Satsuma-gata Wasen (薩摩型和船) – Toba Seafolk Museum

Recently, there were several posts on Facebook regarding boats from the southwestern end of the island of Kyūshū. It took me some effort to review the posts and linked pages to figure out that the boats described were of the same general type, as the terms used to describe the type seemed to vary a bit. The boat is a Satsuma-gata, or Satsuma-type boat.

Satsuma is an old feudal domain that makes up part of what is now Kagoshima prefecture on the island of Kyūshū. I didn’t know much about this area or about this boat until the recent Facebook posts.

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Hiratabune Model – Edo Tokyo Museum

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.

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Mitobune (ミト船) Model – Toba Seafolk Museum

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.

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Higaki Kaisen Model (檜垣回線) – Edo Tokyo Museum

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.

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Sengokubune Model (千石船模) – Toba Seafolk Museum

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).

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Posting Japanese Boat and Model Photos

It has come to my attention that I haven’t posted much on Wasen Modeler lately. At the same time, I have a large collection of photos of Japanese boats and their models that I took while in Japan last September. So, I think it’s time to finally start organizing them and posting them here. These photos were taken in Tokyo, in Toba, and at the Hakusan Maru Museum on Sado Island. These locations are all in central Japan, and most of the subjects will probably also be from central Japan.

Boat repository at the Toba Seafolk Museum.

I plan on periodically posting photos of individual model or actual boats, or small groups of related items, particularly if I don’t have much information on them.

Displays at the Toba Seafolk Museum

I’ll probably focus first on those boat types that I know about and can explain. But, I have to warn you that there are far more types that I do not know about and can not explain. It’s all a learning process, and that’s what this site is really all about.

From the diorama at the Edo Tokyo Museum.

Be forewarned, perhaps by the photo examples you see here, than lighting conditions in Japanese museums are notoriously poor in order to help preserve the subjects, and my photography skills and equipment does not compensate well.

Yaizu’s Hacchoro (八丁櫓) Fishing Boat

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.

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Hacchoro at the port of Yaizu, wrapped up for the season.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Copper patch can be seen partially obscured by the blue tarp.

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.

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The mast step and support for the middle mast or Nakaho. Note two different deck board depending on whether the mast is in place or not.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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

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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.