Painted Patterns on Kujirabune (Whale boats)

Kujirabune, also know as Isanabune, were fast boats designed for hunting whales. These boats often had brightly painted sides, decorated with symbols, crests, chrysanthemums, and other themes.

One such boat that I’ve mentioned specifically here is the Senzanmaru, a boat used by the  Hachizuka to deliver dispatches and to tow large gozabune, highly decorated yachts used by the clan.

Senzan-maru, a whale boat used by the Hachitsuka clan.

Today, I was admiring a Facebook post by a gentleman I’ve recently been in contact with who has an interest in wasen and took some photos of a group of whaleboats that were on shore in Kumano city, on the Southeastern tip of Shikoku island. I looked up the city on the Internet and one thing led to another. Next thing I know, I ran across an english language web page for the town of Taiji (yes, it’s the same town that has become somewhat infamous for its annual dolphin slaughter), which illustrates a large number of whaleboats of different types and their colorful painted hull patterns.

Chaser Boat No. 6, an 8-oared boat with a crew of 15. From the Taijiri town website.

There are more than 40 boats and patterns viewable on the web page: http://taiji.town/kujirabune/

But, the whole website is actually very interesting and informative. It appears that it was purposely designed to be a politically neutral, informative site on Taiji an its history in Japanese and English. Visit http://taiji.town

One thing I’m intrigued about is from the whale boats page when you click the About button. There is a detailed plan on the page. It’s too small to use, but I will be asking some friends if they can find out if these plans might be available from the museum. If so, you’re sure to hear about it here.

The Rope: Article on the Funakagami and Historical Japanese Boats

Continuing with a string of posts about the Japanese ship model society, The Rope, here’s a short, but very interesting article describing a talk given by the curatorial director of the Tokyo Museum of Maritime Science. In this talk, Mr. Iinuma describes Japanese historical boats and the role of the book, Funakagami. I posted about this earlier in the year, along with a link to a downloadable pdf copy of the book. This article in The Rope News is a better discussion of the book that mine, and it’s a very short summary.

 

Cover of the Funakagami

I read this and, learned a few key things that I didn’t know about. One in particular was why the stem (the term bowsprit is mistakenly used here) on many yakatabune shown in wood block prints, look incomplete. I’ll let you read that answer for yourself. You can read the article online or download a copy:

https://theropetokyo-en.jimdo.com/japanese-ships-1/archive-of-documents/

And, here is a link to my own blog post on the Funakagami where you can download a copy directly from the Tokyo Museum of Maritime Science: https://wasenmodeler.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/funakagami-a-pdf-book-on-japanese-boat-types-2/

 

Can a Kobaya be Built from Paris Plans?

Kobaya is a term for a type of smaller military style vessel that is fast and maneuverable. Highly ornate versions of these and larger military vessels called Sekibune were used by Daimyo and their clans for ceremonial and other official purposes. I don’t know about the smaller ones, but the larger ones were called Gozabune.

 

Photo of a 30-oar Kobaya, of small fast-boat, from a display of models built by Yukio Nakayama. Photo is courtesy of The Rope.

Ship modelers building American or European subjects are accustomed to finding detailed drawingsfor the more popular of these vessels. There are even large numbers of plans made specifically for ship modelers. But, unlike with western subjects, there is a dearth of plans of Japanese watercraft. I’ve found plenty of sketches and there are basic line drawings that might be used, but these commonly don’t have the information needed to build a proper model.

One reason for this is that Japanese boatbuilders don’t have a tradition of recording their work, and they generally only make temporary drawings on wood, sometimes destroying them when done.

Japanese boatbuilder’s plank drawings. Photo courtesy of Douglas Brooks.

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From Douglas Brooks – The Cormorant Fishing Boat is Done

I got an email this morning from American boatbuilder Douglas Brooks, who has been in Japan, studying and constructing an Ukaibune, or a traditional river fishing boat used by the cormorant fishermen of Gifu prefecture.

Photo of completed Ukaibune courtesy of Douglas Brooks.

The boat is reportedly 42 feet long, 4 feet wide, and used some 900 nails in construction. And, for those not familiar with Japanese traditional boat construction, we’re not talking about wire nails, we’re talking about hand-forged flat iron nails.

A pair of Japanese made iron nails used in wooden boatbuilding.

The boat will launch in one week.

Learn more by visiting his blog at: http://blog.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com

As always, I can’t recommend his book enough. Order direct from his website to assure that all proceeds go to help fund additional research. Plus, short of meeting the author in person, this is the only way to get an inscribed copy: http://douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com/japanese_wooden_boatbuilding.html

Tell him I sent you and you’ll help give me more leverage to get him to provide some plans for ship/boat modelers to scratch build from.

 

Building a Hozugawa Ayubune Model in 1/10 Scale

There are a lot of potential wasen subjects to model, but good plans are difficult to come by. Also, when decent drawings are found, it’s often difficult to find or to understand the details of the subject. I’ve been toying with a lot of different possible model building subjects, but would usually run into some issue that kept me from pursuing it further.

Recently, I sort of re-discovered a subject that I seem to have overlooked before. It is a boat that Douglas Brooks wrote about in past blogs from about 3 years ago, when he was building a boat in Kameoka, Japan, which is about 16 miles west of Kyoto. There, he built a Hozugawa Ayubune, a type of simple fishing boat that was used on the Hozu river.

15 shaku Ayubune built by Douglas Brooks in Kameoka, Japan, in 2014. Photo courtesy of Douglas Brooks.

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An Interview with Boat Builder Douglas Brooks

American boatbuilder Douglas Brooks has been working hard to study and document the craft of traditional Japanese boat building. He’s off again to Japan this month to study the construction of the cormorant fishing boats of Gifu prefecture.

An interview with him was just appeared on the Merchant & Makers website: http://www.merchantandmakers.com/the-craft-of-japanese-wooden-boatbuilding-with-douglas-brooks/

For more information on Douglas Brooks, visit his website at: http://www.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com

 

Modeling a Gifu Tabune

When I was writing my recent post about Douglas Brook’s upcoming work in Gifu, Japan, building an Ukaibune, or cormorant fishing boat, I noticed another boat and some drawings on his blog site. The boat was one of three tabune (田舟), or rice field boats, that boatbuilder Seichi Nasu had just completed.

One of Nasu-san’s tabune built in 2014. Photo courtesy of Douglas Brooks.

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Douglas Brooks Building Cormorant Fishing Boat in Gifu

Boatbuilder, and my personal Japanese boatbuilding mentor, Douglas Brooks will soon be returning to Japan to begin working on the construction of an Ukaibune (鵜飼船), a cormorant fishing boat, in Gifu. In mid-May he will be working with Mr. Seichi Nasu, who may very well be the last builder of these famous Japanese boats.

The 85 year old Mr. Nasu has built over 700 boats of various types in his lifetime. But, unlike with Brooks’s past apprenticeships in Japan, Mr. Nasu will not be directly involved in the construction, and will instead direct, while Brooks provides the physical labor.

Ukaibune on the shore of the Nagara river. Image courtesy of Douglas Brooks.

Ukaibune are incredibly long and narrow. In Gifu, they are generally worked by three fishermen at night by firelight. From these boats, the fishermen use cormorants to catch fish. A snare is placed around the base of the bird’s throat which allows it to swallow smaller fish, but not larger ones, which are instead held in their mouths. When a larger fish is caught, the fishermen bring the fish back aboard the boat and where it spits out the fish. It is a very old tradition practiced not only in Japan, but also in China, and parts of Europe.

In Japan the practice has become less about catching fish and more about bringing in tourists, at least in Gifu, where the tourists number in the hundreds of thousands annually. There, on the Nagara river, fishing is done at night, as tourists ride around in viewing boats, observing the 1300 year old tradition.

Cormorant fishing on the Nagara river. Image from go-centraljapan.jp.

I’ll post more about the building of the Ukaibune as I learn more. In the meantime, you can follow the work of Douglas Brooks by visiting his blog. There’s some interesting information about the cormorant fishing boats from his February 2014 visit.

To learn more about the man and his past projects, or to buy his book on Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding (highly recommended), visit his website at http://www.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com/

For more information about cormorant fishing in Gifu, check out this site: http://en.go-centraljapan.jp/place/detail_115.html

Neptunia – Traditional Japanese Boats Through Prints

I have had the good fortune of having been in many email exchanges with French author Jean-Pierre Mélis and our mutual friends in Japan for about the last year or so. Mr. Mélis has been writing a three part series of articles in Neptunia, the Journal of the Friends of the French National Maritime Museum.

The series explores different types of Japanese watercraft as depicted in  Japanese woodblock prints. The journal is in French, but with modern translation tools, it’s not too difficult to read in English. This is how I was able to read the first issue, and it was a very interesting read. Plus, it was the first time I’d seen many of the prints.

It may seem odd that the subject of Japanese boats appears in a French journal, but it was Admiral Paris’s book Le Souvenirs de Marine, first published in 1888, with the most recent reprint that I know of being in 1962, that gives westerners the earliest detailed look at Japanese watercraft. A model based on this work also appears in the French National Maritime Museum, and is featured on the cover of the first issue above.

From Le Souvenirs de Marine

Mr. Mélis informed me the other day of the publication of his final article, which looks at the boats used to navigate the rivers and canals of Japan during the final years of the Shogun period.

If you are interested in reading the articles, you can purchase copies from the publisher’s website: http://www.aamm.fr/neptunia/derniers_numeros 

Specifically, the issues are numbers 281, 283 and 285.

The articles should be interesting and informative, and I am looking forward to seeing the artwork as well.