Building a Gozabune (Kobaya) from Paris Plans – Part 11

A yakata for the kobaya?
I’ve been looking at the yakata, or deck cabins, on the paintings of kobaya. Also, there is one from a larger gozabune that was removed and restored and on display at the museum at Kumamoto Castle. I’ve been in touch with ship modeling colleagues in Japan and they told me that it is from a ship called the Naminashi-maru (波奈之丸).

The restored yakata from the Naminashi-maru at the museum of Kumamoto Castle.

I’m still very confused about the dimensions. To me it looks very low, but I’m told the lower level is 1.7 to 2 meters high on the inside. Part of this, I assume is because the floor is below deck level, which is the case on my kobayabune.
To aid in design of the yakata, I’ve fitted a removable cardboard structure. This gives me a sense of size and appearance. I can’t really add the structure without the attendant framework over the whole ship for an awning.
I drew in some outlines for sliding doors and a railing atop the structure. Apparently, the passengers would also sit atop the structure. I’m not sure how they would climb up, but I’m assuming it would be with a “leg up” from one of the attendant samurai on the deck.
While the structure is very low, the floor is lower than the deck, so a person inside could almost stand up. I think the whole structure will probably need to be about another 8-10mm taller
Again, to get an idea of how the whole structure would appear, I referred to this image of the Kirin-maru from a collection in the Tokyo National Museum. It shows a similar kobaya with a yakata mounted near the bow. Note also the series of posts and cross pieces erected for the mounting of the two awnings. Also, there appears to be some kind of panel that would fit between the aft-most post and the rudder support structure.

Painting of the Kirin-Maru from the Boats of the Shōgun collection in the Tokyo National Museum

But, before I can do any more structural work on my Kobaya, I need to deal with the decorations. Some of this I was pretty sure I could work out easily, such as the copper and gold mortise cover plates along the edge of the hull planking. The decorative patterns along the railing is another matter, and I haven’t been happy with most of the common solutions that have come up, but I’ll get to that later. Also, I have yet to make the two bird carvings that fit near the bow or the sagari, the hanging tassel that fits at the end of the bow. Again, I’ll be dealing with these later.
Mortise Covers
The mortises that fasten the lower planking to the miyoshi (stem) and todate (transom planks) were made from copper. In some paintings, they show up as a verdigris green color. That could be done here if I want to make the model more realistic, rather than more pristine and decorative. For the moment, I’m more interested in “new” condition.
I decided that I would use flattened copper wire for the mortise cover plates. I could have chosen to simply cut copper tape to size, but I need some solution for the gold plates as well, and there is no real gold tape. Also, I’m not willing to fake it with brass here. There is, of course, gold leaf. But, metal leaf is far too thin and flimsy for this purpose. Seeing that I’d need to use flattened gold wire later, I thought I’d stay consistent and develop a method for making the copper plates from copper wire.
I started with a couple different gauges of wire, using a hammer and anvil to flatten them out, but found that 22 gauge wire came out the appropriate width. The key with hammering the copper wire flat is to use consistent strength hits and to watch the work carefully. The wire will curve as it’s hit and I periodically straighten it out using a pair of smooth jawed pliers to hold the work and gently bend it straight.
While hammering the wire, there will be some variations in its width, narrow areas then need to be hammered a little more until the flattened wire is of fairly uniform width. I just work until I have several inches of flat copper strip and cut it free to work with it.
The lower mortise plates need to be 3mm long, so I used a hobby knife to score a piece of flattened copper wire every 3mm. The scoring has to be deep enough to weaken the wire.

Next, using smooth jawed pliers held close to the scoring, I bent the wire easily. The wire joint is still stiff, so I wiggled it until it close to falling off.

Next, I used a tiny amount of gap filling CA glue on the single segment of wire and inserted it into the mortise and held it as perpendicular to the surface as possible, but just long enough until the glue started to set.

I then immediately made sure the new mortise cover plate was laying even. If not, I adjusted slightly with the rest of the wire as a “handle” and with the tip of a hobby knife, if necessary. Then, when I had waited long enough for the glue to fully set, I just wiggled the wire a little more until the joint broke, leaving the tiny piece of copper in the mortise.

This method was about the only way I could keep from losing tiny 3mm long pieces of narrow copper strip. The scored and broken-off ends might not look too good in an extreme close-up image. But at only 3mm long, it’s really hard to see close enough to detect any irregularities in the ends. Still, I would run a file over the end of the long wire strip before continuing to the next piece.

The process didn’t take that long, and I had the copper plates done in short order. The next step was the one I was less sure about, and that was the fitting of gold mortise cover plates.

Gold Mortise Covers

I considered some ideas for the gold plates, but I found that gold wire was readily available in the same gauge as I used for the copper plates. Solid gold wire is a bit expensive. Enough so that it generally came in 3 foot lengths, and I had no idea how much I would need. Then, I ran across something called “gold filled wire.” Apparently, this is wire that is gold on the outside with a different metal at its core. It differs from gold plated wire in that the layer of gold is far thicker in gold filled wire than it is in gold plated wire.

I did a little bit of Internet research on gold filled wire, as I need to pound this stuff flat. Would it ruin the outer layer and cause the inner core to break through? My fears were allayed by a post by a person who claimed to pound the stuff all the time without any problems. Given that gold filled wire is not that expensive, I went ahead and ordered a small roll off of Amazon. A 5′ roll, which was enough to decorate dozens of kobaya was only about $16, shipped.

The wire ordered was specifically called 14/20 gold filled, which I learned means that the gold is 14k and that 1/20 of the total wire content, or 5%, is gold. All that matters here is that it’s the outside 5% that’s 14k gold. Now, 14k gold is far from 24k gold, but it’s the only type that I could find in the form of gold filled wire. Any purer gold wire would have to be solid gold, and I wasn’t ready for the extravagance of spending $100+ for one foot for 18k solid gold wire. 14k gold is “whiter” in color than 18k or 24k gold, so I’m not sure at this point how this will affect the appearance at later stages of the decoration of the kobaya’s hull, but that’s all part of the journey of the build.

The gold filled wire turned out to be no more difficult to work with than the copper wire. I chose the same 22 gauge diameter as the copper wire, so the plates worked out to be about the same width. The only real difference in working with the gold was that it was used on longer mortises, so they had to be 4.5mm long.

The only issue I had with the gold plates had more to do with the material I used for the hull planks, which was sugi, or Japanese cedar. The grain is tough, and in trying to fit the gold plates properly, a couple are angled down just slightly. I tried to correct this, but the wood is soft and I was starting to mar the hull. The result is that a few of the plates don’t reflect light the same as the rest, making it sometimes look like those plates are missing or dirty. I may go back and try to fix those plates, but it may not make much difference in good lighting conditions.

Lighting again is not very good here – I should probably use a darker, colored backdrop. But, you can see that the starboard side of the kobaya is done. The copper plates are also completed on the port side, so I just need to add the gold pates, which is basically just a one evening project.

You may notice too the gold colored rectangles above the plates towards the bow. The kobaya’s lower transverse beams probably pass through the hull planks to lock into them for strength. The ends of these beams were covered with plates. I couldn’t determine if they were actually gold or if they were copper. But, as they are up high above the row of gold mortises, I think I will make them gold.

I experimented with taking a piece of tape and applying gold leaf to that first, then adhering that to the hull. In this case, I tried applying the gold leaf to a strip of adhesive backed copper tape – the kind used in stained glass work, and which I have on hand for copper sheathing hulls. This is just a test and I will refine the technique. But, you can see the immediate results here.

The only thing here is that these are very flat, and they look it. I believe these would stand out more as the beams would protrude slightly. So, I may make the plates out of something thicker, which I will apply the gold leaf to. I may try a fine grained wood or perhaps thin cardboard.

More decorations to come.


Building Woody Joe’s 1/72-scale Kitamaebune Kit – Part 4

After some early troubles with the hull construction, the model has been coming along very nicely. With the addition of the outer bulwarks fences, I began my next modification of this kit. The main deck of the sengokubune (the common term for this type of ship) has a pair of gates which are removed to allow easier loading and off-loading of cargo. On this kit, the inboard part of the bulwarks is a solid sheet of wood, with no indication of such a gate. So, I took my Japanese razor saw and cut openings for the gates.

I then lined the base of these opening with a sill of sorts, and then used the cutaway sections and glued them into place so that they were more clearly gates. Completing the outside of the bulwarks fence, I decided to add one strip of molding just above the main rail as a continuation of the one on the gate. You can see this in the photo below. The left arrow shows the one on the gate, which is part of the kit. The three arrows on the right point out the strip that I added. It’s not necessary, but further differentiates my model from others. Continue reading

Wasen Models at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival

The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festivalis a big annual event up in Washington state for lovers of wooden boats, and I believe it’s one of the largest events of its type in the world. Now, I’m not personally a big wooden boat enthusiast, so I never had any intention on going, but it looks like I’ll be displaying my Japanese boat models there this Fall.

This is all coming about with the suggestion of Douglas Brooks, who will be doing a Japanese boat building workshop just prior to the festival. The organizers want to make something of an event out of the completion of the boat.

Douglas had the idea that the organizers would be interested in some Japanese boat related displays, which they are. They offered a table and to look for some accommodations for me, so it looks like I’ll be making the drive up there at the end of August with a car load of models and display paraphernalia.

Of course, now I want to make sure I have some more interesting models available, so I put in a little time again on the new Woody Joe Kitamae-bune kit and the colorful Kobaya model, and I’ll have some progress reports on both of those sometime in the next week or so. But, I can’t help but feeling that I need more on display there, so who knows what subjects I’ll end up attacking in coming months.

If you’re planning on attending, watch for updates on where I will be and what days and times I’ll be manning my table. It’s a 3-day event, and I’ll probably be dying if I can’t take a break from my table regularly.

In Search of Biwakobune (琵琶湖船)

As you may recall, I’ve been reading about the Marukobune of Lake Biwa. In the book, there are some small drawings of various boat used in and around the lake. Besides the Marukobune, which was a cargo and passenger transport, there were fishing boats and rice field boats, the latter often being used for various tasks.

Marukobune on Lake Biwa

I was intrigued by the many small wasen types, so I’ve been on a hunt for better drawings. The ones in the book are nice, but they were scanned and printed at a fairly low resolution, as they appear pretty small in the book. They also have no scale.

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Building Woody Joe’s 1/72-scale Kitamaebune Kit – Part 3b

This is just a short update on the Kitamaebune build.

I added a couple pieces to the transom to simulate the plank that seems to show up on every benzaisen model or image I’ve seen.

In the above image, the red arrows point to the plank that I’m referring to. The blue arrow points to the very tip of the side planking at the stern. The piece in the Woody Joe kit is truncated close to where the dashed blue line is, and actually a bit lower than that, really.

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Building Woody Joe’s 1/72-scale Kitamaebune Kit – Part 3

Now is the time I find out how I did in the earlier steps of construction. The biggest challenge of kits with laser-cut parts, particularly hull planking, is that if you don’t get it exactly right, you end up with gaps or parts that don’t fit quite right. Even worse, it’s a sign that something else is off and may cause you more problems down the road. You just have to consider it a challenge.

So, the next steps involve adding bulwarks pieces that contains holes for all the beams. These nicely aligns all the beams. There are two pieces for each side of the hull that fit together end-to-end, with a neat, pre-cut scarf joint betweent. The diagram in the instructions, makes it look like you’re supposed to glue the pieces together, so you have one full-length piece for each side, but don’t do it. You’ll have problems fitting the pieces into place over the beam ends and, in the process, the glue joint at the scarf will likely pop loose. As with all hull planks and such, it’s always a good idea to wet the pieces and bend them to shape prior to installation.

Another tricky part about installing these pieces is that they need to fit flat against the first bulwarks sheets that were installed earlier. Not a big deal except at the stem, where the glue joint between the stem and the very thin bulwarks sheet is pretty weak. If you apply any pressure while trying to get things to fit, this glue joint may fail. I’d suggest using a heavier bead of glue, but I believe this area inside the model will be visible when completed, and the glue will probably show up well.

I don’t have a good photo of this step, so I used a later photo and added arrows to illustrate the position of these pieces.

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8th Japanese Boat Models Display, February 2019

My next display of models of Japanese traditional boats will run through the month of February in the display window of the Union Bank community room inside the Japan Center’s East Mall. It’s hard to believe, but this will be my eighth such display.

I made two more tall stands this week, giving me a total of seven stands, which is enough to put all the models I brought last time up on stands, getting them up off the floor of the display window. However, I’d like to put my Kobaya model on display too, even though it’s not yet complete – I did the same thing with my Kamakura period Umi-bune last time, which is done now.

The Kobayabune, though not complete, is my latest addition to the Japanese boats display.

The display includes the following models:

  • Higaki Kaisen – 1/72-scale Woody Joe kit of a coastal transport.
  • 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
  • Hozugawa Ayubune – 1/10-scale model of a fishing boat from the Hozu river.
  • 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.

It is now set up and will be available for viewing through the morning of 2/28/19.

Tenma-Zukuri Chabune (伝間造茶船)- Plans Reconstruction Update

Work on the drawings of the Tenma-zukuri chabune continues. Over the past months, I’ve been making changes to my drawings of this wasen that I found in the the Funakagami. With the help of fellow modeler Kouichi Ohata and my mentor Douglas Brooks, I’ve gone through several revisions of the plans – seven major ones, so far.

Tenma-zukuri chabune, from the Funakagami.

The biggest difficult has been in analyzing the single wood-block print of this type. Compared to other boats in the Funakagami, this one has a very flat bottom, showing no real rise at the stern, which may be possible, but it’s really throwing people, as it seems very unusual for a Japanese style boat.

Also, if you look at the near side of the boat, particularly the bottom, it doesn’t appear to show any inward curvature. This threw me initially, as this is, again, pretty unusual. It’s not impossible, as the hozugawa boat I built doesn’t have any inward curvature at the stern either. But, looking more closely, at the far side, you can clearly detect inward curvature at the stern. The lack of curvature had bothered some people, so I’m glad I could spot some in the image to justify it on my drawings.

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Building Woody Joe’s 1/72-scale Kitamaebune Kit – Part 2

Work continues on the Kitamaebune kit from Woody Joe. This 1/72-scale laser-cut kit is the simplified cousin to their earlier Higaki-Kaisen kit. The Kitamaebune is a northern port coastal transport used extensive in the Edo period. Because they sailed on the stormier Sea of Japan, they were a bit beefier than the Higaki-Kaisen, which journeyed along the Pacific coast between Osaka and Edo.

At this stage, the model is shown with a bulwarks sheet test fit into place.

Overall, I’ve found that while this build is less time consuming than the Higaki-Kaisen kit, it has its challenges, even with simplified construction.

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1/10-scale Figures – A Brief Update

Last week, I wrote a post about a pair of articulated 1/10-scale figures I bought made by Bandai of Japan called Body-Kun. The figures are a bit short, but a little long in the legs, so I hope to modify them slightly to make them a little closer to correct height by adding a little filler in their midsections. Ideally, I’d add some filler into the arms too, and make the heads a little larger. But, reasonably, I can only do so much.

In any case, I’m pretty sure I can do something with them, so I went ahead and ordered another pair off of Ebay for just over $30. However, I noticed that there was apparently another version, which had replacement arms and legs, to allow the figure to naturally sit seiza, or “Japanese-style”, and to allow him to have his arms folded across his chest or just his hands folded in front of him.

The biggest differences I realized only after getting the figures was that they’re a little skinnier than the other figure and, more importantly, they’re barefooted, which is exactly what I need for Japanese figures of this period. I can always rig zoris, Japanese-style sandals, waraji, straw sandals that are tied around the foot, etc.

Original figure on the left, the new one I received on the right. I think I chipped the chin of the new figure, which is why it looks a little odd. Should be repairable without too much trouble.

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