Douglas Brooks Building Honryousen

American Boatbuilder Douglas Brooks has been studying traditional Japanese boatbuilding techniques from master Japanese craftsmen for more than 25 years. He recently completed building a boat in Niigata prefecture under the guidance of Mr. Nakaichi Nakagawa. The boat is a simple river boat called a Honryousen.

Joining him in Japan is Nina Noah, Director of Student Affairs and Outreach at the Apprenticeshop, a non-profit organization located in Rockland, ME, dedicated “to inspiring personal growth through craftsmanship, community, and traditions of the sea.” She is also working on the boats and helping to document the work being done.

The following video was put together interviewing Mr. Nakagawa and documenting the work on this lovely boat.



Japanese Book Buying Binge

While I have plenty of projects and potential projects to work on, I seem to be hungry for new material. Recently, I was hunting for the source of a pdf copy of an out of print book that I had originally obtained from the Nippon Foundation Library a few years ago.

But, try as I might, I couldn’t find it anywhere. In fact, most of my saved links to the site appear to be broken. I hunted for the pdf book, but couldn’t manage to locate it. However, I did manage to run across an actual physical copy on a Japanese auction site. Now, I don’t actually need the book, since I have the pdf file, but it’s always nice to have a physical resource.

The book I found was one on the history of the Takasebune, a term for the various types of shallow-draft transports found on the rivers across Japan. Watch for an upcoming post on researching and reconstructing the Takasebune of the Tone river system.

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Looking for Yodogawa river craft detail

I haven’t tried this yet with this blog. Normally, I just post what’s new and what I’m working on, etc. But, this time I’m going to try asking for help…

Some Yodogawa 淀川 river boats and some sea boats in the Osaka area show a kind of stern structure that is different from other boat types, but I can’t quite make out the details from the few drawings and photos I’ve seen.

In another case, there is a model of a river gozabune from the Tokyo Museum of Maritime Science. I have some photos of it, but again, nothing that shows the stern in detail. Again, this is a boat from the Yodo river.

This is a beautiful model for which I have a nice drawing, but there is no scale and again I don’t really understand the construction of the stern.

Now, I could take a guess based on the drawings I have, but this is a very well known and often viewed model, so I’m hoping someone out there has some better closeup photos of it. Also, I need the exact length of model or of something specific on the model, as well as the scale, to be able to determine correct measurements.

There might be other models besides this specific one that shows stern features in detail, if you have any info, please contact me here through the comments section. Thank you!


Zutta Tenma in 1/10 scale – Himi Rice Field Boat

In early 2016, Douglas Brooks was in Himi, Japan, to build a small Tabune, or rice field boat, known locally as a Zutta Tenma. He is back in Japan now, on his way back to Himi, this time to build a general purpose boat that I’m told is simply called a Tenmasen.

As part of a fund raising plan, I’d agreed to build a couple models for fund raising purposes for him for a nominal fee. This will happen some time in the next 6 months, probably, as I wait for more details on the boat’s construction.

Himi Tenmasen

In the meantime, Douglas was also in Niigata prefecture, where he worked on a very simple river boat which has been called a Nouninawase or Itaawase, or as I just learned today, a Honryousen.

Douglas Brooks caulking a seam on a Honryousen

I’m not sure if it’s going to happen, but Douglas was interested in getting a model of the Honryousen he just built, so I’m waiting on some dimensions on that too.

But, while I’m waiting for information on those, I decided that I really haven’t done all that much in the way of a model of a boat that he’s built, and I’m about to build two. So, I figured I’d better get a head start and get in some practice by building a Zutta Tenma model.

Zutta Tenma were boats used in and around the rice fields of the region. This one is a smaller type and has a very simple design. My understanding is that these were not built by boat builders, per se, but by builders who specifically built these tabune, or rice field boats.

Zutta Tenma in a museum in Himi, Japan

The boat is only about 12 feet long, so I’m going with a 1/10-scale model. At this scale, the model will be about 14 inches long. This also allows me to put in the mortise detail, which is hard for me to do at smaller scales. It also keeps the model from seeming too simple. Unfortunately, most of the interesting detail is on the underside of the boat, so you won’t be able to see it unless the model is displayed upside down.

For the most part, I think the boats look best on a simple wooden base. But, a mirrored base, would allow a viewer to see the bottom of the boat as it sits upright. I’ll have to think about this.

You can read more about Douglas Brooks’s 2016 Zutta Tenma project on his blog here:


9th Japanese Boat Models Display, October 2019 – Extended

Setting up and taking down my display of Japanese boats takes a lot of time and effort, and when I don’t have the display up, I have to have a place to put all the models at home. So, a couple days ago, I contacted Union Bank and arranged to have my Japanese boats display extended for an additional two weeks.

If you happen to be in the San Francisco Bay Area sometime before November 15, 2019, you can still see my display in the Union Bank Community Room window of the Japan Center’s East Mall (Mikyako Mall), which is located between Geary in Post near Buchannan street.

In the future, I’d like to make more instructional, perhaps focussing on a certain type of boat or certain region and how they’re used or how they’ve evolved. Unfortunately, that’s going to take a lot of work, lots of study, and more models than I have now.

I figure I’ll probably have to stick with this display as it is at least one more time. Next time, I should be able to include the Kitamaebune and it would be nice to have both that and a Higaki Kaisen model shown together, but that means I have to not only get the Kitamaebune finished, but I have to build another Higaki Kaisen as well.

Well, one thing at a time. Ω

Hozugawa Kudari Bune in 1/40 scale

If you’ve been following my blog, you might have read this one about the Hozugawa downriver boats: Wasen Models in Miniature – A Hozugawa Downriver Boat

I’ve since added a few details to the model, modernizing it slightly, with the addition of iron reinforcement brackets and a full complement of poles and oars.

I also added the loops to the hull which hold the paddles and steering oars in place when running down the river.

I wasn’t able to get official measurements on these, so I had to rely on photos and estimate the sizes. These are the sizes I came up with:

Sao (pole) – 18 shaku

Paddle (2) – 9 shaku, 7 sun wide blade

Steering Oar – 20 shaku, 7 sun wide blade

Pushing Pole – 9 shaku

Recently, I got myself a miniature shaku square about 3 sun long, so I didn’t actually need to convert to metric, like I sometimes do. Scaling down to 1/40, these come out as:

Sao – 4.5 sun

Paddle – 2.25 sun, 1.75 bu wide blade

Steering Oar – 5 sun, 1.75 bu wide blade

Pushing Pole – 2.25 sun

Since the poles are very thin, less than 1mm diameter at scale, I had to resort to using brass rod, which I sprayed with Tamiya Surface Primer, then finished off with a mix of acrylic paints.

At one time, before the arrival of motor vehicles, the boats ran down river and were manually hauled back up the river by the boatmen, who wore harnesses attached to long ropes. I’ve considered adding rope coils, but my model, with it’s iron fittings and fittings for seating clearly suggests it’s from a later period. So, it probably wouldn’t make sense to add them.

Earlier boats had removable beams to make storage easier. These had a more unfinished, rounded look, and did not have iron fastenings. Douglas Brooks suggested to me that the iron fastenings were likely added to the beams so that they could be used to more easily lift the boats onto trucks for their return journeys.

Historical photo I found on the Internet. I do not know what date this was taken.

A successful attempt in 2009 to recreate the task of hauling a kudaribune back upstream, a task known as hikibune. More details at

So, short of adding a platform to the inside bottom of the boat, which would be removable anyway, the model is done. The path is now clear to move on to finish another project in the wasen mokei boat shop!

October 2019 Wasen Mokei Update

Progress on my Kitamaebune slowly continues while the rest of my wasen models are on display through the end of October, though I may talk to the bank about extending the display, just to save me from having to pick up everything just yet.

In my model wasen “boat shop” I still haven’t finished the final details on my Tenma-zukuri chabune, as I’m still contemplating the darkening of the copper trim on it. On my Kitamaebune, I solved this by using brown vinyl, but I do want to try to make this work with copper on the smaller model.

Also in my boat shop is a partially started Hozugawa Ayubune, which I want to be able to make as a gift, since it’s a simple contruction. However, it’s not so simple that I just make myself sit down and get it done. It probably has to do with the fact that I’ve already built one, so the challenge isn’t quite there.

Finally, I’ve cut the parts and created some drawings and a mold for a 1/10-scale model of a Himi rice field boat called a Zutta Tenma. This is something that Douglas Brooks built in Japan in early 2016 (click here to see his blog).

A Zutta Tenma, a rice field boat, built by Douglas Brooks in Himi, Japan, in early 2016.

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Building Woody Joe’s 1/72-scale Kitamaebune Kit – Part 6

Details, Details…

Hull construction is done on the Kitamaebune, the rudder has been added, and it’s time to turn my attention to the small details.

The kit, like all of the larger Woody Joe wasen model kits, includes a sheet of photo-etched copper, which covers many of the beam ends and such. But, while these pieces cover all the major features, there are many more, smaller details on the real ships that aren’t dealt with in this or the Higaki Kaisen kit.

I took these photos of the Hakusanmaru on Sado Island in 2016. In them, you can see all the brown colored copper coverings as well as the black iron bands and fasteners.

I considered trying to make these details in copper, but it wouldn’t match the copper in the kit, which actually appears to be some kind of copper alloy, as it doesn’t tarnish like regular copper. The solution I came up with, was to use brown colored adhesive vinyl. So, it was time to re-introduce my vinyl cutting machine, the Cameo Silhouette 3.

Here’s a link to the blog post where I used the Cameo to make the ornamentation on my Kobaya model:

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9th Japanese Boat Models Display, October 2019

I just finished setting up Japanese wasen model display 9.0 yesterday. I was a bit late setting it up, which I had planned to set up 3 days earlier, but it was difficult for me to arrange my time this week for various reasons. But, it’s up now in the display window of the Union Bank community room inside the Japan Center’s East Mall in San Francisco.

Due to the sale of my Higaki Kaisen model, and to keep things manageable, I ended up scaling back to 6 models, plus a panel of photos. This fills up the display window just fine and allows me to set up more easily.

In fact, I have traditionally set aside 2 hours to handle the setup, but I must have become more efficient at it, as it only took me an hour to get the key from the bank, carry everything from my car, and set up the display.

The display includes:

  • Hacchoro – 1/24-scale Woody Joe kit of a Yaizu bonito fishing boat.
  • Yakatabune – 1/24-scale Woody Joe kit of an Edo period pleasure boat.
  • Tosa Wasen – 1/10-scale Thermal Studio kit of a Tosa fishing boat.
  • Kamakura period Umibune – a 1/50 scale model of a trade boat, c. 1300AD
  • Urayasu Bekabune – 1/10-scale model of a Tōkyō Bay seaweed gathering boat.
  • Kobaya – 1/32-scale model of a boat belonging to the Shōgun’s government.

Noticeably missing, at least to me, is a model of a bezaisen, or Japanese coastal transport, as I sold my Higaki Kaisen model last month and haven’t completed the Kitamaebune model yet.

The Kitamaebune will be ready for the next display, I’m sure. And, I do have another Higaki Kaisen kit. So, by that time, mabye I’ll have the second Higaki Kaisen model ready too.

One thing different about this display is that while I was setting up the display window, a cat wandered through the East Mall and sat out in front by the bunraku puppet display. While the cat didn’t specifically come and look at the display, I like to think that he or she brought by some good luck to the display.

The display will run through at least the end of October. Given that I was several days behind schedule on the setup, perhaps I’ll leave it up a little longer if the window space is available. Ω

Aru Sendō no Hanashi – The Story of a Boatman

Just was made aware of a recently released film called “Aru Sendō no Hanashi”, which means “The Story of a Boatman”.

My Japanese is really not very good, so I would have a hard time understanding this film, but from this little Youtube video clip, I really want to see it.


Some digging around I did on this film reveals that it is a late Meiji period story of an aging boatman, named Toiichi, who lives in a small hut by a river. The nearby villagers are looking forward to the completion of a new bridge that will connect them to the modern world. He has been left behind by the changing times, but continues to row his boat. When a mysterious girl appears, his life begins to change drastically.

This is all I know except that the film is described as weaving a tale with visual beauty and music, and that I want to see it. Ω