Japan Trip 2016 Wrap Up

Here it is, Wednesday, September 14th, and I’m back at home on day 2 of my recovery. I’ve had a great trip, made new contacts in Japan, met several existing contacts in person for the first time, seen a Bekabune, Hacchoro and Kitamaebune up close and personal, took tons of photos, rode countless buses and trains, and now I’m back and ready to put my experiences and collected information together and make use of it.

It will take me a while to get myself organized. Well, first it’s going to take me a while just to recover. The trip was great, but it was such a short one for covering so many interesting places. The amount of travel was actually fairly stressful. It would have been great to have been able to stay in each location a couple more days or even longer. But, I did manage to see everything on my primary list, and I’m really happy with the trip. It was a great experience, and I brought back a lot of information to share.

I’m really grateful to all those who supported me, financially, logistically, or otherwise. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without their help. And, now, it’s time for me to start sorting things out and putting the information together and to good use.

The first task is to finish putting together my part of a talk I’m doing at the Nautical Research Guild conference in San Diego early next month. The topic is Modeling Japanese Boats. As I’ve been scheduled for a roundtable discussion later on the same day, I’m also having to put that together on the same topic.

To support the discussion, I’m going to have to finish up my model of the Urayasu Bekabune. And, now that I’ve seen one in Toba and been to the Urayasu Museum and talked to people there, I should be able to have the model complete enough to use as a physical prop for the discussion. I also have a model given to me by the Urayasu Museum’s curator to help me out.


The Bekabune Model from the Urayasu Museum

On my own model, I already had the the floor, transom and stem together (In Japanese, that’s the Shiki, Todate and Miyoshi, respectively), and shaped the lower planks (called the Kajiki). Having seen the models being built at the Urayasu Museum, I decided to move forward and glued together what I had, with my newly found confidence.

My Urayasu Bekabune under construction.

Finally, I have a 95% completed article on building Woody Joe’s Higaki Kaisen kit. I decided to hold off from submitting the article to Seaways’ Ships in Scale magazine until after my Japan trip, so I could reference some first-hand information in the article. I started working on finishing that up yesterday and will be sending that off soon.

By the middle of next month, all of the above with be completed and I will be working to complete any changes to my Japanese Watercraft Models Display, which will be going up again for the month of November, and should include my completed bekabune.

After that, I’ll leave open for now. But, I do have a lot of photos I took of the Hacchoro in Yaizu, and I recently ordered another Hacchoro model kit from Japan. So, expect to see something come of that in the near future.


The two Hacchoro at Yaizu, wrapped up for the season.

In the meantime, I actually have several posts that I started on the trip, but were not complete enough to submit. Watch for those, as well as photos and other posts, in the very near future. Ω

Visiting the Edo Tokyo Museum

If you want to see what life in Edo period Japan was like (1603-1868), you might want to make a visit to the Edo Tokyo Museum, located in Tokyo’s Sumida ward. This is a neat place and it’s big. The building’s architecture is interesting and is said to be patterned after the shape of a type of Edo period storehouse.


The Edo Period Tokyo (or Edo period, Edo) is on display as the museum’s permanent exhibit on the 5th and 6th floors of the building, but tickets are purchased on the first floor. The price of admission is 800¥ for adults and the ticket is good all day, so don’t toss it out, in case you might want to exit and come back later. There is, after all, a lot to take in.

Walking through the museum, you get to see some life-size representations of life in old Edo. The first thing you run across is a reproduction of the Nihonbashi, which is one of the main bridges leading into the city, also there is a reproduction of the Nakamuraza theater, which was one of three Kabuki theaters in Edo.



You will also glimpse how people lived and worked in Edo. This place provides a great opportunity to look at the buildings, tools, culture and lifestyles of Edo. Of course, it’s Japan, so the information provided is predominantly in Japanese. But, some of the signs are also written in English. Even so, docents abound at the museum, and you can request a docent, who will lead you through the museum and tell you about the things that were really special about old Edo and Japan.



Being that I was on my own personal search for obscure information, I didn’t bother with a docent guide. However, I kept running across the same groups of English speakers and their docent guides and couldn’t help but overhear some interesting information that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.


For the ship modeler, or someone interested specifically in Japanese watercraft, the museum doesn’t really have much. There is one large model of a Higaki Kaisen that is well worth seeing (I’ll post more photos later).



I also discovered the first model I’ve seen yet of a Takasebune, which is a basic riverboat transport. This is one of the types of boats I’d really hoped to see a model of. Sadly, the lighting in the museum is absolutely horrible, and the model is in a tiny case, barely bigger than the model, creating a lot of haze and glare, and the only light shining on it was from the front, from behind the viewer, so it was hard not to create harsh shadows.






But, the biggest attraction for me, ended up being the large diorama of the Nihonbashi bridge and the activity on the water below. There are many small boats on the river, including chokibune (water taxis), large yakatabune (pleasure boats), and various other small boats who’s specific names I don’t know and/or don’t recall. I only know from the book Funakagami, that the boats are generically called chabune.




For me, it was important to see these boats in the context of their daily work. Seeing the people on them, how they used them, etc.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get better photos of anything due to the poor lighting. The whole museum is this way. Lighting is kept at a low level. As a result, most of my photos are fuzzy, underexposed, or overexposed (due to flash). Okay, some of that’s due to my lack of photographic skill and use of a simple point-and-shoot camera. But, the problem was exactly the same at the Toba Seafolk Museum, and makes for a very frustrating experience.

At the gift shop area, I found no books on Japanese watercraft, and I asked about any books that might have some good photos of the dioramas. The shop staff was very apologetic, but they apparently had nothing useful.

Still, a great experience if you’re in Tokyo, and well worth visiting. Ω

Books from Japan

When I visited the Toba Seafolk Museum on Tuesday, I took a lot of photos. In fact, I killed off a camera battery, but luckily had purchased a second battery before leaving for Japan. I also made sure to purchase a larger SSD card for my camera. A 32GB card wasn’t all that expensive, and literally allows me to take 1000’s of pictures before filling up the card.

But probably the biggest find for me was in their gift shop. Okay, first biggest find was the cold, bottled water (The temperature was in the 80’s with something like 86% humidity). But the next biggest find was that they had several books on Japanese boats. Some of them I was aware of, but I was surprised to find titles I was not aware of.

It was difficult looking through all these books, because I really wanted them all, and their not available in the U.S., and, as I verified later, they are very hard to find on the Internet in Japan. Of course, I couldn’t get everything I wanted to buy, and not just because of the cost, but also I’d be lugging them around Japan for the next several days.

So, I selected a few titles. A couple that I passed up, I had thought I’d seen though Japanese online sites, and a few others, I figured I’d find in other museums I’d be visiting, so I might still be able to pick them up. As for lugging them around Japan, well I could just send them to my Tenso.com account, which is a forwarding service I signed up for that gives me a Japanese mailing address, and that will package up anything I send them, and they’ll ship it to my home. Of course, books are a bit heavy and shipping won’t be cheap. So, I’m lugging around what I can for now.

I can’t tell you anything about these until I’ve had a chance to sit down and do some translation and study, but you can see what they are:

img_2724 img_2725 img_2726 img_2730

The last book was a “no brainer”. It’s a small format publication from the Tokyo Museum of Maritime Science. It’s just a 40-page book and cost a whopping $3 (300¥).

The other three books were $15 each, except for that third book, which included a set of drawings. I thought it was $35, but I think they only charged me about $26, as best as I can figure.

As you can see, the first three are numbered. They’re part of a series of books that appear to be connected to the Nippon Foundation. But, the publication information in the books all reference the Museum of Maritime Science. There looked to be some 9 books in the series, though some of them looked to be on subjects I wasn’t interested in.

The third book, I believe the title refers to a boat named the Senzanmaru, I got mostly because it was the only book I’d seen that included a set of plan drawings. I know nothing of this boat, but hey, the drawings make it build-able. So, I bought it in kind of a “shoot now and ask questions later” mentality (I have to say that phrase now has become incredibly awkward to write). Here are a couple of the sheets.

The top one shows the actual Edo period boat below and an artists rendering of the original boat above.


The plan drawings are really done in a modern style, which is a good technical drawing, but a model builder will have to loft a lot of the hull planking details from one of the sheets which shows station lines and hull contour.


Meanwhile, the little book on Higakikaisen and Tarukaisen included a nice fold-out (centerfold sounded weird)


Today, I’m off to the Edo Tokyo Museum and will try to get to the Urayasu Museum as well. There’s a Typhoon passing by this afternoon. With luck it will mostly stay away, but I might get the first rain of my trip today.

Visiting the Umi no Hakubutsukan

That’s what’s the Toba Seafolk Museum is called here in Japan. While there are some signs in english on occasion, if you ask anybody for directions or about the museum, it really helps to say it in Japanese: Umi no Hakubutsukan (oo-me-noh-ha-coo-boo-tsoo-kahn).


After a really long first day in Japan, which included visiting Woody Joe in Shizuoka and then getting a good look at the Hacchoro in the port of Yaizu, I was a bit burned out and decided to just relax in my room in the morning. The museum opens at 9:00am, but I didn’t get there until a little before noon.

First, a note about using Google Maps, which I used heavily during trip planning. If you look on the web about the museum, it would appear that the museum is open daily except for a small handful of holidays. Well, Google Maps, has a neat feature where you click on a public place like the museum, and it will tell you how popular the place is over the hours of the day. This would help you figure out when to avoid crowds. Well, I had a last minute freak-out before I left home when Google indicated that the museum was closed on Tuesdays, the main day I was to be in Toba.

So, I made contingency plans, and when I arrived at Toba, I asked about the issue at the hotel, but they said it was open. Could the hotel owner not know the museum is closed on Tuesdays? Seems unlikely. And, in fact, the museum is open on Tuesdays. Google lied, so just beware of that online feature.

Getting to the museum from town is very easy. There is a great local bus system here that you want to use called the Kamome Bus (kah-mow-may). The bus center is attached to the Toba JR station. Just be aware it’s on the ocean side of the tracks. The bus to Umi no Hakubutsukan is the No. 4 bus and it picks up at station number 2. The person at the ticket window can indicate which door the bus arrives at.


The round-trip is 500¥, but you don’t have to pay until you arrive at the museum. As you enter the bus, grab the little return ticket that’s sticking out of the machine just inside the bus door. You’ll give this to the driver when you exit the bus on your return to the bus center.


At the Museum

I read something that indicated it was a 10 minute walk from the museum bus stop to the museum itself. Another lie. The bus stops directly in front of the museum entrance. Just be sure to push one of the stop request buttons when you get close so the bus driver knows to stop there. Maybe he’d stop anyway, but why chance it?

Admission to the museum is 800¥ for adults and 400¥ for children under 17. If you want a refreshment, there is a little café right across from the museum entrance. It appears to be staffed by the museum people, so you may have to let them know at the front desk that you want to sit in the café. If it’s a hot day, you might take a respite from the heat as the café is air conditioned. Note that the rest of the museum is not, with the exception of movie viewing theater, where you can watch some film about Ama, the female divers of Japan.


Museum entrance and main building.

If I had more time, I would have take more time to learn about the Ama, as there is a great deal of information about them at the museum. There is also “Pearl Island” in Toba, where I believe you can learn more about the Ama.

As it was, I spent about 3 hours looking at boats, fishing history, models of boats, the history of Toba, boats, and more boats. I did my best to learn and collect as much information as I could. I ended up burning up one camera battery, filling up my iPhone (doesn’t take much), and collecting more than 500 photos throughout the day. Of course, some were just countryside photos, a few selfies, and views of the bus, etc. But, for the most part, they were boat pictures.


Inside the boat repository building.

I will have to admit that the value of most of the photos may be somewhat less than might be expected. There are so many boats in the repository that you can’t even get close to most of them. Also, the lighting is so bad that it’s hard to get good shots. Some are blurry and when I used the flash, it over exposed some of the pics.


Not a lot of room to get close to the boats.

One subject that was really hard to shoot because it was in a dark corner, in the shadow of a bigger boat, was a small score for me. The boat is a nori gathering boat called a Bekabune, and I happen to be currently modeling one of these. So, this was a particularly nice find.


Bekabune, once used on Tokyo Bay for harvesting seaweed.

Besides the full-sized boats, there’s a nice assortment of models in the main building. Again, there was a problem with lighting. But some in a glass case were well lit. Others that were not well lit suffered further by being in a glass case, where glare was a bigger issue.


Amazingly, some models were not in a case, and one European style galleon model made me nervous because I was carrying a backpack, and if I was careless, I could have easily stepped back or turned around and broken some of the rigging. The Japanese visitors must be amazingly careful around this stuff!

One of the things I found the most interesting were the dioramas showing how fishing was carried out. One was a full-sized boat suspended above the floor, with fishermen wearing what is most easily described as grass skirts, pole fishing over the side. It looked very dynamic, and I think it must have been a very accurate image, as there was a video playing in one part of the museum below the boat where a the bow of a modern day fishing boat was lined with fishermen with long poles just hauling up fish after fish. One fisherman pulls up a big fish and flings the line overhead and behind him with a big catch. He then throws the line back in and it looks like within seconds he’s caught another. So, the boat display seems authentic.


But, the big score for me, turned out to be the museum store. I found a whole section on Japanese boats, most of which were from the currently closed Maritime Science Museum in Tokyo. It took me a while to decide what to get, but I ended up buying about 6000¥ on books. Sadly, there were many others I wanted to get too, as they are really hard to order and have shipped to the U.S. But, I figure I’ll have an opportunity to find the same books when I’m Tokyo or in the Ogi Folk Museum on Sado Island in a few days.

Well, after about 3 hours, I was pretty well spent given the 80 degree weather and 87% humidity. I cooled off in the café while waiting for the bus. I almost decided to just hang out there around the museum and in the café until closing time, 5:00pm. But, at the last minute, I figured I’d better head back and get to work writing.


Hot, tired, wet, stuffed brain, but satisfied.

Tomorrow, I could go back to the museum in the morning for a bit, but I don’t think I’d get that much more out of it if I did. At least not so soon after, and without specific goals in mind. So, I’ll be leaving for Ise-shi station tomorrow. Not sure if I will stop at Ise now or not. It’s a beautiful place, but, I have been there before, and there’s so much to see everywhere that it might be better to get settled in Tokyo, where I’ll be staying the next two nights.

Sometime in the future, when I have more time to sort through things I’ll start posting more of the photos from the Toba Seafolk Museum. Ω

Japan Boat Research Trip 2016 Update

For those who don’t know anything about this trip and why I’m making it, please check my page: Japan Research Trip under my Japan Trip Blog menu.

Note that I’ve been fundraising for a few months now to try to gather up the resources to make the trip happen. Thanks to very generous friends and family, I’ve been able to fully fund this trip. It’s still going to be a pretty “lean” trip in many ways, and it’s way too short for visiting Japan. But, it’s going to have to do.

Toba Sea Folk Museum

Toba Sea Folk Museum

There may be some obstacles once I’m there as it’s typhoon season and trains may be delayed and that may put a real hamper on some of my plans. But, life is what it is, and I’ll just go  with the flow as best as possible.

My flight leaves out of SFO late Saturday night and, mostly, I’m prepared to go. Passport is in order, accommodations are booked, got a friend to stay with my cat, I’ve gathered the things I need to take, gifts to present to people I’m meeting, etc. I just need to finalize my rail pass, possibly obtain a “Pocket WiFi”, and it might be a good idea to reserve my tickets for the ferry to Sado Island.

The flight and some of the hotel stays were booked months ago through Travelocity. I actually got a tremendous deal on the flight, which is how all of this got started in the first place. Most of the hotels were booked through Booking.com, and together, those two sites seemed to do a decent job of securing my accommodations.

Bridge at the Ise shrine in 2006

Bridge at the Ise shrine in 2006

So, here are the places where I’m going with the major items / points of interest. Asterisk* indicates overnight stay.

  • Shizuoka
    • Visit Woody Joe
    • Hacchoro at port of Yaizu
  • Toba*
    • Toba Seafolk Museum (Warehouse of boats)
    • Ise-jingu Shrine
  • Tokyo*
    • Edo Tokyo Museum
    • Urayasu Boat Museum
    • Visit Wasen Tomo no Kai
    • Dinner with friends from The Rope, Tokyo
  • Ogi village, Sado Island*
    • Ogi Folk Museum
      • Hakusan Maru (Kitamaebune replica ship)
    • Taraibune Excursions / Taraibune maker
  • Tokyo*
    • Final Day of sightseeing, visiting people


Google Maps

I have to say that in the last couple weeks, I’ve made very heavy use of Google Maps. Actually, I’ve been using it for months to make sure place I’m staying at are actually in convenient locations. But, the last couple weeks, I’ve been going crazy working out how to get to various places, looking for convenience stores, places to eat on the cheap (most of my money will be tied up in travel and accommodations), etc.

Something that has been invaluable is the “Schedule Explorer”. My first day in Japan is going to be a bit tricky. I land at Haneda around 5:00 am, need to take the airport monorail  to Tokyo Station to get to the JR Office. But, that doesn’t open until until 7:30 am, at which time I need to pick up my Rail Pass (I’m planning on getting a 7-day pass with Green Car access), hop on the Shinkansen toward Nagoya, but get off at Shizuoka Station. There, I will take a cab to Woody Joe, meet my long-time contact Mrs. Yukari Gojo, the president (her father), Mr. Tsuneki, and the staff. Aftewards, Yukari has offered to drive me in her car to the port of Yaizu, where we will meet with Mr. Hiroyuki Kobayashi, who is a member of the group that operates the Hacchoro boats, who will show us the boats and let me examine them.


Shinkansen to Tohoku in 2008

Afterwards, they will drop me off at Yaizu Station. This station is not on the Shinkansen line, so I have to take this regular train either back to Shizuoka Station or  onward to the next Shinkansen station. Then, I will continue on to Nagoya and switch to another train, possibly one called the Rapid Train Mie (mee-eh), which I can then take all the way south to Toba, where I will stay for a couple nights.

So, all of this is to point out that there’s a lot of travel planning on the first day, and Google Maps seems to have made it very simple for me to figure out how much time I will have in Yaizu. Of course, there will be some glitches and things it can not predict. But, I’m not going to be any better at predicting issues myself.

Also, being able to “walk” around the places has allowed me the opportunity to figure out that my initial accommodations in Ise, while homey and inexpensive, are too hard to find from the train station, especially if I’m running late and don’t get there until after dark. So, I found some alternative places that were actually in Toba and again did a virtual walk around and found the places very easy to get to.

Of course, I haven’t physically been there yet, so I won’t really know how successful this has all been until after I’ve gotten there. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

For now, it’s all pretty well planned out and so I’m setting it all aside and it will be what it will be!