Nihon Sankai Zudō Taizen and Asia 453

I recently ran across a website on the Internet for a class on Japanese maps and travel literature taught at the University of British Columbia. The site is a repository of student work and appears to be quite current.

I took particular interest in one piece of work on the Nihon Sankai Zudō Taizen, or the Complete Map of the Mountains and Seas of Japan. The map is a hand-colored woodblock print originally published in 1697. The student researched work discusses the map, its background, and some specific features shown on the map, namely, the boats depicted in the artwork.

1703 map from the open collection of the University of British Columbia

The article is interesting, and in fact the whole site is interesting. I don’t agree with the authors statement about the boats. I don’t think you can reliably discern anything about the types shown in the artwork. But, I did find it interesting to see my own Higaki Kaisen model shown in the section about bezaisen, and to see my personal ship model work website referenced regarding Tosa wasen, even if the author did misread the information I posted there.

There does appear to be a lot of good information on maps, history, and culture on the site. You can find this specific article here: https://asia453.wordpress.com/tokugawa-maps/tokugawa2016/nihon-sankai-zudo-taizen/

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Computer Translation of Japanese Text, Part 1 – Translation from the Internet

Recently, I wrote a blog post about Researching Wasen Remotely, but it was mostly a follow up about the general difficulty of sorting through research information that’s primarily in Japanese and gathered from wide ranging sources. But I’m thinking it might be helpful to go over some of the resources and tools I use in research. This could be pretty involved, so I may need to do this in a few parts.

The most obvious sources of information are going to be books, drawings, photos, web pages, etc. Drawings and photos aren’t language dependent, but books, websites and any text in the drawings and photos, are going to be written in Japanese. If you don’t read Japanese, that’s a big problem, but there are tools that can help.

While I was born in Japan, am half Japanese, and know a small amount of spoken Japanese, my own knowledge of the written language is limited. Here’s how I overcome this limitation.

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The Nippon Foundation Library

One of the handiest sources of online information for the wasen modeler is the online library of the Nippon Foundation, or the Nippon Zaidan Toshokan – 日本財団図書館. I’ve made great  use of this resource, but of course, it requires sufficient knowledge of the Japanese language. With my limited knowledge, it’s a bit like walking through a maze with no map and wandering through long dark corridors. But, when I do stumble across something, it can be a great find.

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I don’t know the full extent of the library, but I have found some interesting information, photos, diagrams, and such. It is helpful that the site is easy to navigate using Google Translate, in which you can translate entire web pages in real time. But, you do have to start somewhere.

If you don’t know any Japanese, just open up Google Translate in a web browser page and copy the text from the Japanese site and paste into the translator. Here are some articles you can do this with. Note that some of these articles include some english text at the bottom, but the text I have read clearly is just a basic summary of some of the information on the page. The following articles came up when doing a search on wasen, or tradition Japanese boats, using the Japanese text, 和船.

Overview of Japanese Sailing Ships – This is from the Osaka Port Promotion Association. It appears to be a good primer on Japanese sailing vessels and their development. There is some great info here about coastal transports, how they were built, how and where they operated, etc. Great information about bezaisen or sengokubune: kitamaebune and higakikaisen.

A Japanese Boat from Start to Finish – This looks to be a log of the construction of a Japanese boat put together by the University of Tokyo (at least the log is). I haven’t read it all, but it begins with the gathering of lumber and follows construction through launch. I don’t know what type of boat it is yet, but it reminds me of the bekabune because of the flush seam between the upper and lower planks.

Maritime Science Museum – I’m not sure, but this appears to be a book, or maybe just a big article, on maritime science from the Maritime Science Museum, which is essentially closed for now (though there is a small annex that is open to the public with some limited displays). This is a GREAT resource that seems to cover the gamut of Japanese boats. With 36 web pages, it’s enough material to write dozens of posts.

Boat Building Handbook – Wow. I just saw this for the first time while writing this post. This is a major find. It’s like a boat building handbook. It covers later period boats, but primarily goes into a tremendous amount of fine detail on wasen construction of all types. This is a real find, again worthy of multiple posts. If you put your browser into a “reader” mode, you can export this as a 140-page pdf, making it a lot easier to search through. Lots of great diagrams.

Well, that should be enough material to keep you going for a while. While writing this, I’ve discovered so much that I never knew existed. This is pretty amazing. I’ll post a follow-up soon as I’ve just made a discovery that I need to look into before I say anything more.

Remember, if you don’t read Japanese, just copy the text and paste it into Google Translate. It’s not a perfect translation, but you can figure out the important stuff when combining with the illustrations.

Good luck!