I got an email this morning from American boatbuilder Douglas Brooks, who has been in Japan, studying and constructing an Ukaibune, or a traditional river fishing boat used by the cormorant fishermen of Gifu prefecture.
This is one of those posts where I am really putting my knowledge, or possibly my lack knowledge, out on the Internet. When I visited the Edo Tokyo Museum last September, I found a model that I was extremely happy to find, as it gave me a first-hand look at a boat type that I have been very interested in learning more about.
The boat was labeled a Takasebune, and I first encountered it in the Funakagami, a book published back in 1802, which was used to help identify different river boat types for tax purposes. The Takasebune is a type of riverboat used to carry goods, and specific size and designs varied, but they are generally shallow draft boats with single plank sides that are nearly vertical, and the bow is a flat plank or a pair of planks joined at a slight angle.
The model in the Edo Tokyo Museum was clearly labeled a Takasebune in Japanese and in English, and I was really happy to find it. I took a number of photos to catch all the details I could. But, it was after reviewing the photos of the model and further studying the boat types that I discovered a problem with the model’s identification.
At the Toba Seafolk Museum, I encountered boats and boat models of types I’d never heard of before. That of course is no surprise given my novice status in the study of traditional Japanese boats. But, the number of boat names and terms was quite overwhelming. If I am going to continue studying wasen (tradtional Japanese boats), then I’m going to have to return to Toba at some point, armed with a better understanding of what I’ll see again there.
In this case, there was a nice model of a gyosen (漁船) or fishing boat called a Mitobune (ミト船).
According to the placard, the boat was a type of fishing boat used on the Kumanonada Sea, which is the area of the Pacific Ocean to the south of Kumano prefecture.
The subject of my second Japan boat/model posts is a large Higaki Kaisen model (檜垣回線) located in the Edo Tokyo Museum. The ship is a type of sengokubune (千石船), or 1000 koku ship, a type of bezaisen (弁才船) or coastal transport.
The model is one of the largest models I’ve seen in Japan so far, very nicely detailed, and is particularly nice in that it is relatively easy to photograph as it is fairly well lit and you don’t have to shoot through glass or acrylic. I don’t know the exact scale, but I think it must be about 1/10-scale. I believe there is a larger model in Japan, but this one is readily accessible.
I just learned that there is a special exhibit taking place at the Tokyo Museum of Maritime Science of a diorama of late Edo period Japanese boats. The exhibit will be in the museum lobby from April 29th through May 14th, 2017.
The subject of the first of my Japan boat/model posts is a Sengokubune model (千石船模型) located upstairs in the Toba Seafolk Museum. Sengokubune, or 1000 koku ship, is a common term for the large coastal transports that were more formally referred to as bezaisen (弁才船).
Boatbuilder, and my personal Japanese boatbuilding mentor, Douglas Brooks will soon be returning to Japan to begin working on the construction of an Ukaibune (鵜飼船), a cormorant fishing boat, in Gifu. In mid-May he will be working with Mr. Seichi Nasu, who may very well be the last builder of these famous Japanese boats.
The 85 year old Mr. Nasu has built over 700 boats of various types in his lifetime. But, unlike with Brooks’s past apprenticeships in Japan, Mr. Nasu will not be directly involved in the construction, and will instead direct, while Brooks provides the physical labor.
The Ota ward’s regional museum is a place I’d never heard of, and nobody told me about. I discovered it one day as I was digging through an old database file I stumbled across on the Nippon Foundation Library website. Not being able to read much Japanese, I downloaded an Excel spreadsheet and began translating piece of it to figure out what I had. What I found was a list of about 900 wasen models and their dispositions. Included in the list was their city location and address.
I recognized the kanji for Tokyo, 東京, so I focussed on those. I copied and pasted the address into Google Translate, and I got that the address was in the Ōta ward. Now, I’ve been to Tokyo a few times, but I’m not too familiar with the system of wards, which are subdivisions of cities. But, I had the address and popped it into Google Maps, which allowed me to locate it precisely, and even do a virtual walk around the area.
The walk around was a little confusing, as the Japanese city zoning is very different from that in the U.S. The area looked pretty much like any other narrow semi-residential Tokyo street. I wasn’t sure if I was just mistaken about the whole thing. But, I did have a map of the location and saw that it was not all that far from the homes of a couple people that I met with on my recent visit to Japan, so I asked them about it and gave them a list of the models that the spreadsheet had indicated were there, or were once there. This began a whole project that I was not directly involved in.
The two gentlemen I contacted were Mr. Norio Uriu and Mr. Masama Sekiguchi, both members of The Rope, Japanese ship model society. Mr. Skiguchi is also a 14-year executive member of the Yokohama Sailing Model Club. I emailed them about the museum and the possible wasen model collection there, in the hopes that if they might know about it and help me find a way to get information about them.
A few days later, Mr. Uriu spoke with museum staff about my interest and found that the museum had a couple DVDs/CDs for sale about the old local boatbuilding industry, and also found that there were some 17 or 18 models in storage in their warehouse. He arranged for permission from the museum staff to allow them to make a special visit along with a third member of The Rope, Mr. Akamichi, to make a photographic record of the models there. I believe this has become an official informational CD of The Rope.
As it turned out, there were 25 models in all and the group managed to take some 300 photos of them. Most of the boats were of types involved in seaweed harvesting, which was a big industry on Tokyo Bay up until about the 1970s when pollution and land expansion took its toll. It also took its toll on the traditional boat building industry which was a big part of the local community.
Mr. Uriu, in addition to providing me a copy of their CD, sent me the discs published by the museum as well, which consisted of a video, in Japanese, about boatbuilding in the Ota Ward as well as a pdf version of a book on the same subject that was published by the museum, but is no longer in print. I believe I wrote about this in a previous post.
I mentioned all of this to Douglas Brooks who was kind enough to provide me with a physical copy of the book as he had a few extra copies he’d been given over the years. Together with the photos, this was quite a boon.
While going through all of this information, Mr. Sekiguchi paid a visit to the Urayasu Museum, which I managed to visit on my recent trip. I told him that I had wished to contact the curator there, whom I had met, and say hello and thank him again for making my museum visit so nice. I had emailed him months ago and had received no reply, which was distressing. So, Mr. Sekiguchi called him and passed along my regards. He also got permission for me to share information I received in a pamphlet published by the Urayasu Museum, which I will do when I get back to writing about building the Urayasu Bekabune model. Should be very soon! Ω
When I visited Japan in September, I found that I’d really hit the jackpot at the Toba Seafolk Museum. Not only are there numerous small boats on display, plus dioramas and a dozen or so models, but the gift shop is well stocked with books. I visited early in my trip, so I didn’t get as many books as I wanted to. Sadly, I didn’t see any of the books I was interested in at any other location I visited during the trip. One book I did pickup detailed a boat called the Senzan-maru, 千山丸.
The Senzan-maru is the name given to a boat that was in the service of the Hachisuka clan. The boat was used to deliver messages and to help tow river barges, like the large decorative warship that served as the feudal lord’s yacht. The boat is a type called an Isanabune, a fast, seaworthy boat designed for whale hunting. Many whaleboats and fishing boats were decorated with painted designs on their hulls, but probably not to the same extent as Senzan-maru.
To my understanding, the boat was discovered in a storeroom at Tokushima Castle, and a careful study was done resulting in this book. I don’t know much about the boat, the type of boat, or the Hachisuka clan yet. And, while I have the book, it takes a long time for me to go through Japanese text.
The book includes plan drawings of the boat, and I hope to build a model at some point. I am still trying to understand the design of the boat’s interior and specific features. So, it will be some time before I am ready to build the model.
However, I discovered a very handy drawing in the book that lays out all the major hull components in one, unfolded piece. So, today, I decided to try piecing the hull together using this drawing like a paper model.
I began by photocopying the drawing and enlarging it to fill a sheet of regular office paper. Printed out, this was glued to a piece of heavy card stock, and I cut the model out carefully.
I found that this folded fairly well into a one-piece model using Aileen’s Tacky Glue with blue painter’s tape to hold the the parts in place until the glue dried.
It didn’t take long to fold into shape or for the glue to dry. The only thing now is to decide what I want to do with this. The model only consists of the planks and doesn’t include the many internal beams, rubrails, splash rails, mast step, rudder, or deck planking, etc.
This looks a bit different from the actual Senzan-maru. So, perhaps it’s not what I think it is. It actually reminds of the small fast boats described by Commodore Perry’s expedition.
I don’t know what more I will do to this small paper model, if anything. It was just something I’ve been kind of itching to put together ever since I saw the drawing in the book, and will serve to help me better understand the design of this boat type and wasen in general. Now that it’s pieced together, I’m considering enlarging the drawing to a proper scale and cutting planks from wood.
However, there are plenty of projects in the works, including a 1:10 scale model of an Urayasu Bekabune, which I also worked on this week. But, more on that later. Ω
Yaizu is a coastal city on Suruga Bay, 10 miles south of Shizuoka, and about 50 miles southwest of Mt. Fuji. On a clear day, you can see Fujiyama. I visited Yaizu during typhoon season, and the mountain was obscured by clouds. Yaizu is the home of two replica Hacchoro (hot-cho-ro), fishing boats that got their claim to fame as boats of these types were once commissioned as escort boats for the retiring Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu.
The story goes that the Shogun, or military ruler of Japan, liked to hunt game using a falcon. Travel to the hunting grounds required a trip by sea. To provide escort, 24 fishing boats were commissioned. But, the fishermen operating the boats had a difficult time keeping up with the Shogun’s boat due to strict limitations in place on the number of oars that could be implemented on fishing boats – a limitation imposed to limit the military capability of the craft. The fishermen of Yaizu were then granted permission to use 8 oars, which gave the boats their name – Hacchoro, translates to “8 oars”.
I owe much thanks to my contact and friend at Woody Joe, Mrs. Yukari Gojo, who coordinated my visit with Mr. Hiroyuki Kobayashi, who works with the Hacchoro. Yukari-san drove me from Shizuoka to Yaizu and Mr. Kobayashi met us there. Accompanying us was David O’Neil, an American student at Shizuoka University, who served as an interpreter.
I have been in touch with Mr. Kobayashi for many months. I found him through Mr. Toshihiko Shibafuji, who I have been in contact with ever since I began working on the Tosa Wasen model, late in 2015. Mr. Kobayashi had offered to meet me in Yaizu and show me the Hacchoro, but it was Yukari-san that finalized everything by email and telephone and provided the transportation, which save me a lot of time and trouble.
The Hacchoro were wrapped up for the season, so the four of us had to spend a bit of time untying and unwrapping. I’m very thankful to David, in particular, for getting his hands dirty and sweating in the hot and humid afternoon, as he was just there to interpret.
The sun was amazingly hot as it beat down on us, and humidity was up around 87% to 90%. It had rained prior to my arrival, but cleared up when I arrived. I’d actually expected it to rain during my entire visit to Japan but lucked out, as it really only rained on one occasion, and I never once felt the need to break out my umbrella.
Climbing up on the deck of the Hacchoro, I felt a bit out of place. I’d never studied boats up close like this, and never had access to them like this. Having 3 people go out of their way to help me out was a new experience for me. I didn’t even know what to ask at first. But, as I looked over the boat, details about it started to gel. I’d built a model of the boat from kit, and there were a number of differences, and I started taking in some of the details.
The first thing that I really noticed is that these wooden boats are aging. I later learned that the two are nearly 20 years old, and they are showing their age. They were built in 1997, and every year, they get patched up, deck boards are replaced, the hull is repaired as needed, and the boats are put once again to sea.
Mr. Kobayashi indicated that no other will likely be built. So, they have to make these last. The results of hull patch work can be seen on the hull exterior, as the repairs are covered by copper plates. The hull itself seems to be in the better shape than the decks, probably due to annual clean-up, repair, and repainting. The condition of the wood making up the decks was a bit disconcerting. At one point, our translator, David, took a step, and his foot went through a rotting board.
But our visit and these pictures, were at the end of the operating season for these boats. It would be nice to see the boats at the beginning of the season with new wood, new paint, ready to put to sea again.
Regardless of the condition at this time of year, there were a lot of details to check out. One item is common on many Japanese boats, a kind of faceted post. I’ve seen photos before, but never at this angle. From most angles, it appears like a faceted ball on a tapered post. But from here, the design is clear, and I should be able to replicate it easily. At some point, I’d seen the name in Japanese, but it escapes me at the moment.
Some of the deck boards had a feature that I only learned about when building the Tosa Wasen kit last year. There are scribed lines on some sections deck boards to aid in putting the boards down in the right order. When everything is in the right place, the lines form a large “V” or arrow that points toward the bow. Also, in every set of planks, there is at least one board with a finger hole, allowing you to easily pull up the boards.
Another feature that these boats have that is not on my model, are wooden strips nailed to the underside along the edge of the bottom board. These serve as skids that protect the bottom, when hauling the boat up onto the shore.
There is, of course, far more to mention. But this post is really about my visit. I have since purchased another Hacchoro kit and will review it and the many updates I plan to make to it. The Woody Joe kit is a simple build. It’s in my nature to make it far more complex. Watch for future updates about that project!
As for the visit to Yaizu, after we climbed all over the Hacchoro and got all dirty and sweaty, the four of us went to lunch across the harbor. I sat down to a plate of sashimi that, being in a fishing port, was extremely fresh, and surprisingly inexpensive. We sat, talked, ate, and rested.
Afterwards, we returned to the Hacchoro to wrap it back up again to protect it from the weather, and spent a bit more time discussing the boats. As the day was getting on, and I still had to take the train to my final destination that day, which was still another 4 hours away by train, we hurried to the next stop that Mr. Kobayashi wanted me to see. We headed toward the big red building that you can see in the background of many pictures of the Hacchoro at Yaizu harbor (in fact it’s visible in distance in the fifth photo I posted here). That building is the Fukuichi Fisheries Co., building or Fukuichi gyogyō kabushikigaisha.
The company has a memorabilia collection on the building’s top floor, which I might point out, has no air conditioning, so they hand out uchiwa, or small, round, hand-fans. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend here, but it was an interesting collection. Somewhat random selection of items: fishing poles, buckets, models, paintings, outboard motors, full sized boats, ropes, anchors, floats, a small Japanese-style ropewalk, etc.
Unfortunately, it was only a very quick look. We then headed a short distance to Yaizu station, where I saw these new friends for the last time. I have been in email contact, but who knows when or if I will see them again. I am grateful to them all for making my visit to Yaizu so special and so memorable, and it gives me great resolve to do something good with what I’ve learned about the Hacchoro. Ω