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

The Making of a Man (in 1/20 Scale)

Time to start adding figures to my collection of wasen models…

Ship Modeler

Working with my Japanese boat models, after the tenth or twelfth model, I’ve felt that there’s now something missing. I enjoy modeling traditional Japanese boats, but up to now, there hasn’t been much context. So, I started experimenting with making cargo, which is a relatively easy, if not somewhat tedious, task. But, I’ve always felt that the cargo was just one step towards giving the models a better sense of what they were and how they were used. What the boats really needed were one or more figures, to give them a sense sense of scale, and a sense of the place and time when they were in their heyday.

Kawasaki: The Rokugō Ferry, from Hiroshige’s Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō

Mitsuke: The Tenryū River, from Hiroshige’s Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō

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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

Modeling Japanese Boats – MESS Talk Follow-Up

My first webcast talk on the modeling of Japanese traditional boats is done. It was the first time I’d done anything like this. Though I’ve spoken on the subject before, this is the first time that I couldn’t see my audience, which was an interesting experience that more or less ended up going fine. Talking from the comfort of my own workshop garage also made it more relaxing.

The even was only an hour long, and my talk was about 50 minutes or so, which isn’t a long time for this subject, particularly with my penchant for digression. So, there wasn’t a lot of time to get into anything very deeply, and it was really more of just an overview. But, considering it was aimed at a general audience, that was probably about right.

For those of you who wanted to attend the talk, but couldn’t, it was recorded and is now posted on the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association’s Vimeo page, which you can view here:

At the end I mention that the talk had gotten me thinking about doing actual wasen modeling workshops via Zoom, and I’m actually pretty serious about that. But, of course, there would need to be enough interest to make it worthwhile. Not sure about costs, materials I’d provide, etc., but I’ll have to see if there is much interest first. So, if you’d be interested in a workshop or, more likely, a series of workshops on building a model of a smaller wasen from scratch, email me at info@wasenmodeler.com.


Modeling Japanese Boats – MESS Lecture Series – This Thursday, May 27, 11am PDT

Here it is at last, my first webcast talk on the modeling of Japanese traditional boats, from research to construction. This talk is part of the San Francisco Maritime National Park Associations monthly lunchtime talks called MESS, for Maritime Education for Students of the Sea. Earlier this year, I was asked if I could participate, and I agreed, as long as I could talk about modeling Japanese traditional boats.

The talk will take place this Thursday, May 27th, at 11am PDT. The talk itself should last about 40 minutes. You can watch the livestream here: https://givebutter.com/MESS. There is no cost to attend, and you can ignore the banners that suggest you need to register for tickets, as there aren’t any.

This talk is aimed at a general audience, so it’s not going to be very technical. I’ll talk about how I manage the research and get into some of the basics of traditional Japanese boats and their design, and the general process of building them from scratch.

If you’re interested, I hope you’ll attend. Afterwards, if there is enough interest, perhaps I’ll organize my own web-based workshop on building one particular boat. If you’re interested in that, be sure to let me know. In the meantime, I hope to see you at the talk this Thursday. Ω

May 2021 Wasenmodeler Update

After some time off to finish a medieval European cog model and to gain some ground on a couple other ship modeling projects, I started working on wasen models again. It is interesting, though, to have the cog model and a sengokubune model (the Kitamaebune is a class of sengokubune, a common term for this type of coastal transport), sitting close together, as they are both in 1/72 scale.

My models of a medieval european cog (foreground, left) and kitamaebune (background, right), both in 1/72 scale. Different eras and regions, but still interesting to see them side-by-side.

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Japanese Boats in Wooden Boat Magazine

I just found out from Douglas Brooks that he wrote an article that was published in the current May/June issue of Wooden Boat magazine. In addition, there’s an accompanying article about Douglas Brooks and his apprenticeships with traditional Japanese boatbuilders in Japan.

If you’re not familiar with Douglas Brooks’ work and the status of Japanese traditional boatbuilding, you really need to read the WoodenBoat articles. It’s a good reminder of all the generations of knowledge that are about to be lost.

It reminded me that I want to do more to make people aware of the situation. During the Covid crisis, it’s been hard to do much. However, things are starting to open up, so maybe I can plan out a display or two for later in the year.

One thing I can do is mention the issue in a Zoom based talk I’ll be giving next month on modeling traditional Japanese boats, through the San Francsico Martime Research Center.   I’ll be posting more information shortly about this talk, part of the Center’s lunchtime MESS lecture series (Marine Education for Students of the Sea). More on that here: https://maritime.org/mess/

To purchase a copy of this month’s Wooden Boat magazine, you can get a single issue here for $7.95 plus S&H: https://www.woodenboatstore.com/collections/woodenboat-magazine/products/issue-280-may-june-2021?variant=39616365625512. Ω


Wasen Projects Status – March 25, 2021

After taking a five-week break from wasen modeling, I’m back at it now, getting close to finishing up some more details on the Tonegawa takasebune, and soon the Kitamaebune, which still needs sails.

The break came about after I was asked to do a Zoom presentation as part of a series of lunchtime talks called the MESS lectures, for Maritime Education for Students of the Sea, a series organized by the San Francsico Maritime Research Center. The talk is not until the end of May – Thursday, May 27th, at 11am, to be precise. But, more on that later.

So, I kind of needed a break from my Japanese projects. Plus, for the talk, I think I need to keep some of the these models in various stages of completion, to serve as illustrations of the wasen model building process. So, I’ll probably leave the Senzanmaru and Nitaribune models where they are until after the talk.

Since it would be good to show the earliest stages of construction too, I’ll probably just get started on a couple other projects. Just not sure what the subjects will be yet. It’s all about what I think will be most interesting to illustrate or demonstrate. Again, more on that later.

For now, I ‘m going to try to focus on the takasebune. I started adding cargo into its hold, so I really need to continue with it until it seems reasonably loaded down. I had made a couple different kinds of cargo and am now finishing up the third type, which are covered buckets, or oke (oh-kay). Each one is simply a short piece of dowel, with a lid constructed of 5 small pieces, then the body of the bucket is wrapped with two threads to represent hoops of bamboo.

Aside from the cargo, I still have some “copper” trim to finish up, as well as the addition of parrals and brace lines to the yard. I don’t know the Japanese terms for these off-hand. My only regret is making the sale so square to the hull. I’ll probably brace the yard at a slight angle, so it’s not so straight. Thinking about it now, I would like to make a model that shows the yard holding the sail in a position that makes it act like a lug sail, a fore-and-aft sail for sailing closer to the wind.

In the near future, I’ll post more details about the steps in the construction of the Tonegawa takasebune model.

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


Drawing Wasen Tomo no Kai’s “Kawasemi”

Just a few days ago, I mention in a blog post that I’d managed to acquire drawings of an Edo Nitaribune, a cargo boat used on the canals and rivers of old Edo. I also mentioned that it turns out that these drawings are a perfect match for a boat built by the late Mr. Kazuyoshi Fujiwara, a Japanese boatbuilder with whom Douglas Brooks studied under in his third apprenticeship.

Mr. Fujiwara built at least a couple boats that are now used by a group called Wasen Tomo no Kai, or Friends of the Traditional Japanese Boat. This is a group of volunteers that operate and maintain several wasen, giving rides to visitors in Tōkyō’s Kōtō ward.

Today, I spent some time working with the drawings to create an illustration to help me work out the details of my Nitaribune model. Now, I’m using the term Nitaribune and the name “Kawasemi” pretty interchangeably. But, just bear in mind that Kawasemi is just the name given to the boat used by Wasen Tomo no Kai. The name is just Japanese for  Kingfisher. The group pretty much names all their boats after birds.

Anyway, using the drawings I have, plus some photos I dug up on the Japanese pages of Wasen Tomo no Kai’s website (the English language pages don’t have as much info), I was able to do a pretty fair reconstruction of Kawasemi.

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