Wasen Models of the Ōta Ward Museum

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五大力船 – Godairiki-sen. 1/10 scale. One of the models in storage at the Ota Ward Regional Museum. Photo courtesy of Ota Ward Folk Museum, and taken by The Rope Tokyo.

The Ota ward’s regional museum is a place I’d never heard of, and nobody told me about. I discovered it one day as I was digging through an old database file I stumbled across on the Nippon Foundation Library website. Not being able to read much Japanese, I downloaded an Excel spreadsheet and began translating piece of it to figure out what I had. What I found was a list of about 900 wasen models and their dispositions. Included in the list was their city location and address.

I recognized the kanji for Tokyo, 東京, so I focussed on those. I copied and pasted the address into Google Translate, and I got that the address was in the Ōta ward. Now, I’ve been to Tokyo a few times, but I’m not too familiar with the system of wards, which are subdivisions of cities. But, I had the address and popped it into Google Maps, which allowed me to locate it precisely, and even do a virtual walk around the area.

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Front of the Ota Ward Regional Museum as seen from Google Maps’ street view.

The walk around was a little  confusing, as the Japanese city zoning is very different from that in the U.S. The area looked pretty much like any other narrow semi-residential Tokyo street. I wasn’t sure if I was just mistaken about the whole thing. But, I did have a map of the location and saw that it was not all that far from the homes of a couple people that I met with on my recent visit to Japan, so I asked them about it and gave them a list of the models that the spreadsheet had indicated were there, or were once there. This began a whole project that I was not directly involved in.

The two gentlemen I contacted were Mr. Norio Uriu and Mr. Masama Sekiguchi, both members of The Rope, Japanese ship model society. Mr. Skiguchi is also a 14-year executive member of the Yokohama Sailing Model Club. I emailed them about the museum and the possible wasen model collection there, in the hopes that if they might know about it and help me find a way to get information about them.

A few days later, Mr. Uriu spoke with museum staff about my interest and found that the museum had a couple DVDs/CDs for sale about the old local boatbuilding industry, and also found that there were some 17 or 18 models in storage in their warehouse. He arranged for permission from the museum staff to allow them to make a special visit along with a third member of The Rope, Mr. Akamichi, to make a photographic record of the models there. I believe this has become an official informational CD of The Rope.

羽田水舟 - Haneda Mizubune, a boat used for carrying drinking water.

羽田水舟 – Haneda Mizubune, a boat used for carrying drinking water. Photo courtesy of Ota Ward Folk Museum, and taken by The Rope Tokyo.

As it turned out, there were 25 models in all and the group managed to take some 300 photos of them. Most of the boats were of types involved in seaweed harvesting, which was a big industry on Tokyo Bay up until about the 1970s when pollution and land expansion took its toll. It also took its toll on the traditional boat building industry which was a big part of the local community.

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Bow view of a Tsuribune, or fishing boat. It is described as a Nomeri-type. Photo courtesy of Ota Ward Folk Museum, and taken by The Rope Tokyo.

Mr. Uriu, in addition to providing me a copy of their CD, sent me the discs published by the museum as well, which consisted of a video, in Japanese, about boatbuilding in the Ota Ward as well as a pdf version of a book on the same subject that was published by the museum, but is no longer in print. I believe I wrote about this in a previous post.

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Boatbuilding book from the Ota Ward Regional Museum. Currently available only as a pdf file on CD at the museum.

I mentioned all of this to Douglas Brooks who was kind enough to provide me with a physical copy of the book as he had a few extra copies he’d been given over the years. Together with the photos, this was quite a boon.

多摩川の渡し船 - Tama River Watashi-bune, or river ferry.

多摩川の渡し船 – Tama River Watashi-bune, or river ferry. Photo courtesy of Ota Ward Folk Museum, and taken by The Rope Tokyo.

While going through all of this information, Mr. Sekiguchi paid a visit to the Urayasu Museum, which I managed to visit on my recent trip. I told him that I had wished to contact the curator there, whom I had met, and say hello and thank him again for making my museum visit so nice. I had emailed him months ago and had received no reply, which was distressing. So, Mr. Sekiguchi called him and passed along my regards. He also got permission for me to share information I received in a pamphlet published by the Urayasu Museum, which I will do when I get back to writing about building the Urayasu Bekabune model. Should be very soon! Ω

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