The Pacific Liner Empress Of Japan
By James Donahue
The Empress Of Japan is among the great liners of the past, long forgotten amid the grand carriers
that crisscross our oceans today. But in her day this ship held the distinction of being the fastest ship on the North Pacific.
Built during a transition from sailing ships to steamships offering passenger luxury, she was among the new liners of her
day, setting standards that hinted at the elegance yet to come.
There is little left to remember the Empress of Japan today. Very few photographs of this ship can
even be found in the archives, although there is little doubt that she was a popular and well photographed ship among the
passengers who walked her decks.
The Empress crossed the Pacific for her passengers 315 times. In addition to this, she was requisitioned
by the British Government for service as a utilitarian warship during World War I. Her lounges were emptied and her holds
were filled with ammunition. The vessel was fitted with eight guns. Her patrols involved the carrying of vital military supplies
and escorting and inspecting vessels in South Asia and the Red Sea.
Probably because of her speed, the Empress of Japan escaped the ravages of war and returned to duty
as a luxury liner once more when the war was over.
She and her sister ships, the Empress of China and the Empress of India, were built in or about 1890
for the Canadian Pacific Railway. While equipped with both steam engines, full masts and rigging, these ships offered a raked
and modern design that give them a modern yet classic appearance. Their silhouette was unique among ships of the world.
It was said that the Empress of Japan was among the first of the modern ships designed to function
like a luxury hotel at sea. More than this, she operated like a floating city, offering all of the accommodations that passengers
might find on land. She boasted 160 first class passenger beds, mostly on the upper deck. First Class passengers enjoyed a
promenade, a smoking room and first class dining room.
On the main deck were some first-class cabins, second-class accommodations and dining hall, and an
area for up to 700 steerage passengers and the crew. The ship also had storage space for cargo.
The lower deck housed most of the steerage passengers, who were the real bread and butter trade of
the liners of that era.
The Empress of Japan mostly traveled the North Pacific, between Vancouver and Hong Kong. She also
made stops at Victoria, Yokohama, Kobe, Nagasaki and Shanghai. Because she could make the trip from Canada to Asia in just
over ten days, this ship offered an efficiency of travel that helped establish a travel industry across the Pacific, with
Vancouver a key destination for East-West travelers.
Historians note that this ship probably had more to do with the development of Vancouver as a major
world port city than any other thing.
The Empress of Japan did not remain in service long after the war. By then, after 31 years, she was
outclassed by a new generation of liners and was retired in 1922. Anchored at Vancouver, the city she helped build, the great
liner was gradually dismantled and turned to scrap.