“Fune” Build by Alexandru Gurau

Years ago, ship modeler Alexandru Gurau of Canada had been building a model of a bezaisen, an Edo period coastal transport, based on drawings recorded by French lieutenant Armand Paris, and recorded in the book Souvenirs de Marine.

I was particularly impressed by Mr. Gurau’s work, as the information contained in the Paris drawings are a bit difficult to follow on their own. My own experience with the building a model from Paris drawings resulted in my own Kobaya project. In that particular case, I had discovered that the drawings may have been somewhat incomplete as they were based on vessels that were no longer in use and seemed to be missing features. I believe that problem was unique to that particular vessel, and the other Japanese boats recorded in the book appear complete. Still, not always easy to decipher all the information needed. Not to mention that the note contained in the drawings are handwritten in French.

Still, for the larger subjects in particular, like Mr. Gurau’s Fune model, It just seems difficult to wrap one’s head around the details due to the unusual nature of the hulls of these coastal transports – unusual to the western eye, anyway.

Scan of what Paris describes simply as “Fune”, recorded at Kobe, Japan, in 1868.

The Mr. Gurau’s model was mostly completed in 2013-2014, but he recently updated some things, which brought the model back to my attention. His dealing with the sails of the vessel have given me new inspiration to complete the sails of my own kitamaebune model, which is based on a kit from Woody Joe.

His build photos are available to view on his personal ship modeling website here:  http://www.alexshipmodels.com/2016/10/28/fune-build/

He also documented the build on The Nautical Research Guild’s Model Ship World (MSW) online forum here: https://modelshipworld.com/topic/3230-fune-by-alexandru-finished-japanese-ship-of-1868-scale-150/#comments

The one thing to note on the MSW forum’s topic title and first entries say that the model is built at 1/50 scale, but it appears that his model was actually built in 1/100 scale.

In any case, it’s nicely done and worth checking out. Ω

Building the DNB Maru – A Niigata Honryousen – Final

The Honryousen model is done and been sent to its new owner in Washington state.

The blocks at the ends of the hull turned out to be somewhat challenging to make due to a combination of the way they fit notches cut into the hull planks, plus the angle of the tateita, or the bow and stern planks. Also, the blocks have a peak in the center that look best if they are roughly level with the waterline. That’s not always the case in these types of boats as I’ve seen in photos.

The small deck at the stern wasn’t too much of a problem. I began by making a funabari, or beam, which I notched into the hull planking. As there are no fasteners used, the shallow notch I cut was helpful in holding the beam in place. The inward pressure of the hull planks also help to hold it in place. I used a small amount of carpenter’s glue to help secure it, just for good measure.

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Building the DNB Maru – A Niigata Honryousen – Part 4

I’m going to keep this posting short, as it’s kind of a major milestone, with the finishing of the boat’s basic hull shape.

The full-sized honryousen completed and on the water. Photo by Benjamin Meader.

With the hull planks, locally called hoteita (ho-tey-ee-tah), glued into place, the bottom edges of the hull planks were easy to trim, as they just had to be flush with the bottom. For the top edge, I had some measurements to go by, and I used thin strips of wood to use as battens, clamping them into place along the inside of the hull. The top edges of the battens marked the top edges of the hull planks.

With the battens clamped in place, I made adjustments to the height at various locations along the hull. But, the most important thing was to make sure it was a fair curve, Once satisfied with the curves, I marked the hull planks with a pencil line drawn along the top edge of the battens, then started the process of whittling the wood down to that line.

I used a large hobby knife to trim away the bulk of the excess, paying close attention to the wood grain, which wood would split along. When most of the wood was trimmed away, I then used the mini-block plane to do the fine shaping. A little final go with a sanding block cleans up any little variation.

The mostly final curve of the hull. In front of the model, you can see my Japanese squares marked in shaku/sun instead of feet/inches. Also, there’s the miniature block plane I used for the fine trimming.

The next steps of the major construction issues are the addition of the single beam of the boat, and the blocks that fit at each end of the boat. The beams are called funabari, but I don’t know the term for the blocks at the ends of the boat yet. Looking into that now.

These parts are made from a lighter-colored wood on the real boat, though I’m not sure of the exact species. For my model, I’ll use hinoki, which I now have a small supply of.

Building the DNB Maru – A Niigata Honryousen – Part 3

Planking the hull is a somewhat tricky process. There are no frames to glue to, so clamps are next to useless, except to hold the former in place. Also, this is an open boat that, like the full-sized boats, will have no finish on it. It’s too small to nail together, so the hull will be held together with wood glue.

CA, or instant glue, will stain the bare wood. If I were to apply a finish on the completed model, I might be able to get away with using CA. But, with unfinished wood, it will mar the model’s appearance. To keep it looking as clean as possible, I’m using yellow carpenter’s glue, which cleans up with water. The only issue is that the parts will need to be held together while the glue sets.

Since I can’t use clamps, tape is being used to hold the planks in place while the glue dries. For this, I’m using low-tack painter’s tape.

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Building the DNB Maru – A Niigata Honryousen – Part 2

Construction of the Honryousen model began with gluing patterns to the wood for the shiki, or hull bottom, and the ottate, which I am told is an informal local term for the bow and transom planks. From an earlier build of a kawabune (riverboat), I learned that the common formal term for the bow plank is omote no tateita and the term for the transom plank is the tomo no tateita.

Honyousen side profile I created in Adobe Illustrator

Patterns were simply printed on large format paper and glued to the wood using rubber cement. This stuff sticks well enough and rubs off pretty cleanly after it has dried.

When I started this project, I wasn’t sure if I needed to build a former for it, like I have for all the other scratch built wasen models I’ve made. The former serves as a temporary backbone and framework that wood hull parts can be clamped to while gluing into place. Instead, I thought I might be able to hold the parts together and band them into position using clamps and such, much like the real boats are constructed.

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Building the DNB Maru – A Niigata Honryousen

In 2019, boat builder Douglas Brooks had developed a project together with Nina Noah of an organization called The Apprenticeshop, to go to Japan and build two traditional Japanese boats with two different Japanese boat builders.

The two boats were a Niigata kawabune called a honryousen built with Mr. Nakaichi Nakagawa, and a Himi Tenmasen, built with Mr. Mitsuaki Bansho.

Photo courtesy of Douglas Brooks

The Honryousen, or simply Honryou, is a riverboat built in a style called itaawase, which simply means “plank joined”. That the term refers to a boat built entirely of planks, including the bow and stern – basically one with no cutwater. While not exclusive to Niigata prefecture, this was very common on the rivers there.

The Honryousen that Douglas Brooks built was dubbed “DNB Maru”, named for Douglas, and the two people from the Apprenticeshop that came with him to Japan, Nina Noah and Ben Meader.

If you would like to read about the two projects and view a couple videos, I recommend visiting the Apprenticeshop blog here: https://www.apprenticeshop.org. Continue reading

2020 New Year’s Explosion of Wasen Model Projects

I’m constantly studying and reviewing information about various types of wasen, or traditional Japanese boats, that I could possibly model. Sometimes it takes a long time, searching for information in books and on the Internet, until I have enough knowledge, drawings, and photos to get started on something.

I spend time researching and studying subjects based on what information I can find. Often, following a lead that takes me to some other website, or maybe suggests the availability of a book that might be useful. In all cases, I travel up an information stream that eventually just dries up. Then, hunting around, I find some information on a different subject, often repetitive, but sometimes providing some information on an altogether different subject.

So, I end up with all these incomplete branches of study. When interest and clues lead to a discovery, or when it just feels like I have enough information and probably won’t find a whole lot more, a project is born. I gather together the information, create drawings or scale existing ones, and start making templates for hull construction.

But, more often, I sit on a potential project, waiting for more information – waiting to decide if I really do have enough information and to decide if I have enough understanding to successfully build a model from what I have. Sometimes, a project is simple enough that I decide I can get started. Sometimes, the potential model size or the details leave me hesitant about how I want to proceed. So, several potential projects sit on my desk and on my computer, waiting for the inspiration to start it.

Well, it seems that the new year has created a lot of inspiration and there are several potential projects to take up. The inspiration has fired off on several of these all at once. Plus, I’ve been tasked with a couple in addition. So, in addition to finishing up the Woody Joe Kitamaebune kit, and adding some more details to my Kobaya from Paris drawings. The following have sprung to life:

Himi Tenmasen – I’ve been tasked with building a model of the small boat that Douglas Brooks and students built with Mr. Mitsuaki Bansho in Toyama prefecture. Originally, the plan was to build two of these for him, but for budgetary reasons, that’s been scaled back to one, plus a Honryousen model (see below).

Honryousen – This project to model a Niigata kawabune is a fallback from plans to build a second Himi Tenmasen for Douglas Brooks. But, in actuality, it would have happened anyway. It’s a pretty simple subject and should be quick to build. The original was built with Mr. Nakaichi Nakagawa.

Senzan maru – This is one of the more ambitious of the projects which I now feel has to see the light of day. This Edo period whaleboat-type craft was owned by the Hachisuka clan of Tokushima prefecture. It is a particularly important project, as it was made possibly by my Japan research trip back in 2016, for which I received a lot of support from friends and family. For this project, I have a book and drawings published by the Tokyo Museum of Maritime Science.

Tonegawa Takasebune – One of the great mysteries to me has been the details of this important river cargo transport of old Edo. There’s much mentioned about these boats which carried food and bulk goods down river to the bustling metropolis of the Japanese capital, but it’s been difficult to find enough technical details to feel comfortable taking on a build of this type. But, the design is actually pretty simple, so I feel there’s no reason to wait on this one any longer.

1/20-scale Hozugawa Kudaribune – I’ve modeled this boat in smaller scale and it’s a beautiful boat. I was planning on sending the 1/40-scale version off as a gift. And, while that gifting is on hold at the moment, I still don’t want to be without a model of this boat, so I’m just scaling up what it did before, but with maybe some adjusted details.

Sekobune – A chaser-type whaleboat is particularly significant right now, as a number of my fellow NRG (Nautical Research Guild) members attended a conference held at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts. As it turns out there is a beautiful model of a Japanese whaleboat on display there that was brought there by one of my Japanese contacts. I was sent many photos of this model by friends in the NRG and offers of assistance from my Japanese contact, who happens to be the curator of the whaling museum in Japan. With a set of plans in hand, this project is calling for me, but at what scale?


So, it does all seem to be happening at once. But, that’s not a terrible thing. At least I don’t feel stuck. The Honryou will likely be the first started and finished, since it is such a simple design – It basically only has 5 planks, a beam and some boards that make up a seat. Now, I just have to get some measures for it. Ω

Wood Shipment Received

Well, I now have no more excuses on not having enough wood to work with. I just picked up a 12 pound box from the post office, shipped from Japan. I had no idea my wood order was going to be this big and heavy. The whole thing cost me about $100 in wood and another $100 in shipping.

When I got home to open it up, my suspicions were correct that Tanimura-san, my wood supplier, had thrown in a bunch of extra stuff he didn’t need.

So, now, I’ve got plenty of wood in the 3mm and 4mm sizes I need. Plus, a whole bunch in 2mm and even own to 1mm veneer. Not quite sure how I’ll make use of the smallest stuff, but it seems like there ought to be some way I can use it.

The wood is mostly sugi, or Japanese cedar and it’s pretty different from anything that is available in the U.S. It is not actually an ideal wood for model building, because of its grain structure. However, I’m using it to build models as a boatbuilder would. And, I’ve found that the majority of Japanese boat builders tend to use the same wood they use to build there boats. It’s a lot like the way some people like to use real teak for the deck of a sailboat model.

The other wood that is commonly used in Japanese boat models is hinoki, or Japanese cypress. This is the wood you find in all Woody Joe kits, whether ships or temples. In fact, I managed to make a special order from Woody Joe for some standard sized wood that they produce. It’s not something they sell through the hobby channels. I think they produce the wood for Japanese craft suppliers, but I’m not positive about that. But, I was able to get it from them in 2mm, 3mm, and 4mm sheets. They’re not very wide sheets, but for the smaller scale models I would use this for, they should be fine.

For the largest projects I’m considering, I’m going to have to rely on domestically available wood. I should have that covered with a supply of Port Orford cedar I picked up in Oregon a few months ago. I’m going to have to dig into this supply if I’m going to build that 42″ 1/10-scale Japanese whaleboat model I’ve been thinking about(!). 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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9th Japanese Boat Models Display, October 2019 – Extended

Setting up and taking down my display of Japanese boats takes a lot of time and effort, and when I don’t have the display up, I have to have a place to put all the models at home. So, a couple days ago, I contacted Union Bank and arranged to have my Japanese boats display extended for an additional two weeks.

If you happen to be in the San Francisco Bay Area sometime before November 15, 2019, you can still see my display in the Union Bank Community Room window of the Japan Center’s East Mall (Mikyako Mall), which is located between Geary in Post near Buchannan street.

In the future, I’d like to make more instructional, perhaps focussing on a certain type of boat or certain region and how they’re used or how they’ve evolved. Unfortunately, that’s going to take a lot of work, lots of study, and more models than I have now.

I figure I’ll probably have to stick with this display as it is at least one more time. Next time, I should be able to include the Kitamaebune and it would be nice to have both that and a Higaki Kaisen model shown together, but that means I have to not only get the Kitamaebune finished, but I have to build another Higaki Kaisen as well.

Well, one thing at a time. Ω