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:

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

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: Photo Gallery of Japanese Sailing Ships and Boats

I only just discovered that there is a page on the website of the Japanese ship model society The Rope that features models of Japanese ships. These include some modern era ships, but several Edo period ships are represented. This group does some really beautiful work, which I recommend checking out.

Here’s a link to the page, which is on the English language section of their website:


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.

Speaking at the 2016 NRG Conference

Having been involved in Ship Modeling for more than 20 years, I’ve been a big admirer of the Nautical Research Guild and the work of its impressive membership. There have been so many great modelers involved in the Guild, I feel honored to be speaking together in a combined talk with boatbuilder Douglas Brooks at the opening talk of this year’s conference in San Diego. Douglas Brooks will be reprising his talk at last year’s conference on Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding, while I’ll be adding the element of modeling them.


Douglas Brooks speaking at the 2015 NRG Conference in Mystic, CT.

Granted, my portion of the talk will the shorter segment. In the 15 minutes or so that I’ll have, I’ll only be able to scratch the surface of the subject, mostly talking about resources available to those who are interested in building a traditional Japanese boat. Pretty much, just enough to give folks a nudge toward attempting one.

The other part of my participation at the conference came as something of a surprise as I was told just last month that I was scheduled to do one of the round table sessions. These are 20-minute sessions that takes place simultaneously with 4 other sessions. People attend the session of their choice, and after 20 minutes, people then switch to another table. So, basically, I have a 20-minute demo, repeated a total of 4 times (with one 20-minute break).

Having no idea what I was expected to do, I’d considered a couple possibilities. The first thing that actually came to mind that I thought would work out, was to demo some of the details of paper modeling. Having completed only 1 paper model made it seem a bit odd, but I don’t think anyone else has done it, and I actually did have some interesting techniques to show.

But, talking with Kurt Van Dahm, the NRG Chairman, and others, it seemed that the idea was to give me more time to talk about modeling Japanese boats. So, I’ll be talking a mix of building Japanese kits and building from scratch. It seems a bit odd to me, as talking about kits seems a bit like a sales pitch. The only thing preventing it from being a complete conflict of interest, seeing as how I’ve done some work for Ages of Sail, is that Ages of Sail doesn’t currently carry any of the kits I’ll be talking about. And, my most highly recommended kit, the Tosa Wasen, will only be available direct from the manufacturer.

Bekabune model gifted to me from the Urayasu Museum.

Bekabune model given to me by the curator of the Urayasu Museum.

In any case, I’ll bring my in-progress Urayasu Bekabune models and a small supply of Japanese woods for people to sample themselves, giving them a chance to sand, cut and bend them. Show a couple in-progress kits, talk about how to read the Japanese language plans, etc. A 20-minute discussion should go by pretty quick, then repeat it three more times.

I really hope it won’t end up being the lamest NRG round table discussion in history, and people will find it interesting and useful. Wish me luck!

Funakagami – A PDF Book on Japanese Boat Types

As I’m preparing for my study trip to Japan in, I’ve been checking on museum websites and such. The Maritime Science Museum is closed, except for a small museum annex, their website still lists the museum publications.

I don’t see any place to actually purchase these, but there are a couple books that you can download as a pdf. The one that immediately caught my interest had a number of Edo period boats on the cover. So, I immediately downloaded it and started looking through it.

Funakagami cover

Funakagami cover

I’m still working to understand the text, but the first part of the book is mostly old illustrations. Apparently, this is taken from a book called a Funekan, which was used by the Bakufu, or Shogunate government, to aid in identifying the many types of small boats on the rivers of the Kanto district, which is the region of old Edo (Tokyo) and its surroundings. The identification was necessary for taxation purposes.

Such a book is a boon to anyone who is trying to learn about different types of Japanese boats. There is little information about the boats themselves, but there is a nice large illustration of each boat type, and an index which classifies the boat. In the back of the book is a section which identifies the names of the parts of each boat. In the end, the text gets very meaty with, as far as I can tell, discussion about taxes, etc.

The book can not be printed as it is a password protected pdf. But, I discovered I can still copy text and take screen shots of the images to compile into my own notes. The copied text can be pasted into Google Translate or similar service. I’ve found that the translation is sometimes not as useful as the pronunciation/romaji spelling that is shown – For those who are familiar with Google Translator, just look under the box on the left, which is where you paste in the original text.

Click here to download the pdf

For me, the book has confirmed things I’ve already learned, taught me a number of new things, allowed me to see things I’d only read about, and raised a number of questions that I will be researching answers to.

Hope you find this helpful or at least entertaining. Ω

Japanese Boats Display in Japantown (v 4.0)

Last week, I spent an entire afternoon in San Francisco setting up my latest display of models of Japanese traditional boats in the Japan Center Mall in San Francisco. This is the largest display I’ve done, which is now up to 5 models. It’s probably about as large as it will get as I can’t imagine that I can possibly cram any more into my car. And, given that I live about an hour’s drive outside the city (or two hours in bad traffic), I’m not likely going to be making two trips to set it up. But, the size is actually pretty good now.

Since I’m doing some fundraising to go to Japan this Fall to do some more first-hand research on Japanese watercraft (don’t forget to check out my gofundme page), I’m taking the opportunity to really get some attention for this display. As with those people involved in the fine arts, I’ve made up an announcement card that I’m having printed up that I will be sending to various friends and people that  I think will be interested in it and possibly interested in helping me out (as well as those who have already done so). In addition, I’ve made a simple email announcement photo that I’ve been sending to people.

Announcement Emailer L plus

My email announcement card

If you’re already familiar with the last couple displays, you will see two new models added, a simple Japanese traditional boat shop display and the Tosa wasen model. Both are a nice, big 1/10 scale, so the details are better for a window display like this.


The 1/10-scale Tosa Wasen is the newest boat model added to the display.


This is my simple model of an Urayasu boat workshop, showing some of the aspects of traditional Japanese boatbuilding. Under construction is a Bekabune, a seaweed gathering boat that was once used on Tokyo Bay. The model still needs a few additions – a work in progress.


The Hacchoro and the Urayasu boat workshop with their scale boatmen silhouettes. The Hacchoro is one of the boats I will be focussing my attention on while researching in Japan this Fall.

You may notice in that display window photos that I’ve created little silhouette boatmen to provide scale reference for each model. This was a last minute effort, though I’ve been thinking about it for months. I finally sat down and scoured the Internet and found photos of boatmen dressed in traditional outfits on someone’s blog photos. I took the best one and did some Photoshop work to turn him into a silhouette, which I scaled to the needed sizes, printed them, and mounted them on cardboard.

There are, of course, things to do differently next time, which I’ve already noted. The boat workshop display should probably be on some kind of a riser, like the other models, there is enough room to put up another large, hanging photo board, and there’s room for at least one more model, using the tall stand I introduced in this display. I suppose I could consider staggering them a little too.

That tall stand, by the way, is actually a better stand for me to use because it’s simple two boards hinged together. This makes them foldable and they take up a lot less space in my car. I’m seriously thinking about replacing the box pedestals on the other models with short folding stands, which would allow me to carry more stuff in my car. And, actually, if I build models without sails, I might be able to fit one or two more in that car. Of course, that means building more models and I’m pretty far behind on other projects as it is. We’ll see… Ω


Hacchoro – Notes for building the Woody Joe kit

I have completed an initial draft of notes I compiled on building the Hacchoro kit by Woody Joe. The kit is a model of an 8-oared Japanese finishing boat from the area of Yaizu, Japan, which is on the coast, roughly about 100 miles southwest of Tokyo. The boat is a traditional type boat, following the classic 5 sided Japanese construction. That is, bottom, garboard strakes and shear strakes in a hard-chine hull configuration.

The real boats were roughly 45 feet long and could carry 3 square sails on masts that could be stepped as needed. There are still Hacchoro in existence today, though I don’t know what the total number is like. I also don’t know how they are used today, except that there are Hacchoro races where teams man the boat’s oars to race each other on a short course.


I am aware of two operating Hacchoro in Yaizu. With the help of a wasen authority in Japan, I have made contact with a gentleman in Yaizu who has offered to show me the Hacchoro there. So, I am now making arrangements to see them in order to record some of their finer details for later use in modeling them. This is part of my Japanese Boat Research Trip that I’m trying to raise some funds for. If all works out, I will take lots of photos and record the details.

For now, anyone who is building Woody Joe’s Hacchoro kit can download a copy of my notes.

But, in using these notes, you must accept that these are just suggested guidelines and there are always the possibility of errors in the document. Also, the document includes my own translation of the text of the Woody Joe instructions. I am not an expert in translating Japanese into English. Use them to give you more confidence in using the kit instructions, but you must agree not to hold me responsible if you end up gluing a part into place wrong. The kit is pretty well buildable using just the illustrations in the instruction book. But, sometimes it helps to know what the text says. Also, note that there are a lot of labels in the instructions, and I’m only translating the descriptional text and not all the individual labels.

Download Hacchoro Notes and Translated Instructions

Of course, if you have any questions about the document, just send me a comment with your email address and I’ll answer as best I can. Ω