Tenma-Zukuri Chabune Display at the Nakagawa Bansho Museum (中川船番所博物館)

I ran across some images from a Japanese museum in Tokyo’s Koto ward in early May, and I feel like some of my work has been completely validated. This little museum is called the Nakagawa Funabansho Museum (中川船番所博物館), and I know absolutely nothing about this museum. I don’t even know if I’ve heard about it before, though I recognize the Nakagawa, or Naka river, or middle river in Japanese, which flows down from Saitama prefecture through Tōkyō.

A large display in the museum is a full-sized diorama of a small, fully loaded canal boat that looks like it’s pulling away from the dock. What surprised me was that I recognized this specific type of boat as one that I studied and created a set of drawings.

This is a tenma-zukuri chabune, a small general purpose boat from the canals of old Edo. I’ve seen very little about this boat, outside of a woodblock print in the Funakagami, an illustrated identification guide to river boats that was used to aid the government’s tax assessors.

Page from the Funakagami, with my annotations on the names of parts.

Using this illustration, plus some information provided in the book, I came up with a set of drawings that I created in Adobe Illustrator.

My own drawings based on the Funakagami illustration and provided dimensions.

There are some variations from the museum display, but all the details mostly seem to match. I will consider some modifications that I might make to the drawings, but I’m very confident with them, especially now that I’ve seen this museum display.

The drawings have been used to make at least two models: My 1/20-scale model and one by Japanese modeler Kouichi Ohata, who built a beautiful 1/10-scale model. Kouichi-san’s model actually came before mine, and he provided some great feedback that helped me improve the drawings from their original version.

My 1/20-scale tenma-zukuri chabune

1/10-scale tenma-zukuri chabune by Kouichi Ohata

This is the first time I’ve researched a particular boat type and created a set of drawings based mostly on the interpretation of a woodblock print. While I knew I had the basic dimensions right, I never really new for sure if my interpretation of all the details was correct.

Seeing this museum display is not proof that I got everyhing correct, but at least it shows me that whoever was involved with the creation of this museum display agrees with my interpretation of this boat. That means a lot to me, given how separated and independent my study of wasen has to be.

So, I look forward to visiting this display at some point after Covid concerns have lightened up. In the meantime, perhaps I should pick another subject to try to illustrate and model. Ω

Atakebune – Japanese Warship Kit in Development

At last, it’s happening. After some enthusiastic petitioning by Kazunori Morikawa, myself, and others to the Japanese wooden model kit maker Woody Joe, it appears the company is actively developing the prototype for an Atakebune.

Museum model of an atakebune

For those who don’t already know, the Atakebune is the largest class of warship used by the Japanese feudal armies of the warring states period. These lumbering ships were effectively floating fortresses. While they were equipped with one large mast and square sail, as well as a  single bank of oars, they were often towed by smaller warships.

Museum model of a large atakebune

I’ve had a number of people ask me about the availability of an Atakebune kit. Up to now, there hasn’t been much  available in the form of a well researched scale model kit. But, yesterday, Woody Joe posted a photo on their Facebook page, announcing that they’ve started working on a prototype model.

The new model is 1/100 scale, and it’s only a prototype, so we won’t know if it’s going to go into production yet. I’m a bit disappointed that the model is not 1/72 scale, as that scale would then match Woody Joe’s Higaki Kaisen and Kitamaebune kits, plus it would then be compatible with 1/72 samurai figures that are currently available.

However, a 1/72 scale model would almost 40% larger than a 1/100 scale model. And, considering these were large ships, that would be a big kit that might be harder for company to manufacture. Also, such a large model may be less appealing in Japan, which is their primary market.

I don’t know any more details yet, but will post them as soon as I learn more. Ω

Act Fast! Douglas Brooks Online Workshop – Saturday, February 20

Sorry for the short notice, but there is an online workshop this Saturday, Feruary 20th, from 11am to 1pm PST. That’s 2pm to 4pm Eastern. The Zoom-based workshop is being hosted by Kezurou-Kai USA and there is a fee of $50 for non-members and $30 for members. Douglas will be discussing the building of Japanese boats under the traditional Japanese apprentice learning system.

For those who haven’t had a chance to attend one of his talks, this is a great opportunity. I have been fortunate to have attended his talks both in-person and online, and I’m always learning new things. But, the story of his apprenticeships is fascinating and entertaining and I’m sure you will feel that way too.

Whether or not he plugs his book, Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding, I strongly recommend it for anyone who is interested in building a real Japanese wooden boat, a model of one, or just looking for a fascinating read.

If you can, make sure to buy it direct from his website, as more of the proceeds to directly to him and help fund the next Japanese boatbuilding project. Also, it’s the only way to get a signed copy.

In any case, you should take the opportunity to attend his talk this Saturday. The workshop is limited to 20 attendees, and I understand it is just about half full as of this posting. Read about the details and sign up on the Kezuro-kai website here: https://www.kezuroukai.us/classes/japanese-boat-building-feb-20

Ω

Oshima Port Festival’s Racing Boat Custom Model – Kaidenma (櫂伝馬)

Kushimoto in Wakayama prefecture has the distinction of being the southernmost point of Japan’s main island of Honshū. The town is also the location of the Oshima Minato Matsuri, a traditional port festival held in early February every year. I don’t really know that much about the festival, except that it includes many Shinto rituals, lion dances (shishimai), and an ocean boat race using oar-powered boats called kaidenma.

The following photos, I took from the Kushimoto town website’s Minato Matsuri page, which you can visit here: https://www.town.kushimoto.wakayama.jp/kanko/event/minatomaturi.html

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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

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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:

https://uexinja.blogspot.com/2018/01/

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.

https://uexinja.blogspot.com/2019/04/japanese-style-battle-ship.html

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

 

丸子船 – Marukobune Model by Mr. Masami Sekiguchi

When I visited Japan in 2016, I had the pleasure of having dinner with a couple Japanese ship modelers in Tokyo. One of these gentlemen is Mr. Masami Sekiguchi of the Yokohama  Sailing Ship Modelers Club. We’ve been regularly in touch via email as he has helped to answer questions for me on Japanese traditional boats, architecture, and anything else I need help with from Japan.

Mr. Masami Sekiguchi, left, visiting a display of wasen models built by Mr. Yukio Nakayama, right.

It was he and the other gentleman I had dinner with in Tokyo, Mr. Norio Uriu, who went and investigated a collection of models at the regional museum in the Ota ward, that I discovered when researching a spreadsheet I found online regarding wasen model dispositions. They took many dozens of photos documenting the models, which were in storage at the museum.

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とやまの和船 – Book on Traditional Japanese Boats of Toyama Prefecture

The first treasure of my recent Japanese book buying binge arrived late last week. The book is in Japanese and is called Toyama no Wasen, which means Toyama’s traditional Japanese boats.

This is a beautiful book and it is loaded with drawings. I flipped through it and counted about 30 boats detailed in drawings, though some drawings offer more details than others. Also, some of the rice field boats are little more than floating wooden tubs that are pushed or pulled through the fields by the farmer.

This book appears to be a 2011 publication by the Himi City Museum. I found my copy through Yahoo! JAPAN Auctions. I haven’t seen it listed even on Amazon Japan. I suspect it normally purchased directly from the Himi City Museum and, as it’s a museum publication, isn’t going to be found anywhere else.

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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.

 

 

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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