One of NYK’s proudest periods in passenger shipping was the 1929 building of three of the finest and most luxurious ocean liners ever to sail the Pacific – Asama Maru, Chichibu Maru and Tatsuta Maru. They were Japanese-designed and built, coming from the renowned Mitsubishi shipyard. At some 17,000 tons, they were then-traditional class-divided ships, and had provision for cargo as well as the all-important mails.

They were routed on NYK’s premier express service, regularly sailing between Hong Kong, Shanghai, Ko- be, Yokohama, Honolulu, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Yokohama to San Francisco, for example, took 15 days. Fares by the late 1930s started from $190 in second class and from $315 in first class. Their passenger areas were of the highest quality, much of it in traditional European style. There were highly polished woods, stained glass skylights, fine dining rooms, lounges, a library, a gift shop, hair salon, comfortable cabins, and a swimming pool on deck. This was luxury cruising at its finest.

They were three stately ships, which had abundant Japanese atmosphere. Their first-class accommodations were especially fine and attracted such notable passengers as Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin and his wife Paulette Goddard, Helen Keller and Efrem Zimbalist.

Within ten years, however, NYK decided on larger, finer ships for the competitive Pacific run to California. In 1939, the company ordered twin, 27,000-ton luxury ships, which would have been magnificent in every way. Intended to carry as many as 890 passengers each, they were to be exceptionally fast ships as well, with top speeds of well over 25 knots. Their keels were laid and their names selected: Kasiwara Maru and Idzumo Maru. But then, as war clouds in the Pacific gathered, work stopped. They were later bought by the Japanese Navy and re-designed as the big aircraft carriers Junyo and Hiyo respectively. Both were subsequent wartime casualties.

At about the same time, in the early 1940s, NYK was building a handsome trio for their Japan-Suez Canal-Europe run. Cleverly, their names began with the letters N, Y and K: Nitta Maru, Yawata Maru and Kasuga Maru. However, as war in Europe had already erupted, plans changed and they were to be used on the run to California. But they too were later bought by the Japanese Navy, rebuilt as aircraft carriers and also became war losses. In fact, war in the Pacific rendered a heavy blow to NYK and its entire fleet, almost all of which was lost – 172 ships totaling 1,028,000 gross tons. But in the late 1940s, restoration and rebuilding became high priorities. NYK was left with one passenger ship, the 11,600-ton Hikawa Maru. She would be the company’s ship for resumption of liner services.

In 1986, just after its centennial anniversary, NYK implemented NYK 21, an upgraded management vision for the 21st century. In his NYK Group New Millennium Declaration, NYK Line President Takao Kusakari announced that the expansion of cruise ship operations was one of the four “core” businesses in the NYK group.

NYK, having managed to be stable for 35 years after its revival, showed its ambition to diversify into various fields, mainly related to transportation. Cruising was one of its primary goals. Others included air cargo carriers, logistics service, finance, real estate, freight forwarding and warehousing. NYK retains its ultimate policy to maintain the highest quality in all its operations.

Almost a half-century after NYK’s wartime losses, the gleaming, all-white Crystal Harmony arrived in New York for the first time in August, 1991, having been delivered at Nagasaki, and christened at Los Angeles on July 20, 1990. Amidst the festivities and formalities of the occasion in New York, there was also a historic notation to her visit: she was the very first Japanese luxury liner to visit New York in forty years, since the early 1950s. Actually, Japanese companies have never maintained a passenger service to the U.S. East Coast much beyond 12-passenger freighters. Instead, their passenger interests were always toward West Coast ports.

In 1953, the 536-foot-long Hikawa Maru had been restored as a full passenger liner, but for trans-Pacific service, sailing between Yokohama, Ko ?be, Seattle and Vancouver. There were occasional stopovers at Honolulu en route. Fares in first class for the 17-day voyages started at $350.

She was retired, however, at the age of thirty, as Japan’s lone surviving passenger ship from the 1930s, and was made into a museum, restaurant and entertainment center at Yokohama. She remains there to this day. And while the NYK Line actually planned a replacement liner, the idea never left the drawing boards because, in the end, company directors felt “airline supremacy across the Pacific was imminent.”

When the 790-foot long, 940-guest Crystal Harmony was completed at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ Nagasaki shipyard in 1990, she was the first large passenger ship to have been built in Japan in fifty years. She was also the largest Japanese-owned cruise ship to date.

At New York, during her inaugural, 12-hour call, Crystal Harmony was greeted by fireboats, tugs and overhead helicopters, and then a welcoming delegation of port, cruise and other travel officials. Sitting alongside several other cruise ships, Crystal Harmony proudly flew the flags of Crystal Cruises and NYK Line.

Like the Hikawa Maru some forty years before, her visit marked a “Japanese return.”


View Latest Articles