Inspiring Journey of a Japanese Seawoman in the Maritime Industry

by | Last updated Nov 24, 2023 | Career Guide, Experiences, Seaman's Life | 0 comments

While the maritime industry is traditionally male-dominated, there are remarkable seawomen who break boundaries and thrive in this space. And by this, we’re not referring to cruise ships or passenger vessels alone. 

Hiroka Suzuki stands out as one such individual—a female officer whose journey commenced as a cadet on a Chemical Tanker.

Having had the privilege of engaging in an online chat interview with her, I delved into the challenges she confronted, particularly during her early days. As a seawoman, she has gems of tales and experience to share with everyone, especially fellow ladies who want to conquer the big seas.

Meet our seawoman, Hiro

Hello. Please call me Hiro. I am the first Japanese Seawoman sailing as a Second Officer on a chemical tanker ship. In Japan, there are only very few women having a career on board, especially on tankers because some companies prohibit hiring females in this male-dominated environment.

I’m here to inspire all the women out there to take this path and sail the seven seas with me. This is my story.

Hiroka Suzuki wearing white coverall inside the Cargo Control Room.

I was a Cadet and Trainee Officer on my first ship. My second vessel got me promoted to 4th Officer then Third Mate. I continued serving in that capacity on my third and fourth vessels too.

Today, I’m on vacation, but I’ll be working as a Second Mate on my next contract. My trading route is usually Asia. During the port stay, some loading masters, chemists, and surveyors often ask me why I choose to be a seawoman. They always have that surprise look that says,

I’m the first female mariner they see on board!

A Childhood Dream

First and foremost, I love this job. My fondness for sailing traces back to my childhood. 

When I was six years old, I always love looking at the stars, sun, and sea. And whenever my family would travel to some place, we choose to go by boat or ship. My interest in ships grew during those travels.

Since then, I started reading books about ships and the sea, and which jobs are connected to that industry. My grandpa was a Radio Officer and he told me about the seaman’s life when we visited his house

Hiroka Suzuki in orange coverall with two other male crewmates in a photo op while inside the cargo control room.

I also admire Ryoma Sakamoto and Kaisyu Katsu from Japanese history. There, I had a firm conviction that when I grow up, I would take the path closest to the sea, stars, and the sun. As a seawoman today, I know I’m living that dream.

School Life

I was in Junior High when I discovered that it is possible to work as an Officer on ships. Luckily, I got my father’s support and he took me to a Maritime University in Japan for a tour. I felt very determined and set my aim to study better so I could enter that university, and I did!

Greasing the wires of the davit-launched lifeboat.

When I was there, I was surprised to see very few women taking this course. It also came to me that it’s extremely difficult to get a job as an officer simply because I am a woman. I was frustrated.

During those days, I also remembered that I was not intelligent and really not good at math (now I like math on board, hahah!) So I studied very very hard. I did nothing else but study.

Sometimes, I doubt myself if I should continue this career or not. But because I was so much passionate about my dreams, I continue studying until I graduated. It was difficult but what lies ahead was more challenging.

In the ship's bridge navigating in to the open waters during a calm weather.

Job hunts and my big break

On my job hunts, I applied to so many offices. I went to some radio manufacturers and equipment makers, a few more offices, trading companies, shipping companies, and even companies not directly related to seafaring. 

But my love for ships was still burning. That’s why I finally decided to focus on maritime agencies and work as a seafarer, even if I’m the only woman on the ship.

Working on board is very different than life on land. It was very difficult at first because I was the only woman on that vessel and some men underestimate me. Others are hard against me and vexing. 

Then there are those who do not like girls working on ships. It’s tough but I have to be tougher! I kept on studying, made lots of effort, and showed them my performance so that I can get the job done. The salary on board was good but my focus was more on improving my skills. As time passed on with more operations and maneuverings, I slowly earned their trust.

Inside the bridge wearing white coverall with the captain in his maritime uniform and our helmsman steering the ship.

My advice to the next generations of seawoman

I know some people, especially women, give up on their dreams in this industry. But I also know that there are those who continue to persevere and rule this male-dominated environment. My message to you is to continue with your dreams and not give up. I want to give hope to all of you through my story.

My aim is to become a Captain. This is the promise I made to my father who died when I was young. It’s a long shot but I have to do it. Perhaps, we can meet somewhere along the way. I’ll be happy to teach and mentor you on what I know.

May the winds be in your favor.



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