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From 1919 to 1944


In one year, April 8, 1999, we, at "K" Line and its worldwide affiliated group companies are going to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the foundation of Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha, Ltd. On this occasion, for the first time, we have been determined to review our long history and publicize it in English in our newsletter "Ocean Breeze."Our readers will be briefed on the history in a series titled "Milestones". Throughout the process of this series, consideration will be given to your suggestions and any advice as to how we can best serve you in one way or another to the maximum extent. Therefore, please give us your comments. The current issue covers the period from foundation of Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha through the era of World War II.

The Head Office as of Kawasaki Kisen's Foundation

The Head Office as of Kawasaki
Kisen's Foundation

"KIYOKAWA MARU," Bulk Carrier

"KIYOKAWA MARU," Bulk Carrier

History chart

1919 April The company is named Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha and its Head Office is opened at 8 Kaigan Dori in Kobe.
1920 January Kojiro Matsukata becomes President.
1921 January A representative office is opened in New York to begin ship deployment for the Atlantic routes.
May Kawasaki Kisen joins together with Kawasaki Zosen and Kokusai Kisen to form "K" Line.
1922 January Service between Japan and Europe is inaugurated.
Service between Japan and the U.S. east coast/Gulf of Mexico is inaugurated.
May Service between New York and Italy is inaugurated.
1924 January Service between New York and Hamburg is inaugurated.
March Kawasaki-Roosevelt's westward around-the-world service is inaugurated.
August Service between Japan and Calcutta is inaugurated.
1925 November Kawasaki Kisen joins the Japan-Australia Freight Federation and forms JAL in alliance with Kokusai Kisen and Yamashita Kisen.
December The "SHANGHAI MARU" departs from Kobe, inaugurating service to Bombay.
1926 January The Kawasaki North Pacific Express Line is established.
1927 June Kawasaki & Co., Ltd. (London) is established.
1928 May Fusajiro Kashima becomes President.
1931 February Kawasaki Kisen joins the Japanese Shipowners' Association.
1932 June Service to New York is inaugurated.
1933 April Hachisaburo Hirao becomes President.
1937 March The "KAMIKAWA MARU" is completed at Kawasaki Zosen and placed into service on the New York route.
September Westward around-the-world service is inaugurated.
1939 March The head office is relocated to the Shinko Building at 8 Kaigan Dori in Kobe Ward, Kobe.
1940 May The New York Representative Office is upgraded to a Branch.
1941 December At the outbreak of the World War II, Kawasaki Kisen has a fleet of 36 vessels (260,108 DWT).
1944 May Kenjiro Okubo becomes President.

Foundation of Kawasaki Kisen

Kawasaki Zosen established Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha after its president, Kojiro Matsukata, reached the conclusion that Japan must develop a shipping industry to rival those of the U.S. and U.K., using Japanese-made ships, which previously had been almost entirely exported. The new company was capitalized at ¥20 million, with 400,000 authorized shares (par value: 50).

Comparison Between Fleets of Kokusai, NYK and O.S.K.

(in gross tonnage)

Company Number of Ships Owned Gross Tonnage
Kokusai 60 324,000
NYK 103 494,000
O.S.K. 133 400,000

Note: As of 1921 (All three companies had a capitalization of 100 million.)

Kokusai Kisen Kabushiki Kaisha was established jointly by Kawasaki Kisen, Kawasaki Zosen, Suzuki Shoten and other supporting companies in the aim of consolidating the their fleets into a more globally competitive one.

"K" Line Starts

kojiro matsukata

Mr.kojiro Matsukata,
the First President

"K" Line (named after three K initials) was formed when Kojiro Matsukata placed Kawasaki Kisen, Kawasaki Zosen and Kokusai Kisen under joint management to build a stronger fleet of 40 to 50 ships serving the Atlantic, North and South America, Africa and the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas. According to Lloyds, the newly established "K" Line was ranked 13th in the world in 1926, behind NYK (9th) but ahead of O.S.K. (14th).

The Great Kanto Earthquake happened in 1923.
"K" Line proceeded to expand their shares of the global market. "K" Line concentrated on cross-trades, primarily on Atlantic routes, Kawasaki Zosen and Kokusai Kisen were obliged to reduce their capital due to an impending recession in the Japanese industry. In response to the recession, which ultimately strained the relationship as "K" Line after the recession, "K" Line tried to develop its ocean-going routes by capitalizing on an increase in Japan's raw silk exports to North America.

National Shipping Policy

During the Great Depression, shipping lines throughout the world rationalized their fleets. Around 1934 cargo movements began to rebound as nations embarked upon military buildups. In 1935 the Japanese government began to place top priority on national shipping policy from the standpoint of defense and obtaining foreign currency. The government's new stance enabled Kawasaki Kisen to enlarge and upgrade its fleet, including four sister ships on the New York line.
Between 1933 and 1939 Kawasaki Kisen enjoyed a golden age of prosperity, increasing its sales revenue by 750%. It paid a 12% dividend in 1937 and a 20% dividend in 1940.

Historical Trend in Ships Owned
Month/Year Ships DWT
December, 1932 21 107,360
December, 1933 20 106,610
December, 1934 31 209,277
December, 1935 29 202,989
December, 1936 25 181,983
December, 1937 32 241,876
December, 1938 32 237,601
December, 1939 33 238,042
December, 1940 34 247,690
Historical Trend in Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha's Business Results
Year Tonnage in Service Gross Revenues Net Profit Dividend Rate
(per fiscal year)
DWT Amount 1st Half 2nd Half
1933 314 8,176 (-)2,161 0% 0%
1934 340 10,130 0 0 0
1935 383 13,872 0 0 0
1936 504 20,056 1,870 0 0
1937 650 37,047 4,780 6
1938 682 51,056 3,933 6
1939 534 49,020 6,701 8
1940 547 61,425 12,381 10 10


  1. Figures are in thousands of tons or thousands of yen.
  2. Freight under gross revenues excludes expanses of ship operation and cargo handling.
  3. Ships owned and tonnage in service are as of December 31 of each year.

World War II

II Kawasaki Kisen's golden era abruptly ended with the war's outbreak in 1939. The Japanese government placed private shipping lines under stricter administration and control. By the war's end, Kawasaki Kisen had lost 56 vessels (404,321 DWT), only 12 vessels surviving.


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