What is the meaning of “maru” in Japanese ship names?

April 12, 2017 | Author: | Posted in Shipping

Maru, pronounced mah-roo, is used in the names of Japanese merchant vessels to distinguish them from warships and other craft. For instance, Japanese name their ships “Yakiko Maru,” “Canberra Maru,” etc.

Pop­ularly the word is regarded by Japanese as meaning simply “ship” or “steamship.” Just how it acquired this significance is not known for certain. Apparently it is derived from a Chinese character standing for anything round or circular.

In a Japanese dictionary we find maru defined as follows: “A circle, sphere; full, complete, all, whole; entirely, perfec­tion, completeness.” It has the properties of a noun and a verb, as well as some of those of an adverb. When a Japanese wishes to use slang he will sometimes refer to a dollar piece as a maru, in the sense of a circle.

In ancient times it was used to express affection for a priceless possession, such as a sword, a vase, a musical instrument, or even a dog. It may have been originally applied to ships because ancient Japanese ships were round and tublike, because they make a complete circle in starting from and returning to a given point, or because they were looked upon as priceless possessions.


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