58th Neptune Festival (June 2nd & 3rd)

Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology (Etchujima Campus)

The university opened its doors to the public this weekend for its 58th Neptune Festival. After entering, we made our way to the event stage which was situated on a lush green lawn; in the background a fine sailing ship “Meiji-maru” stood gleaming in the warm sunshine.

After a light snack of seafood yakisoba and their legendary hotdog, we headed to the planetarium. This particular one, the M/1 is the oldest in Japan. The seats were made of wood and tilted back suddenly when leaned back on. Then the lights went out and the narration began. The students performed it as if we were on-board a ship. We first navigated the northern hemisphere. The stars in the northern hemisphere are named after Greek gods. When we navigated to the southern hemisphere, it was interesting to learn that stars in the southern hemisphere are named after objects and creatures related to ships. For example, Algo represents a ship. Navigation of the southern hemisphere began more recently, hence the greater use of modern objects etc. related to the shipping industry. This was then followed by a brief description of the planetarium. The reason as to why the university has such a facility is because originally ships used star constellations to navigate, thus for aspiring sailors, a class on astronomy was a necessity.

After the planetarium, it was time for a break before the lecture on pilots. We found a very comfortable and enjoyable Jazz café in one of the classrooms. Though, it was anything but that of a classroom. The windows were blacked out and the tables arranged in a café-style with small candle-like lights. We ordered two ice-coffees and enjoyed listening to the music which was very good.

Then it was time for the lecture on pilots. On hearing the word pilot, an airplane pilot may spring to mind. There are pilots for ships, also. Pilot is mizusakinin in Japanese and the speaker mentioned that he prefers to be referred to as mizusakinin rather than pairotto. Pilots perform the important role of berthing the ship. Some ports are dangerous for the unfamiliar seafarer, and the law states that a mizusakinin be provided. We were then shown a video of an experienced mizusakinin piloting a huge cruise liner arriving from China. Prior to this video, he showed us a video of a female mizusakinin guiding in a ship. We learned how important communication skills are for this type of work. The mizusakinin must cooperate with the Master (Captain) and advise on how to safely proceed. This is very often conducted in English. While English is a must, he mentioned that the ability to communicate in English is the most important thing.

The video concludes with the mizusakinin safely berthing the colossal MS Quantum of the Seas. I have included some facts below, but to give you an idea as to its sheer size, picture an 8-10 story-high hotel, now imagine that hotel floating on water.

Owner/operator: Royal Caribbean International

Port of registry: Nassau, Bahamas

Builder: Meyer Werft, Papenburg, Germany

Tonnage: 168,666 GT (Gross Tonnage)

Length:  348.1 m (Tokyo Tower is 333 m!)

Propulsion: Diesel-electric

No. of decks: 18

In service: October 31, 2014

Mizusakinin are self-employed and register with the national agency. They do not work within shipping companies. The fee per occasion is in the range of 1,000,000 JPY (9,084 USD). There are three levels of license:

Level 3) Can pilot a vessel of up to 20,000 tons. More than one year’s experience as a Master or Officer, or more than one year’s experience on a training vessel required. Must successfully pass the Level 3 exam.

Level 2) Can pilot a vessel of up to 50,000 tons. More than two year’s experience as a Master or as a Chief Officer required. Must successfully pass the Level 2 exam.

Level 1) Can pilot a vessel of unlimited capacity. More than two year’s experience as a Master required. Must successfully pass the Level 1 exam.


There are 700 Mizusakinin in Japan and 35 ports that require them. Tokyo Bay is the most popular.

Of course, a visit to the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology would not be complete without a tour of its magnificent sailing ship “Meiji-maru”.

Commissioned by the Japanese government, Meiji-maru was built in Glasgow, Scotland in 1873. In its heyday, it was a luxury state-of-the-art ship used as a lighthouse tender. It also served as ship for royalty. In 1964, the ship became permanently based at the Tokyo University of Maritime Science and Technology as a museum ship. One very significant piece of history the ship contributed to was the claiming of the Ogasawara Islands in 1875 – land that the British were competing for at that time.

It was great weekend out, and I thoroughly recommend anyone interested in nautical affairs to pay a visit.