Kanrin Maru was Japan's first sail and screw-driven steam warship. She was ordered in 1853 from the Netherlands, the only Western country with which Japan had diplomatic relations throughout its period of sakoku (seclusion), by the Shogun's government, the Bakufu. She was delivered in 1855, barely one year after the forcible opening of Japan to trade by Commodore Perry. The ship was used at the newly established Naval School of Nagasaki in order to build up knowledge of Western warship technology.
Kanrin Maru, as a screw-driven steam warship, represented a new technological advance in warship design which had been introduced in the West only ten years earlier with . She allowed Japan to get its first experience with some of the newest advances in ship design.
Five years later, the Bakufu sent Kanrin Maru on a mission to the United States, clearly wanting to make a point to the world that Japan now mastered western navigation techniques and western ship technologies. On 19 January 1860, the Kanrin Maru, sailed by Katsu Kaishu (as ship captain), John Manjiro, Fukuzawa Yukichi, altogether 96 Japanese sailors, and the American officer John M. Brooke, left Uraga for San Francisco.
This became the second official Japanese embassy to cross the Pacific Ocean, around 250 years after the embassy of Hasekura Tsunenaga to Mexico and then Europe in 1614, on the Japanese-built galleon .
Kanrin Maru was accompanied by a United States Navy ship, the .
The official objective of the mission was to send the first ever Japanese embassy to the US, and to ratify the new treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation between the United States and Japan. The mission also tried, in vain, to obtain a revision of some of the unequal clauses of the treaties signed during Commodore Perry's negotiation in 1854.
The fleet encountered a typhoon on its way northward, and Kanrin Maru, having suffered damage, was forced to rally Shimizu harbour, where she was captured by Imperial forces.
Enomoto Takeaki finally made a redition in May 1869, and after the end of the conflict, Kanrin Maru was used by the new Imperial government for the development of the northern island of Hokkaido.