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A model of a maaransen at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum
  • Japanese: マーラン (maaran), 馬艦船 (maaran sen)

Maaran were a type of Ryukyuan ships, in the style of Chinese junks, which dominated private commercial shipping within the Ryûkyû Kingdom in the 18th and early 19th centuries. There were typically five to eight such vessels regularly traveling between Okinawa and the Sakishima Islands, though sometimes there might have been as many as twelve. The maaran also came to play a significant role in carrying tribute goods and trade goods from Ryûkyû to China, and in carrying officials and goods to Kagoshima.

The maaransen style or type was introduced to Ryûkyû from China in the 18th century. Like many Chinese junks, it had a variety of technological advances aimed at preventing flooding. The cargo hold was divided into sections, so that if one flooded, the flooding would be contained; the decks could also be opened and closed.

The name maaran (lit. "horse ships") is a Japanese/Ryukyuan approximation of the Chinese term, deriving from the idea that these swift vessels sped through the ocean like running horses.

In the Meiji period, ships began to be built more cheaply, using less materials and resulting in less sturdy vessels. Those of this type used for shorter voyages came to be known as bunhaya or kauchii, and often incorporated aspects of Japanese ship design, becoming somewhat less purely Chinese/Ryukyuan in style.


  • Gallery labels, Okinawa Prefectural Museum, Naha, August 2013.
  • Gallery labels, Oceanic Culture Museum, Ocean Expo Park, Nago, 2014.
  • "Maaransen," Okinawa Compact Encyclopedia 沖縄コンパクト事典, Ryukyu Shimpo, 1 March 2003.
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