Japanese Trade and the Erie Basin:
Osaka Chosen Kaisha Line (1930-1940)
In the 1930s, most of the passenger and cargo trade with Japan coming into the port of New York was handled by Brooklyn piers; and one of the biggest players was the Osaka Chosen Kaisha Line that departed from Pier 3 in the Erie Basin.
The 1930s was also a time of conflict. In the years before the US declared war on Japan (December 8, 1941), scrap metal, engine parts, explosive chemicals, and cotton for munitions were leaving Erie Basin and contributing to Japan’s invasion of China.
The Daily Worker, reported on June 26, 1933, for instance, that the Osaka Shosen Kaisha steamship company, contracted to take 100,000 bags of sodium nitrate and that the “Erie Basin warehouses full of cotton – which has been there for years awaiting the next war – are being emptied. Much of the cotton is being shipped to China, not for making cloth but for munitions to be used by the Nanking lackeys of American imperialism.”
The Brooklyn waterfront will have to brace for the effects of an embargo with Japan, said The Brooklyn Eagle in mid-October of 1940. At that point, trade with Japan was at an all time high, not just because of Japan’s war effort, but because trade with Europe had been diverted to Brooklyn because of the war in Europe. The Eagle reported that:
“If trade is prohibited or restricted by an embargo or, worse yet, cut off entirely by a war with Japan, hundreds of longshoremen, warehouse workers, freight checkers, clerks and office workers will become unemployed in an industry which already has an excess of available labor.
The closing of piers used by the Japanese trade would also involve great loss in rents to the city and private concerns, warehouse fees, trucking charges and a host of other sources of income coincident with the loading and unloading of ships.”
[When transliterating the Japanese, newspapers were not consistent with the name of the Osaka line, sometime calling it, Osaka Chosen Kaisha, and sometimes Osaka Shosen Kaisha.]
Complete text of article from the Daily Worker, May 31, 1932
Workers Report on War Shipment by US to JAPAN / Two Japanese Ships Loading Planes, Explosives / Ship Vast Quantities / American Boats also Carrying Supplies
A worker reports that the S. S. Tofuku Maru is loading aeroplane parts, crates of wings, etc. indicating a mass shipment of planes to Japan. THIS SHIP IS LOADING NITRO-GLYCERINE AT PIER 1, ERIE, BASIN.
At Pier 3, Erie Basin, the Japanese S.S. Sanyo Maru is loading large quantities of scrap iron and various other boxes with red markings. This is very suspicious as the boxes are of heavy construction. Heavy boxes containing motors, etc., presumably for the military forces.
Complete text of article from the Daily Worker, June 26, 1933
War Munitions Leave Erie Basin for East
New York – Erie Basin warehouses full of cotton – which has been there for years awaiting the next war – are being emptied. Much of the cotton is being shipped to China, not for making cloth but for munitions to be used by the Nanking lackeys of American imperialism, presumably against the Chinese Soviets.
At the same time it is reported that the Osaka Shosen Kaisha, a Japanese steamship company, has contracted to take 100,000 bags of sodium nitrate, explosive material, out of New York. The Hokkai Maru is to start moving this war order toward Japanese munitions factories next week.Text from the article The Brooklyn Eagle, Oct. 14, 1940
Brooklyn to Feel Embargo Effects
Virtually All Trade With Japan In N. Y. Handled Through Boro
By FRANK REIL
Brooklyn's waterfront, which up to now has suffered the least of any section of the port from the war, will be dealt a hard blow in the event an embargo is placed on all Japanese goods, a strong possibility in view of the strained relations in the Far East.
Practically all of the trade with Japan coming into the port of New York is handled by borough piers. All six Japanese flag lines serving New York are centered on four Brooklyn docks while several other American and other lines to the Orient berth their ships here.
If trade is prohibited or restricted by an embargo or, worse yet, cut off entirely by a war with Japan, hundreds of longshoremen, warehouse workers, freight checkers, clerks and office workers will become unemployed in an industry which already has an excess of available labor.
The closing of piers used by the Japanese trade would also involve great loss in rents to the city and private concerns, warehouse fees, trucking charges and a host of other sources of income coincident with the loading and unloading of ships.
An embargo would come at a time when there has been a steady increase in the Japanese traffic. Because of the European war, much trade has been diverted here. More Japanese ships are coming here now than before September 1939. At the present time about 20 to 25 Japanese ships enter the port every month.
"Bacon and Egg” Line
Brooklyn would stand to lose loose of its oldest waterfront customers, the N. Y. K. Line, at the. foot of Montague St. Tor 18 years the Nippon Yusen Kaisya vessels have docked there, and its red and white striped house flag is a familiar sight. Because of this flag on a vessel's bow. and Japan's national flag of a red ball on a white field flying from the stern, the N. Y. K. Line has been jokingly called the "bacon and egg" line. And it has been that and a lot more for its many New York employees.
With 180 ships that have a total gross tonnage of over 1,000.000, the N. Y. K. Line is the largest steam ship company in the world, surpassing even such better known lines as Cunard-White Star. Hapag Lines of Germany and Wilhelmsen Lines of Norway. The line, which has world-wide service, never sent its new and large passenger liners here, keeping them in the Pacific trade.
No More Scrap Iron
But there has been a steady and regular stream of fast freighters, loaded down with raw silk and the manufactured and canned food products of Japan. When they leave they take away generous cargo. Up until last week they all carried a good share of scrap iron. But the American embargo on this metal goes into effect on Wednesday and most of the loading of it around New York has been completed.
Next in importance to the N. Y. K. Line, as far as Brooklyn is concerned, is the O. S. K. Line, docking at Pier 3, Erie Basin. Osaka Syosen Kaisya maintains not only a service to Japan out of New York but also to and from Europe. …