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.
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.
In early November, boatbuilder Douglas Brooks wrote a post on his blog about an unusual type of boat found in the area of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake, which is located northeast of Kyōto. The boats feature a slightly rounded, sharply angled bow, built of narrow staves, called Heita.
Heita bow construction on Lake Biwa boats. Photos courtesy of Douglas Brooks.
Boats of Lake Biwa. Photos courtesy of Douglas Brooks.
The heita-built bow is a type of construction common to many boats of Lake Biwa, including fishing boats, cargo boats, and even rice field boats. Mr. Brooks specifically mentions Marukobune (Mah-roo-koh-boo-nay). Though the boats he shows on his blog are not Marukobune, they share the same style of bow construction, and his mention of Marukobune in particular intrigued me, as I’d seen something about this type before, but didn’t know anything about it.
I just heard the sad news that the Hacchoro organization, which operates a pair of these replica bonito fishing boats, is shutting down. It was only a matter of time. When I visited Yaizu in 2016 and was given the opportunity to look over the boats up close, it was clear that they were deteriorating. I was told at that time that when the boats were no longer useable that they would not be rebuilt or replaced. To my knowledge, these are the largest wasen that were still in operation. I feel very fortunate to have had a chance to see them up close before they were gone for good. The Hacchoro measured 13-meters long, or just over 42 feet. The name literally means “8 oars”. These boats could also be rigged with three masts and sails when the winds were favorable. They vessels were used for bonito fishing and each carried as many as a dozen fishermen. The boats would travel to the fishing grounds and use a pole and line method for catching fish.
For more information about these boats of Yaizu, check out my post:
If you’re interested in building the kit, I’m considering doing a new build of an “upgraded” version of the kit, using my the notes I took on my 2016 visit to Yaizu, in addition to some other materials I’ve collected.
The Hacchoro replica boats were built with much enthusiasm and fanfare in the mid-to-late 90’s. Now, more than 20 years later, they are out of service. It’s not unexpected. Boats of this type were made for harsh use and not intended to last a long time. Much research was done to re-create them in the first place, and that work is not lost. Perhaps the Hacchoro will be back again one day, if only for a time. Ω
1/10-scale Sandanbo, Kumanogawa Sailing Riverboat model by Kouichi Ohata
Kouichi Ohata is a Japanese model builder who’s work I’ve featured here before. The last model of his that I posted here was his Kumanogawa Hayabune. Living in souther Mie prefecture, Ohata-san has the opportunity to see a number of unique tradional Japanese watercraft, and he has put his modeling skills to good use in reproducing them in miniature.
This last week, I just learned of another museum in Japan that might be of interest. It’s not a large museum, and for most people, it probably wouldn’t make for an important destination. But, for a ship modeler interested in traditional Japanese watercraft, particularly ones of the larger variety, this one has something of special interest.
The museum apparently consists of a lobby entrance with some exhibition areas that surround a large courtyard. There is one main level and a smaller exhibition space upstairs. But, it is on the main level that there is a collection of what I believe are eight 1/10-scale models of sailing ships from Japanese history.
Among these are a few bezaisen, or coastal transports, a later period ship that, from photos I’ve seen, appears to be a schooner, a pair of Edo period warships and a pair of gozabune.
1/10-scale Kumanogawa Hayabune model by Kouichi Ohata
Kouichi Ohata is a Japanese model builder who lives in the southern end of Mie prefecture, near the Pacific Coast. He runs the family orange orchards, and in his spare time, creates some magnificent works including a large 1/35-scale RC model of the Flower-class corvette H.M.S. Compass Rose, from the film and the book The Cruel Sea.
Yukio Nakayama recently posted some photos of a traditional boatbuilder’s workshop on his blog site. There are several photos worth checking out.
He also posted some images of what appears to be a lumber yard, where a small craftsman appears to be preparing to split a log to cut into planks.
I realized later that the boat outside is a bekabune. The boat inside, I think is an utasebune. In fact, that’s exactly what they are. If I had bothered to pay more attention, the label under the title of his blog page identifies them.
I sent this image to Douglas Brooks, who says that Nakayama-san had worked at the Urayasu Museum and think he had helped build the full-sized versions there.
These are posted on his blog, Edowasen, also on WordPress. Click the link below to view: