Smyrna in 1922: Uncovering the Story of the Japanese Ship


On February 15, 2019 at the Huffington Center at St. Sophia Cathedral, the Federation of Hellenic American Societies of Southern California, supported by the Consulates General of Japan, Greece, and Armenia in Los Angeles, held an event highlighting the story of the Japanese ship that rescued hundreds of refugees in Smyrna almost 100 years ago.

The event included remarks by the Consul General Akira Chiba of Japan, Consul General Evgenia Beniatoglou of Greece, and Counselor Varazdat Pahlavuni of Armenia. After the introductory remarks there was a special presentation by Dr. Nanako Murata Sawayanagi of Toyo University, who has done extensive research on the topic.

Almost one hundred years have passed since a Japanese ship is said to have rescued scores of Greek and Armenian refugees in Asia Minor. Some have orally passed down the story of the rescue, but due to limited historical records, much of the event has been lost to the mists of history.
Dr. Sawayanagi placed the history in context by describing the situation of post-World War I Smyrna in the last days of the Greco-Turkish War. She recounted the details of the Great Fire of Smyrna in September 1922, at which time the rescue by the Japanese ship Tokei Maru was said to have taken place.

Dr. Sawayanagi shared her work researching shipping records in Europe and Japan. Although she found some discrepancies in the notations, she concluded that articles on the Tokei Maru rescue at the time by newspapers such as the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Atlanta Constitution, together with diplomatic reports of the rescue, suggest that it did indeed take place, while further research needs to be conducted before establishing historical facts.

Close to 150 guests attended the event from the Greek, Armenian, and Japanese communities.
Please see the article published in the Autumn 2018 edition of the Government of Japan publication “We Are Tomodachi” for further background: a new window