Brief Blog Hiatus

I just posted this on, and it applies here as well. However, I may be posting here sooner, as I do have a few more things to write updates about. Thank you for your patience.

Ship Modeler

Those following this blog may have noticed that I haven’t been writing much lately, nor have I done any ship modeling work. It is a temporary hiatus, but should last at least a couple more weeks as my 95-year-old mother was diagnosed as having had a mini-stroke.

After a night in the ER and a few days in the hospital for observation, she was transferred to a convalescent center, where she was quarantined, isolated from other patients for about 10 days. After she had sufficiently recovered, I was able to take her to her home. But, she is in need of full-time assistance and observation. So, that’s all I’m able to do for the time being, aside from posting this little update. Everything else is on hold until other arrangements can be made for her care.

So, I hope you are able to find enough on this site to keep…

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Sailing into the Past – A Book of Replica Ships

Douglas Brooks’s article on bezaisen, also known as sengokubune, was one of my first references on these big Edo period coastal transports.

It’s a very good article and has some nice photos in it. The cover photo was provided by Professor Kon, who heads the Wasen Research Society at Kanagawa University.

Ship Modeler

For those of you who might be interested, I just noticed that US Naval Institute has a nice sale price on the book Sailing into the Past. This book includes an article on bezaisen by Douglas Brooks, and features a photo of the replica bezaisen (also known as a sengokubune, or more specifically a kitamaebune) Michinoku-Maru.

The book is a compilation of articles about various replica ships around the world today, and it probably a very good general read. Of course, given my work with Douglas Brooks, I would love for everyone who might be interested to buy a copy.

I don’t know what the regular price is for this 200+ page hardcover book, but it’s only $11.49 at To me, Douglas Brooks’ article is worth the price of the book. Check it out here:

I think it was originally $45.95. So this is a very good…

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A Viewing of the Film Aru Sendō no Hanashi – The Story of a Boatman

Last year, almost exactly a year ago, I ran across a trailer for a Japanese film called Aru Sendō no Hanashi (ある船頭の話), or A Boatman’s Story, and I wrote a blog post about it that included a link to the film trailer.

Aru Sendō no Hanashi – The Story of a Boatman

I have waited and occasionally searched for a way to view this film or buy a copy of it. Then today, a friend of mine sent me a link to the New York Asian Film Festival, which is screening the U.S. premier of the film, subtitled in english! I thought it odd that it’s been retitled by its tagline to: They Say Nothing Stays the Same

Photo: © 2019 “They Say Nothing Stays the Same” Film Partners

This is a film about an old and lonely Meiji-era boatman in the midst of a changing world. According to the film festival site:

“Set in Meiji era Japan but timeless in its concerns —the sacrifices made in the name of progress, the loss of cherished traditions — it follows a lonely old ferryman (Emoto Akira), whose life is transformed when he rescues a mysterious young woman from drowning.”

I know nothing about Japanese film, but apparently there are many famous actors in it. You can read the rest of the description on the film festival site here:

The film’s one-day screening takes place on Thursday, September 3. You have to purchase the tickets through their site, but the price is only $7.99 for one film.

The catch seems to be that you need to have an iPhone or iPad to watch it (I guess an Android device works too, but I don’t know much about them). If you have a current enough Apple TV box, you can then stream the movie to your larger TV.

I signed up on the website and then downloaded their viewer app to my iPhone, but I had a heck of a time trying to sign in to the newly created account. It finally worked out, but it was a very frustrating process that included a ridiculous race to enter a validation code and type a password on your phone in the 45 seconds they give you (they actually give you 60 seconds, but that includes the time necessary for them to send you the code and for you to retrieve it, which eats away at your diminishing available time).

If you sign up, just be persistent, and you’ll get your phone connected. I did not see a way to view the film on a computer’s web browser, which would be a nice and simple option. It might actually be easiest to download the app first and then purchase your ticket through the app instead of through the website.

For me, all is set up, and I’m looking forward to the movie now – I hope you are too. Ω

A Naniwamaru Build in German

Not sure how I missed this, but back in 2012, a ship modeler on an Austrian website researched and built a model of the Naniwamaru, one of four replica Japanese coastal transports at the time.

Naniwamaru model by Heiner Luh

Mr. Luh had contacted American boatbuilder Douglas Brooks, who had written an article on these ships, generally called bezaisen or sengokubune, in the the Shipwright annual for 2011.

Mr. Luh’s model under construction.

The construction of the model is detailed on the modeler’s website here:

I’m always very impressed by ship modelers who build models of Japanese watercraft with limited information. The only thing odd in the model is the narrow strip planking of the lower hull, but this is covered by the paint job anyway.

I couldn’t find mention of the scale of the model, but it’s pretty big. I’m guessing it’s about 1/50 scale, as the 30 meter long ship (give or take) looks to be about a 2 foot long model (give or take).

Anyway, it’s a very nice model and there are a lot of great construction photos on his website. Definitely worth checking out. Ω

Hunting for the Elusive Atakebune (安宅船)

Atakebune were the largest class of purpose built warships that were used by the Japanese clans during the Sengoku period, or the Warring States period. These ships ranged from around 30 to 50 meters in length, were equipped with a large, box-like structure. Inside were the oarsmen, foot soldiers and samurai, protected by the wooden walls. The structure had two or three levels, with the top level being the roof of the structure. Firing and viewing ports were cut out and may have been closable with a hinged cover.

Atakebune model at the Verkehr Museum in Shizuoka.

In addition to a single-bank of sculling oars, the ship carried a large square sail hung from a single mast, usually mounted near the center of the ship. In bad weather, or when otherwise not in use, the mast could be un-stepped and lowered across the top of the ship. Usually, the ships were equipped with three sets of supports that the masts laid across.

Some ships carried a heavily constructe deck cabin that sat of the roof level of the ship. At least one unusually large atakebune, referred to as an o-atakebune, carried a small castle-like structure atop.

Image courtesy of the University of Tokyo General Library – Atakemaru ship illustration / image edited

The topic of the atakebune came up recently, as some preople on the Internet have expressed an interest in building a model of one. Unfortunately, there are no serious atakebune kits available. One hope is that the Japanese wooden model manufacturer Wooy Joe might be convinced to add an atakebune to their traditional Japanese ship model kit liine up. I understand that they have actually looked into the possibility, but they have not been able to locate suitable plans of atakebune that are historically accurate enough.

So, Kazunori Morikawa, who owns and operates the Japanese online hobby shop, and I have been discussing the topic and we’ve been on the hunt to collect what information we can.

O-fasf model at the Nagoya Castle Museum.


Now, there are some published drawings of atakebune in the books of late Professor Kenji Ishii. I’ve looked over these closely, and they are very good drawings. However, they lack a scale, and they provide only a side profile with one station drawn in, showing the shape of the hull at that point. The problem is, it doesn’t identify the center line of the station, so there is no telling how wide it actually is. Also, only one station is not sufficient to recreate the shape of the ship. Add to that, a lack of a top or deck view, as well as the lack of any other specific details, and the drawing because just a way to compare rough hull types.

Illustrated History of Japanese Boats, by Kenji Ishii

Besides Professor Ishii’s books, there are other sources of information on atakebune on museum websites, individual blogs, and in other books on Japanese warships. One book that comes to mind because it is written in english, is the small paperback book Fighting Ships of the Far East (2): Japan and Korea AD 612-1639, written by historian Stephen Turnbull.

Now this book is handy and its got nice artwork and some description of the different Japanese fighting ships. It also gives an excellent summary of the history and use of them. But, I think the books small form factor leads to a great generalization of the type, Of course, considering it’s just about the only english language introduction to the subject, it’s an important work.

Given the limited published resources, what can one do if they are interested in building a model of an atakebune, or any other Japanese warship type? Clearly, museum have models of these ships – what plans are these models based on. Do sufficient drawings exist? Morikawa-san first brought up the question and I came in later with the prompting of a third person who really wants to build a model of an atakebune.

Internet Resources

As I mentioned before, there are various Internet resources on the subject, most of which refer back to Professor Ishii’s work, but some include information that has been published by some museums in Japan.

One that I found particularly useful was this one in Japanese that gives a nice overview of the history of Japanese ships: If I understand correctly, the father of the site’s owner worked for Professor Kenji Ishii. If you visit the site, and you’re interested in atakebune, check out volumes 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13, on pages 6 through 8. Of course, this isn’t original source information. But, that just means it’s easier to follow and understand, and there’s a lot of interesting material there.

Regarding real source material, I was directed to a website that I had visited before and somehow managed to completely forget about – probably having run across it at 2 a.m. or  something. The site is the University of Tokyo’s digital library, and it has a ton of old drawings and texts that have been scanned and are available to access for free. It is again in Japanese, but if you can navigate it, there is a lot of interest material there.

Here’s a link to top level of the Tokyo University library system, which can be accessed in english: The collection of interest, however, is accessed in Japanese. It is called the Komaba Library Dai Nihon Kaishi Hensan Shiryo (大日本海志編纂資料), and here’s the link:

The link actually takes you to a search. To just browse everything, leave the search box empty and click the magnifying glass search button to the right of it. Before I found this particular collection, I’d been digging through another collection, which turned up some drawings that Professor Ishii had obviously used in his books. But, this was the first time I actually saw completed and detailed images of the familiar atakebune. And, I noticed that some of the images actually had numbers on them, indicating measurements, so I knew this was an ideal find. That, plus the fact that all the drawings I’ve found seem to be in scale.

It was when I was looking more closely at the measurements, that I realized that the numbers didn’t quite make sense to me. Then, it struck me that these aren’t measurements of the actual ship, these are apparently model measurements. These atakebune drawings were actually model drawings. And, it looks to me that these were the same ones used to build some of the models we see today. Either that, or these were used to record the measures of some existing models. The problem at the moment is that I’m not sure of the ages of these drawings. But, so far, this is the closest I’ve found to usable model plans for arakebune.

Since these are model plans, the search continues for actual atakebune drawings with enough information to model from. But, in the meantime, this is a very positive find that I’m very happy about. I’ll post again about the search. Morikawa-san is now following a lead on a very rare book, and I’m going to be posing some questions to the wasen study group, headed by Professor Kon of Kanagawa University. Ω

Interview with a Japanese Wooden Boatbuilder

Mr. Masashi Kutsuwa, whom I had the pleasure to meet at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival in 2019, recently posted an interview on Youtube tat he had with one of Japan’s last traditional wooden boat builders, Mr. Seiichi Nasu. Mr. Nasu is now 89 and is no longer actively building boats, but he is still involved in teaching Japanese wooden boatbuilding.


American boatbuilder Douglas Brooks worked with Mr. Nasu in 2017 to build an ubune or ukaibune, which are used in the practice of cormorant fishing. Recently, a publication written in part by Mr. Brooks on the building the ubune was released, which is only available to the public in the form of a downloadable Japanese language pdf (see my July 17, 2020 post here:

Nasu-san lives in Gifu prefecture, where Kutsuwa-san also lives. The 10 minute interview is in Japanese, but Kutuswa-san has added english language subtitles. Not all the conversation is translated, but enough is translated to explain it. In the video, you’ll see a river boat that’s being built called a ryousen. The subtitles have it written as ryosen, but ryousen (漁船) means fishing boat in Japanese, and this particular boat is a 26-foot, double-ended river fishing boat.

This is a very nice video and it would interesting to see more, and longer, interviews of these disappearing traditional Japanese boatbuilders. Ω

A 3D CGI Model of a Sengokubune

One of my Japanese contacts just posted a web page on his Facebook account. The page allows you to view a virtual 3D model that you can spin around and zoom in on. It looks pretty complete, and should be a benefit to those attempting to build a model of one of these ships, generally called Bezaisen or Sengokubune.

The website is that of the Minamichita Museum, which is located in the town of Minamichita on Ise Bay, south of Nagoya, and across the bay from Ise and Toba. The website is viewable in either Japanese or english, and not only provides this CG viewer of a bezaisen, but below it, there are some excellent photos, animations, and descriptions of important features and items carried aboard the ship.

Some of these items, I have never seen before. Check them out, and make sure to click on the animations, as they tend to reveal more information as they play. This site gave me a little more insight into the details of the interior of the ship’s cabin, and now I’m beginning to think it would be interesting to build a detailed vignette of one.

I also learned a few other things I didn’t know about shipboard details. Check it out and see what you learn:

Also, make sure to go to the main page and follow all the interesting information and links about Utsumi-bune, historical documents, the section on History that Survives in Minamichita, the links on festival floats, and more. Ω

Explore Inside Japan – Sengoku Period Warship Models

Today, I just ran across a website called Explore Inside Japan. It’s an english language blog site that appears to have begun in late 2016, and has had regular postings about once a month since then. There is no explanation on the site that I’ve found as to who the blogger is, but it’s nicely written and interesting.

I specifically ran across a post about some sights in Shizuoka city, Japan, and there was a good write up about Sunpu castle, this is the castle built for the first Tokugawa Shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. The article explained nicely about the different types of castle layouts, which I never knew, and had a lot of detail about this castle.

But, the next post, remembering that blogs post newest entries first, described a trip to the Verkehr Museum (verkehn is German for transportation), also in Shizuoka city. This small museum I’ve mentioned in a previous post. It happens to house a number of models of old Japanese ships, including the warships of the Sengoku period.

Photo from Explore Inside Japan’s website.

As I said, I’ve posted about the Verkehr museum before and included photos of the ship models there, but this site has many more. So if you’re interested in reading about Atakebune, Sekibune, and Kobaya, check out this blog site:

Also, if you’re interested specifically in Japanese warships, there’s an interesting post about a visit to the Wasen Research Institute’s exhibition room at Kanagawa University, and the decline of the large wooden warships.

Again, this is an interesting website and I highly recommend checking it out. Ω


Higakikaisen/Tarukaisen Book( 菱垣廻船/樽廻船)- Tokyo Maritime Science Museum Download (Japanese)

In past posts, I’m sure I’ve mentioned this illustrated small format booklet, printed in Japanese, on these Japanese coastal transports.

The ships, generically known by sailors as bezaisen, had specific terms based on their function. The Higakikaisen (菱垣廻船 were cargo transports belonging to a trade guild, and provided regular transport of cargo from Osaka to Edo in the 17th and 18th centuries. Tarukaisen (樽廻船) were barrel carrying transports that carried sake and soy sauce around the same time.

The book explains about these ships, their history, and design. I bought a copy last time I was in Japan, I think I was in the Toba Seafolk Museum gift shop where I found this and several other books I had to have. The price isn’t on the cover, but as I recall, it’s very inexpensive. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to get unless you actually travel to Japan. And, even then, you have to know where to find it.

Recently, I received some information that the book is actually available as a free download from the Maritime Science Museum’s website. I checked it out and, sure enough, you can get this booklet for free in pdf form.

Here’s the link to the download:

Again, the booklet is in Japanese. But, if you don’t read the language, you can print it out for yourself, look over the photos and diagrams, and use Google Translate to help you with small sections of the text – it’s hard to select large sections of text when it’s published in column format.

[EDIT]: The download is from the Nippon Foundation website. So, before you think I might be providing a link to an illegal copy, here’s the link to the Foundation’s download page for this book: Just so everyone knows!





Identifying a Japanese Boat from an Historical Photo

When studying wasen, particularly when you don’t live in Japan, about the only research you can do is either by studying books or using the Internet. In Japan, you can visit museums to find old boats, models, and photos, where some specialist has identified all the artfacts; You can travel out into the rural areas and maybe spot some old boats abandoned by a river; You might even be able to meet an old boat builder that can tell you a thing or two about the boats he worked with, though as time goes by, that option is quickly disappearing. But, outside Japan, you basically have books and the Internet.

I recently ran across this interesting photo on Flickr. There were a couple comments on it, but they were pretty old and didn’t really offer any information, just a couple observations.

The first thing noticeable in this photos is the cargo. Those are tawara, or rice bales, and they are pretty standard size at this point in time, anyway. Of course the exact time of the photo is hard to say for sure, but it’s a good quality hand-tinted photo, which was popular in Japan between the 1860 and 1900. And, there are some telegraph poles in the background.

In any case a rice bale is generally around 2.5 feet long. You can see two bales fitting end-to-end across the width of the boat in the foreground, giving us a width of 5 feet. Allowing for the hull planking and rail, say maybe 6 feet across.

The most important clue is the shape of the bow, and the run of the planks there. If you zoom in, you can just make out that the seams of the planks appear to be roughly parallel with the stem, or miyoshi. This is a style of bow planking that is unique to Lake Biwa.

Fortunately, I have a copy of the english language version of a book on marukobune, which is a well known boat type that sailed on Lake Biwa. Besides the marukobune, it has some small drawings and descriptions of many other types of boats in the Lake Biwa region.

I actually happened to already have an idea of what the boat in the photo was based on what it was carrying and the narrow canal it was on, so I knew what to look up. Sure enough, I found a boat type called a sosuibune, or canal boat.

Model in the Lake Biwa Museum.

The sosuibune were developed in the late 1800s, specifically to navigate the newly built canals that were constructed to carry fresh water and to provide a transportation link from Lake Biwa to the city of Kyōto. Sosuibune carried rice and firewook to Kyōto and apparently returned with finished good and material for kimonos.

The details on their size is a little bit limited in the marukobune book, but it does tell us that the boats were about 6-shaku wide, which is almost exactly 6 feet, and a depth of 2-shaku. From a very small drawing in the book, I was able to work out that the boats must have been about 35-shaku long. Again, that’s about 35 feet. The boats are described as having a carrying capacity of 30 koku, which apparently works out to 75 bales of rice.

As a model subject, it seems like a fairly simple boat, with the most interesting feature being the planked bow, which is called Heita style. This creates a more rounded bow, rather than the sharp pointed bow that is common to so many Japanese boats, and creates more interior capacity.

The only drawings are pretty fuzzy, and I’ve contacted the Lake Biwa Museum about finding other drawings, but they weren’t much help. However, the drawings in the book, with some careful image analysis and enhancement, should be able to result in a decent model. So, I may just make the attempt. Ω