Hiratabune Model – Edo Tokyo Museum

This is one of those posts where I am really putting my knowledge, or possibly my lack knowledge, out on the Internet. When I visited the Edo Tokyo Museum last September, I found a model that I was extremely happy to find, as it gave me a first-hand look at a boat type that I have been very interested in learning more about.

The boat was labeled a Takasebune, and I first encountered it in the Funakagami, a book published back in 1802, which was used to help identify different river boat types for tax purposes. The Takasebune is a type of riverboat used to carry goods, and specific size and designs varied, but they are generally shallow draft boats with single plank sides that are nearly vertical, and the bow is a flat plank or a pair of planks joined at a slight angle.

The model in the Edo Tokyo Museum was clearly labeled a Takasebune in Japanese and in English, and I was really happy to find it. I took a number of photos to catch all the details I could. But, it was after reviewing the photos of the model and further studying the boat types that I discovered a problem with the model’s identification.

Here are some close photos of the model starting at the bow and working our way to the stern. Again, my apologies to readers as the model was inside a close-fitting acrylic case in the museum’s low-level lighting, so a lot of my photos are grainy, blurry, have reflections or other distortions. But, you should be able to still see a fair amount of detail.

For some time, I didn’t really understand the differences between large Takasebune and similar looking boats called Hiratabune. I’ve had numerous 3-way email exchanges between myself, author Jean Pierre Mélis, and our ship modeler friend in Japan, Mr. Masami Sekiguchi.  Sekiguchi-san has taken an interest in reading about traditional Japanese watercraft and has helped Jean Pierre Mélis and myself better understand specific types of Japanese boats for our respective work.

Now, I wouldn’t expect, with my limited knowledge, to be able to look at the museum model and say, “oh that’s definitely a Takasebune.” But, I do know just enough to be able to say that the boat depicted here, does not have the kind of bow I would expect on a Takasebune. Also, the hull is clearly built-up using two planks on each side, with sides angling outwards slightly, features I wouldn’t expect of a Takasebune.

Finally, digging through the drawings in the Funakagami book, I found a drawing that was an exact match to the model in the museum, and it was not a Takasebune, rather, it was a Hiratabune. 

Here is a page on the Nippon Foundation Library websites on the Hiratabune and Takasebune, showing the larger versions of the the two:

Nippon Foundation Library link

The page is in Japanese, but there are some nice model photos. The upper section is on the Hiratabune, while the lower section is on the Takasebune. If you  take a close look, I think you’ll see why I’m identifying the Edo Tokyo Museum model as a Hiratabune and not a Takasebune.

I recently found a page on the Chiba Regional Museum website with information on various forms of Takasebune and where they were used. Again, it’s in Japanese, but includes a couple nice drawings, as well as several views of a 3D rendered model of the larger of the Takasebune. Here’s the link:

Chiba Regional Museum link

Takasebune photo from the Chiba Prefectural Museum website.

In any case, here are some additional photos of the Edo Tokyo Museum model of the Hiratabune.

In any case, there is much more that could be written about Hiratabune and Takasebune, but my intent here was to simply share photos of the model in the Edo Tokyo Museum. Perhaps I’ll feel confident enough in my knowledge of the subject to write more about these types of boats in the future. Ω

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