Japanese Boats Theme at the 2019 Wooden Boat Festival

I’ve stepped in it this time… Having agreed to participate in this year’s Wooden Boat Festival with a display of Japanese boat models, I just learned today that they are making this year’s theme “Japanese Boat Building”, specifically mentioning, among other things, Japanese Boat Models.

This morning, I received an email from Douglas Brooks, who encouraged me to participate. He sent me a link to the following blog post that was recently published by the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend, Washington.

Japanese Boat Building theme at 2019 Wooden Boat Festival

So, it looks like I’m in it as I’ll be the only builder of Japanese boat models there. I think I need to learn to be more confident about my knowledge of both the models and of Japanese boat building and to realize that I have a certain, if limited, expertise on the subject.

I’ll be bringing several of my models to the show, but will try to focus on my scratch projects. I do have my Hozugawabune, Bekabune, Kamakura period trade boat, and a mostly finished Kobaya. Also, I should have a completed Tenma-zukuri chabune and a miniature Hozugawa kudari bune, or river tour boat, that I recently started, but more on that later.

I’ll have a table set up for the models, but will also be demonstrating my Japanese boat building techniques at various times throughout the festival. That should give me two full months in which to refine my techniques!

Douglas is also trying to get me to sing a song at their boat launching ceremony that takes place on the last day of the event. I think he’s determined to make it happen. I also think I’m going to be urged to bring a shamisen too (3-stringed fretless lute played with a plectrum), and to play some music some time during the 3-day event, though I’m not really much of a soloist.

I would try to just stick to displaying my models, but he has gone out of his way to get me involved in the event and the event organizers have even arranged for a place for me to stay, so I think I’d better do what I can. And, who knows, maybe I’ll be “discovered” as a new Japanese music talent. Ω


Building a Tenma-Zukuri Chabune (伝間造茶船) – Part 2

In my last post, I discussed the building of a tenma-zukuri chabune from the Funakagami, and I stated that I was working on my model, but didn’t actually talk about building the model. The fact is that I wasn’t sure about what scale to build it at, given that a 1/10-scale model would end up being a little over two feet long, and I’m running low on space to display or store my models. So, I started a 1/20-scale model to see how I’d feel about the smaller scale.

I began by making a temporary internal frame. This would allow me to build the shiki, or bottom, and add the miyoshi, or stem, and the todate, or transom, at the proper angles. The same goes for the tana, or hull planks.

The longitudinal member of the framework is shaped directly from a copy of my plan drawing. The cross pieces are located at positions of the funabari, or beams, and are shaped according to my drawings.

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Hozu River Diorama

Something I’ve been working on over the past many months, somewhat off and on, is a mini diorama. I think I was inspired by Woody Joe’s release of the first of their 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō series, the Nihonbashi Bridge. That model depicts the famous Edo period bridge that was the eastern end of the Tōkaidō and Nakasendō roads that connected Edo to Kyōto, and is made to be a diorama with a pair of flowering cherry trees and a pair of small boats on the river.

Seeing this, I thought about the Japanese river boats I was familiar with. Having completed a boat from the Hozu river, its simple designed seemed a natural choice for a small diorama. The idea was also fed by the numerous available pictures of the large sightseeing boats that take tourists down the scenic river route.

Never having made a diorama of any type, I did my research and planning, did several experiments with materials and paints, and came up with what I thought was fairly decent for a first effort.

The diorama depicts a pair of Edo period boatmen traveling through a portion of the rapids on the Hozu river on a 24-foot riverboat, sometimes called an Ayubune, named for a popular kind of fish that they would catch from these boats.

The initial challenge was getting the water to look right. The rocks turned out to be very easy to make using inexpensive sheets of insulating foam. The stoney texture was simple the result of cutting the foam with a knife.

The making of the boat was the easiest part of the whole display. I just scaled down the drawings I had and cut the parts and put it together. It’s a very simple boat design. And, at this scale, the details of a larger model would not really be visible, so I was able to omit them.

The two figures turned out to be the greatest challenge. I’ve fashioned individual figures before, but it’s not a skill I possess yet. Right now, it takes a lot of work for me to get something that passes as humanoid. Then, to try to make it look like they’re wearing Japanese traditional garb took another step. Painting helped make this work, and I’ve done a lot of miniature painting in my younger days, so that I think made a big difference.

The diorama isn’t perfect. For one thing, the type of tree seen here is, I believe, all wrong. Most trees on the river banks are smaller and straighter, but I just used whatever I could find that would work, settling on the myriad of tree making kits available to the model railroad hobbyist.

The water was also problematic as the stuff I used for making the choppy waves, again a product made for model railroad enthusiasts, results in a horrific amount of shrinkage. The diorama is okay for now, but I can’t help but wonder what it will look like in another five years.

It’s nice to have this display done, and I’d like to do a more serene “cherry blossom viewing on the river” diorama in the future. For this, I purchased some trees made by Woody Joe, which should look more correct. However, I’d love to work on the skill of making model trees from scratch. But, another time, maybe. Ω

Rice Glue?

Someone on the ship modeler’s forum Model Ship World recently posted a link to an article about making rice glue. This is an interesting idea as it is completely natural and reversible, plus it is apparently ph balanced as well, meaning that it won’t chemically attack the glued materials over time.


I don’t have any plans to switch to it instead of the off-the-shelf commercially available glues, but it does get me to thinking about building something with it. What could be more Japanese than a wasen model built with Japanese woods held together with rice glue?

Building a Tenma-Zukuri Chabune (伝間造茶船) – Part 1

I completed what I believe is a good final draft of the Tenma-zukuri Chabune from the Funakagami, and I’m now working on my model. However, it appears that I am already late to my own game. Model builder Kouichi Ohata has already completed his model in 1/10 scale, and he’s done a beautiful job with the boat as well as with all the added details!

Kouichi Ohata’s model

With the help of fellow modeler Kouichi Ohata and my mentor Douglas Brooks, I’ve gone through several revisions of the plans – seven major ones, so far.

Tenma-zukuri chabune, from the Funakagami.

The biggest difficult has been in analyzing the single wood-block print of this type. Compared to other boats in the Funakagami, this one has a very flat bottom, showing no real rise at the stern, which may be possible, but it’s really throwing people, as it seems very unusual for a Japanese style boat. Continue reading

8th Japanese Boat Models Display, February 2019

My next display of models of Japanese traditional boats will run through the month of February in the display window of the Union Bank community room inside the Japan Center’s East Mall. It’s hard to believe, but this will be my eighth such display.

I made two more tall stands this week, giving me a total of seven stands, which is enough to put all the models I brought last time up on stands, getting them up off the floor of the display window. However, I’d like to put my Kobaya model on display too, even though it’s not yet complete – I did the same thing with my Kamakura period Umi-bune last time, which is done now.

The Kobayabune, though not complete, is my latest addition to the Japanese boats display.

The display includes the following models:

  • Higaki Kaisen – 1/72-scale Woody Joe kit of a coastal transport.
  • Hacchoro – 1/24-scale Woody Joe kit of a Yaizu bonito fishing boat.
  • Yakatabune – 1/24-scale Woody Joe kit of an Edo period pleasure boat.
  • Tosa Wasen – 1/10-scale Thermal Studio kit of a Tosa fishing boat.
  • Kamakura period Umibune – a 1/50 scale model of a trade boat, c. 1300AD
  • Hozugawa Ayubune – 1/10-scale model of a fishing boat from the Hozu river.
  • Urayasu Bekabune – 1/10-scale model of a Tōkyō Bay seaweed gathering boat.
  • Kobaya – 1/32-scale model of a boat belonging to the Shōgun’s government.

It is now set up and will be available for viewing through the morning of 2/28/19.

Tenma-Zukuri Chabune (伝間造茶船)- Plans Reconstruction Update

Work on the drawings of the Tenma-zukuri chabune continues. Over the past months, I’ve been making changes to my drawings of this wasen that I found in the the Funakagami. With the help of fellow modeler Kouichi Ohata and my mentor Douglas Brooks, I’ve gone through several revisions of the plans – seven major ones, so far.

Tenma-zukuri chabune, from the Funakagami.

The biggest difficult has been in analyzing the single wood-block print of this type. Compared to other boats in the Funakagami, this one has a very flat bottom, showing no real rise at the stern, which may be possible, but it’s really throwing people, as it seems very unusual for a Japanese style boat.

Also, if you look at the near side of the boat, particularly the bottom, it doesn’t appear to show any inward curvature. This threw me initially, as this is, again, pretty unusual. It’s not impossible, as the hozugawa boat I built doesn’t have any inward curvature at the stern either. But, looking more closely, at the far side, you can clearly detect inward curvature at the stern. The lack of curvature had bothered some people, so I’m glad I could spot some in the image to justify it on my drawings.

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1/10-scale Figures – A Brief Update

Last week, I wrote a post about a pair of articulated 1/10-scale figures I bought made by Bandai of Japan called Body-Kun. The figures are a bit short, but a little long in the legs, so I hope to modify them slightly to make them a little closer to correct height by adding a little filler in their midsections. Ideally, I’d add some filler into the arms too, and make the heads a little larger. But, reasonably, I can only do so much.

In any case, I’m pretty sure I can do something with them, so I went ahead and ordered another pair off of Ebay for just over $30. However, I noticed that there was apparently another version, which had replacement arms and legs, to allow the figure to naturally sit seiza, or “Japanese-style”, and to allow him to have his arms folded across his chest or just his hands folded in front of him.

The biggest differences I realized only after getting the figures was that they’re a little skinnier than the other figure and, more importantly, they’re barefooted, which is exactly what I need for Japanese figures of this period. I can always rig zoris, Japanese-style sandals, waraji, straw sandals that are tied around the foot, etc.

Original figure on the left, the new one I received on the right. I think I chipped the chin of the new figure, which is why it looks a little odd. Should be repairable without too much trouble.

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1/10-scale Figures… Almost

For the past many months, I’ve been feeling the need to add figures to my models. The models, by themselves, are nice. But to really give the feel of how the boats were used requires additional details, and figures have the added benefit of creating a sense of scale.

I’m not very good at making figures yet, but I’m working on it. In the meantime, I’m trying to use commercially available figures. This isn’t all that difficult in scales like 1/32 (Kobaya), 1/48 (my Kamakura period sea boat is 1/50 – close enough), 1/72 (Higaki Kaisen). But, many of my small boat models are in 1/10 scale. Finding a figure in the right size for a 1/10-scale model is pretty difficult, but I finally settled on something that looks like it might work.

A while ago, I saw some ads for a pair of fully articulated figures, one male, one female. The figures are produced by Bandai, a Japanese toy company that makes action figures. The figures are part of a line called S.H. Figuarts, with the male figure called Body-Kun, and the female figure called Body-Chan.

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Tenma-Zukuri Chabune (伝間造茶船)- Plans Reconstruction

Back in March of this year, I was digging through the images of the wasen recorded in the Funakagami. This, as you might recall, is a book put together in 1802 to identify the different boat types in use on the waterways of Edo for tax collection purposes.

There was an excellent short article that appeared in issue number 82 of The Rope News about a talk given in 2014 by Mr. Iinuma, who was the curatorial director of the Museum of Maritime Science in Tokyo. The talk focussed on the Funakagami and the boats described in it. Here’s a link to it if you haven’t seen it: The Rope News, No. 82

I’ve been looking over the 33 boats shown in the book, trying to find a subject that I felt I could model. Unfortunately, I’ve found no technical drawings for any of these boats. But, there was one that piqued my interest, as it’s name became more meaningful as my Japanese language skills improved. That boat was the Tenma-zukuri Chabune. Continue reading