Building the Kamakura Period Umi-Bune, Part 5

Umisen Model

Model on exhibit at Kanagawa University. Photo by Masami Sekiguchi.

 No, that’s not my model. This 1/10-scale model of a Kamakura period umi-bune is on display at the Kanagwa University, which is home to the Institute for the Study of Japanese Folk Culture. The photo was taken by my friend Masami Sekiguchi, who is one of two Japanese ship modelers I met with in Tokyo last September. The other is Norio Uriu, Both gentlemen are members of The Rope, the Japanese ship model society in Tokyo.

I had been corresponding with Mr. Uriu for over a year, as he is a friend of fellow ship modeler Don Dressel of the Ship Modelers Association in Fullerton, California. Don was building his model of a Higaki Kaisen at about the same time I was building mine, and at some point, he put me in touch with his friend in Japan, Mr. Uriu.

When I travelled to Japan, I made arrangements to meet with Mr. Uriu for dinner in Tokyo and he brought along his daughter Hanako, who helped with our discussions, and Mr. Sekiguchi, who has been helping me understand information on Japanese ever since.

Mr. Uriu actually got myself, Mr. Sekiguchi and Jean-Pierre Mélis together, as we were all interested in the subject of wasen. Mr. Sekiguchi is a long-time member of the Rope and the Yokohama Sailing Model Club, where he served on the executive board for 14 years. I’ve mentioned Mr. Mélis before on my blog as he’s been writting a 4-part series on a look at traditional Japanese boats through paintings in the Neptunia, which is the Journal of the Friends of the French National Maritime Museum. The three of us exchanged many emails on the subject of wasen, as I work on my wasen models and Mr. Mélis writes his articles, the third of which should be appearing the March/April issue of the Neptunia.

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Another view of the Kanagawa University model. According to Mr. Sekigushi, the model was built by the late Yuichiro Kondo, a third-generation boatbuilder from Yaizu, and maritime researcher. Photo by Masami Sekiguchi.

Regarding the large umi-bune model at the Kanagawa University exhibit, this is is very similar to what I’ve been working on, and would represent the same type of boat. The 1/10-scale model on display varies only slightly from a pair of 1/20-scale models I have photographs of. One set of photos of the 1/20-scale boat were sent to me by Douglas Brooks, the other set of photos is from the Nippon Foundation Library website. The 1/20-scale models are nearly identical, though one is rigged and the other is not. I suspect they may have been built by the same person or persons.

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1/20-scale umi-bune model being prepared for exhibition in Kobe. Photo by Douglas Brooks.

One of the issues I’m looking at is that if you look closely at the 1/20-scale model photos, you may notice that the roof boards are short and run from the peak of the roof out to the sides. With the large 1/10-scale model and models of medium-sized version of the ship, the roof boards run the length of the yakata. Now, this may seem a minor issue, but it affects the underlying structure of the roof. Also, I don’t know that they’d both be correct for the exact same ship. Different time periods, maybe? It’s just another one of those things that I’ll have to make my own call on.

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Closer look at the umi-bune in the Kitano Tenjin scrolls.

As you’ll see next, I’ve just about run out of time to decide, as I’ve completed the basic framework of both the large and small deck house structures.


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Now, I should point out that I’m pretty much “winging it” when it comes to the structures. I’ve examined images of traditional Japanese carpentry and structure, and looked over my photos of houses from the Edo-period, though that’s 300 to 500 years later than this boat. I think this is basically what I’m seeing in the museum models, and I think it, more or less, works.

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I feel that I’m cheating, to a certain extent, as this is all going to be covered over by a roof, and the internal structure won’t be so noticeable. At 1/50 scale, the first issue I ran into was that these are very flimsy structures as glued together, and the only way I could keep them from falling apart was to drill out the joints and insert steel wire “pins”. These are hidden by the beams I added. It seemed odd to add beams on top of beams, the way I did, but I didn’t really see how else I could support the roof otherwise.
img_2472For the lower walls of the long yakata, I wasn’t sure what the texture in the drawings represented. They looked almost like simple rectangular lattice work, and I considered make them very similar to the way they are on the photos of the large model that Sekiguchi-san sent me. The Kitano Tenjin paintings didn’t seem very clear on this and it seemed to look like the walls were really entirely just a drape or maybe a roll-up screen. But, I tried to follow the drawings I’ve been using, which suggest these lower panels.

Considering they might be some kind of wicker work, at this scale, I just decided to cut a pattern using a knife. I stared by making very narrow strips of hinoki on my table saw. Basically, cutting them as narrow as I could manage. I glued these up, side-by-side, onto a thin backing board, and trimmed the piece to fit into one of the openings. For no particular reason, I used sugi, or Japanese cedar, for the backing board. I then cut lines perpendicular to the narrow strips. I was going to for a weave pattern.

As you can see, I also added the support posts on either end of the long yakata. I don’t know this for sure, but these seem to be present to allow the crew to easily stow the mast and sail gear out of the way. Also, the umi-bune in the Kitano Tenjin scrolls has a lantern hanging on a pole, which is attached to one of the forward posts, probably lashed to it. I imagine that nobori, or vertical banners flown by a daimyo’s vessel, would also have been lashed to these supports as needed.

Regarding the mast and sail, there is just the one mast, but the sail is supported by the yard at the top and a spreader at the foot. Basically, these are just two poles, probably identical. Because of the stiff nature of straw matting, sails weren’t furled on these early sailers, but were rolled up, and they had to be carefully handled, as they would become extremely heavy if they got wet.

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The Kanagawa University model shows straw mat sail as being made up of separate panels that seem to be tied together at the edges. Photo by Masami Sekiguchi.

At some point, I’ll make a sail for my model, but I don’t know that I’ll have time before the model is displayed at the Japan Center Mall as party of my next Japanese boat models display in March. A while ago, I purchased a sample piece of a very coarse weave cloth that I think will work well for my model. I don’t know if I’ll tie the panels together like was done on the Kanagawa University model, though it looks very interesting. More likely, I’ll just sew in the stitching in a large grid pattern to simulate the panels. I’ll have to experiment with it a little to figure it out.

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You’ll note in the above photo, I added the stern deck. I decided to simply use the natural ledge created by the overlap in the bulwarks planks to support the deck. I had done this at the bow as well. Again, I don’t know if this would be accurate or not. One issue is that those beams under the rails at the sides are set into the hull, but stop there. All other beams run all the way through the hull and out the other side. I didn’t see any sign of that in the models and drawings. However, it is possible that these rails at the stern should actually be sitting lower that they do on my model. If I do another model of this type, I’ll be revisiting the design here.

You’ll also see that I added the rowers’ platforms and support beams for the oars to push against. It took me a while to get comfortable with how these boats were rowed, and I still have questions about this. I’ve reviewed paintings and even the Battle of Dan-no-Ura sequence in the movie Kwaidan to wrap my head around this. The drawings of the Umi-bune showed some very flimsy looking beams that the rowers would pull hard against, and I just didn’t feel comfortable with how fragile they looked, so I used slightly heavier beams.

Based on the scroll paintings, the platforms in the drawing, and consequently on my model, seem awfully small too. I really need to see some figures on the model and to play with some oars to figure out how they would have rowed. One of the issues I have is how they rowed. Sculling oars are generally used with the rower facing forward. In all the early paintings, the rower is commonly seen facing backward, like a western rower.

The Kanagawa University document on the Kitano Tenjin scrolls, that I mentioned in a previous post, suggest that the kind of oars shown could be used like a pole to push the boat along as well as used like a paddle. If you look at the painting above, clearly, they’re not sculling –They seem to be pulling against the water, like a western-style oar. If they were polling along, I don’t know if it’s possible to get leverage against the bottom of a river or shallow sea floor that way. So, I’m guessing that they are rowing, western-style.

Yesterday, Sekiguchi-san gave me a new piece of information that might help research this a bit more. Already known, is that the Japanese word for oar is “ro”. Sekiguchi-san explained that there are two types of ro in Japan, a sao-ro and a tsugi-ro. The tsugi-ro is a two-part ro, with a head set at an angle to a long blade. The sao-ro is a pole type and is the type that would have been used on the ships shown in the Kitano Tenjin scrolls. I’ll probably be thinking about this a lot in the next week or two, as I want to add the oars to my model. So, I’ll be discussing this more in the future.

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The last thing I’ll mention here, is that I finished the mast support, adding the side pieces shown above. So far, I have no idea what the stair-step shape is for. It may serve as a rest for the sail spreader. Perhaps to keep it from flapping around, perhaps lines attached to the spreader are pulling back hard and hold the spreader against this support. Possibly, the yard is lashed to the mast support or to the beam behind it.

This is the only thing that make sense to me, but it would require the bottom of the sail to sit very low to the deck. If you look at the Kanagawa University model, the sail is mounted way too high, or the mast is too long, for this to work. But, perhaps that’s an error in that model. I’ll have to examine more paintings regarding this.

Building the Kamakura Period Umi-Bune, Part 4

Kitano Tenmangu

Kitano Tenmangu – Shinto Shrine in Kyoto. Photo from Wikipedia.

 

 

 

About a week ago, my ship modeler friend in Japan, Mr. Sekiguchi, explained a little about the Kitano Tenjin scrolls that depict the Kamakura period Umi-bune, and I have since re-read through online information on the subject to get a better understanding.

The scrolls represent the life of Sugawara no Michizane, a scholar and poet in the Heian period (平安時代  794-1185) who rose high in politics in Kyoto, then Japan’s capital. But, he had powerful  rivals in the Fujiwara clan that plotted against him, and he was exiled to Dazaifu on the island of Shikoku, where he died three years later in 903.

Apparently, there was much sympathy for Michizane, and shortly after his death, there were a number of calamities, including a lightning strike within the imperial palace. The emperor’s court fearing that these were caused by the wrath of Michizane’s angry spirit, decided to placate him by deifying him and erecting a shrine. He was given the Shinto name of Tenjin, and the shrine was built at Kitano, and known as Kitano Tenmangū.

The scrolls were painted a few hundred years later, during the Kamakura period, and there were apparently a few versions of them. The images shown in my previous blog posts appears to be from the scrolls known as the Jōkyū version, which consisted of eight scrolls, and date from 1219, fairly early in the Kamakura period.

If you really want to learn more about the Kitano Tenjin scrolls, I found an excellent 191 page English language pdf that you can download here: Kitano Tenjin engi pdf. This pdf publication discusses each of the elements of the scrolls. The last two pages even examine the umi-bune in the paintings.

As it turns out, the source for this is Kanagawa University, which is the home of the Institute for the Study of Japanese Folk Culture. I’d wanted to visit the exhibit hall on their campus during my last visit, but my schedule was too tight. I don’t know if it still there, but they had a beautiful looking wasen exhibit there.


The next stage of the model was to complete the hull planking. This was pretty straight forward. I’d already added the upper planks to the main hull, and just needed to complete the bow and stern sections. For these, I made patterns from the drawings and then trimmed the pieces up.

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As with the other planks, I used my mortising tool to create the stitch-like pattern along the bottom edge of the planking. I didn’t have a photo of it last time, but here you can see a couple shots of it up close.

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Again, the offset point was unintentional, but turned out very useful. This is nothing more than one of an inexpensive 5-piece steel chisel set. I don’t even remember where I got them – I think I was given these by someone. I’ve seen similar sets on the Micromark website.

I decided not to worry about the butt joint between the ends of the plank sections. I’ve seen museum models that show dark, short lines that might represent some sort of fastener. The following photo I took inside the hold of the Kitamaebune Hakusan Maru shows staple-like iron fasteners holding planks together, but this is type of ship that would have appeared, some 600 years after the Kamakura period sea boat.
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More likely I think is the use of something like the dovetail fasteners illustrated in the following photo from Douglas Brooks’ blog entries during the building of a sabani in Okinawa back in 2009-2010. But, at the small scale of my model, I decided to omit this detail, as it would be both too difficult for me to make or even simulate, and it would also be nearly invisible.

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The next detail then, was to notch the upper bulwarks planking and add the transverse beams across the hull. These would extend far enough out from the hull to support a pair of outboard rails that run nearly the length of the boat. It didn’t take long to cut the notches and make the beams since they were all identical to one another.

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With the beams in place, a caprail was added, locking them down into place. The main section of the outer rails were added too, as well as the bow deck. At this time, I also corrected the piece that runs across the front of the bow. I originally had two pieces, the upper piece over lapping the lower, but replaced this assembly with a single bow piece, which seemed to be more correct according to the drawings.

One thing that seemed very odd was that the main museum models and the drawing showed a beam riding atop the bulwarks at the bow. The drawing and models show a forestay labeled a hazuo 筈緒. But, a forestay would exert an upward force on the beam, so it would have to be fastened down securely.

One drawing I’ve seen, shows the outer railing mentioned above extending all the way around the bow, and the beam fastened to it. Without this railing, I decided to add a below-deck beam, which this topside beam would be secured to with rope fastenings. This is something I’ve seen in other boats, so it seemed reasonable here. If you look closely at the bow deck, you’ll notice two square holes. It is through these that the rope fastenings pass.

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The next part of the build was easy, and involved planking the deck for the long deck house or yakata. I worked out the average width of the deck planks from the drawings and cut some strips of hinoki. These had to fit flush with the tops of the beams, which also meant that I had to adjust the widths of the planks so that an even number would fit between the beams. Of course, I also had to build a ledge for the ends of the planks to rest on.

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Next time, I’ll start on the completion of the stern and the construction of the deck houses and details.

 

Building the Kamakura Period Umi-Bune, Part 3

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The largest source of Kamakura period boat information appears to be in 13th century picture scrolls that appear in books and on the Internet, but I really know very little about the scrolls themselves. What they depict includes a lot of boats with hull designs very similar to the ship I’m modeling. These are semi-structured ships or junkozosen (準構造船) with dugout-style hull, which have been built up with hull planks. Most of those depicted are river boats, but some appear to be sea boats.

I recently found a great sketch of a large sea ship on a blog site. I believe this was scanned from one of Professor Ishii’s books, but it’s not one that I have.

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This image is very similar to a less detailed drawing I have in my books. The ship depicted here varies only slightly from my model in that this image shows a peaked roof called a kappa at the bow. It also has only a single rail outboard of the hull, but it extends all the way around the bow. It also may be a somewhat smaller ship, given there are only 4 rowing platforms on either side, where my model will have 6.

A couple things I like about this image in particular is that it shows a roof design on the main deck house that is clear and makes sense to me. Note the boards that make up the roof run along the length of the roof. The drawing I’ve been working off of, shows the boards running perpendicular to these – not that it’s wrong, but that it requires an underlying structure that’s different from what I would naturally build. Also the front of the house appears to have a simple roll-up screen, no door or solid panel.

Finally, the small structure at the stern clearly appears higher than the main deck house, with the stern seemingly rising up more sharply than the bow. This makes sense, as it would allow the boatman at the helm to be able to see forward. Not that it would matter when the ship is under sail, as the large straw mat sail would block the view anyway.

Finally, the stern deck seems to rest on top of the cross beams, perhaps also contributing to the stern structure’s height. This is one area that has been the most unclear to me in the whole project. On my own model, I will make certain assumptions and reconstruct the stern area in the most logical fashion to me. In future builds, I can make corrections if they are necessary.

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The next steps of my build went very quickly. I first painted the bottom using artist’s acrylics. I was originally thinking I’d just use a spray lacquer, but the soft layer of the acrylics helped out on working with the balsa hull cover. I had dropped the hull on the desk and, being balsa, the hull covering had a slight dent. So, I just poked a pinhole in the paint where the wood was dented, wet the wood through the pinhole, and the wood swelled back into shape. I believe the flexibility of the paint allowed it to stick well through the process and allowed the wood to easily come back to shape.

After the painting, I cut a paper pattern for the floor pieces that would fit atop the bow and stern blocks. I then glued up some planks, cut the completed sections to shape and added them to the model.

I decided to glue up the planks so that they would run longitudinally, or fore-and-aft fashioned. This might seem obvious to wester ship model builders, but I had to think about this. I’ve seen pictures that depict the planks running sideways, the way I’m planning to fit the deck planking. But, it seemed to me that such planking on the bottom of the boat would be weak, and this is a sea boat. So, I built these panels in the same fashion that the bottoms of other traditional boats are built.

FYI, I’m using a combination of some hinoki strips (Japanese cypress) and Port Orford cedar, which is often referred to as American hinoki because of its similarity to the aromatic Japanese wood. The hinoki strips are a Woody Joe product that a friend in Japan got for me. The Port Orford cedar was purchased from Bear Creek Lumber in Oregon. These are very light colored woods, so I treated them with a mixture of Transtint wood dye.

Next, I added the planks that make up the lower bulwarks. Since planking would have been edge fastened using nails into the log hull, I needed to simulate the mortises for the nails. At 1/50 scale, the simplest thing I could find was to use a stainless steel carving chisel I had on hand that I’d never used. The chisel has a wide flat blade, so I just ground off much of the edge, leaving a fine point. I purposely chose a wide chisel, as the wide blade was an easy visual guide to help me keep the point straight – a problem I encountered with another build.

[Note: I couldn’t find a photo of the tool, so I’ll have to post it later]

I tried to grind the chisel so that the new point would be centered, but I didn’t do a very good job and it ended up off-center. This turned out to be a good thing, as I used the width of the blade as a way to measure the spacing between mortises. If I went left-to-right, I had one spacing, and if I went right-to-left, I could get a different spacing.

I used a piece of tape as a guide to help me keep the mortises in a straight row, and just pressed the tip into the wood to make the impressions.

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Once the lower planks were in place, I then cut beams and glued them down to the top of the hull and began laying in the deck planking between the beams. I don’t know for sure if this is how it would have been done, but based on other models and on traditional Japanese boats I’ve studied, this seemed to make sense. Also, the result pretty well matched the drawing.

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You’ll notice the hole I cut into the hull. This is for the mast step. I’d forgotten to allow for this earlier, so I had to rather crudely cut the opening. But, the edges will be well hidden by deck planking as you’ll see in later photos.

You’ll notice also that the way I supported the deck planks. Because the planks are half the thickness of the deck beams, I added ledges to the longitudinal beams. This is something I got from building Woody Joe’s Higaki Kaisen kit. These deck boards were likely removable. I assume that the longitudinal beams might have also been removable, though a ship like this might have needed them in order to stiffen the hull from flexing with the waves.

But, a log hull is very solid, and the bulwarks planking would have also been rather thick, providing a lot of support for the hull (thick planking is a common feature of traditional Japanese boats). Also, the ship was mainly for traversing the inland seas.

Building the Kamakura Period Umi-Bune, Part 2

Illustrated History of Japanese Traditional Boats

Illustrated History of Japanese Traditional Boats

As I mentioned last time, I’m using drawings in one of the books I ordered from Japan earlier in the year. There were three I bought at the same time using a buying service called Buyee.com. This allows me to shop on Japanese online stores more easily than ordering directly from the stores since the purchases are done in English. It doesn’t help with product descriptions, but once I find something I want, buying it is fairly easy.

This service also receives the items using local shipping service in Japan, inspects the products, and ships them internationally to me.  There is a small fee in addition to the shipping charges. I’ve only needed to use the service a couple times, but has so far worked well.

The books I purchased were all on the subject of traditional Japanese boats and were written by Kenji Ishii, published in 1983. Professor Ishii was the authority on Japanese traditional boats, but I can’t tell you any more detail about him at this point. What I know is that Paul Fontenoy, the editor of the Nautical Research Journal and Curator of Maritime Research and Technology at the North Carolina Maritime Museum, had worked with him in Japan and talks very fondly of him.

The main book is the Illustrated History of Japanese Traditional Boats, or Zusetsu Wasen Shiwa (図説和船史話). It is an out of print book, which I feel lucky to have found, though it cost about $200 to get it and ship it. It was certainly worth the cost, as I would be nowhere without the information I’ve found, and am still finding, in its pages. It’s still difficult to extract the information I need as it is written in Japanese, but, mostly, it takes time.

In any case, the section on the Kamakura era ships has a drawing of the large umi-bune which includes top and side views as well as a couple cross-sections. Given that the cross-sections on a ship of this type are essentially identical, and actually included a scale, I decided to give it a try as a scratch build subject. At some point, I’ll try to execute a decent drawing of my model. For now, here’s an image I found on a Japanese blog site that appears to be from one of Professor Ishii’s book.img_1

I took the image in my book and tried rescaling it to different sizes, but settled on 1/50 as the most reasonable size for a simple model that I could build and display easily.

The original specifications describe a ship 93 shaku in length (a shaku is roughly 1 foot), 8.4 shaku wide, and 5.7 shaku deep, with a crew of 12 oarsmen and a cargo capacity of 250 koku, or about 37.5 tons. At 1/50 scale, the model would be just about 21-1/2″ long.

I should point out that one of the reasons for choosing this scale, which does not match any of the wasen models I’ve built up to now, is that it’s very close to 1/48 scale or 1/4″=1′, which a nice ship modeling scale that I’ve worked with before. Also, at just short of 2′ long, the final model would fit in well with the other models of my Japanese boats display, even though I’ll have to create yet another different sized boatman silhouette figure for scale illustration.

I scanned the image in the book and brought into Adobe Illustrator. Although I have an old CS 5.1 version that still works, Adobe’s month-to-month Creative Cloud subscription works out pretty nicely for projects like this. Paying for a single month of software usage, I could have worked out the drawings for this project and then some before the end of the 30 days for about $30. By using Illustrator, I could print the large, 1/50-scale image by tiling it onto regular sheets of paper, though I really would like a large format printer someday for just this kind of thing.

In the meantime, I grabbed photos of the museum models off the Internet and have been studying their construction. Boatbuilder Douglas Brooks sent me photos of one that was on display along with other models when he was building a boat for a museum in Kobe.

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I did a lot of zooming in on the photos to see as much details as possible.

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I thought about methods of hull construction for this model for quite a while before I got this far. I could have tried my hand at carving the hull inside and out, but decided I could go an easy route and make the basic, semi-cylindrical hull plank-on-bulkhead fashion since the deck would cover the interior anyway. The cross-sections in the drawing provide me with the exact shape for the bulkheads. I would then cover the bulkheads with a single, thin sheet of wood, which ended up being 1/32″ thick balsa for the sake of convenience.

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While I like working with Japanese wood, I decided the structural parts, being hidden anyway, could be made from domestic lumber. So, I cut the bulkheads, the horizontal strong back, and the centerline supports from simple basswood sheet and glued them all together. As soon as the glue was set, I took a piece of 1/32″ balsa sheet, wet it, and bent it over the framework, holding it in place with rubber bands until it dried.

I wouldn’t normally use balsa as it dents way too easily, but I figured that for the long, straight, narrow hull, I could make it work. Also, it was the easiest wood that I could bend over the hull frame. I got some thin plywood for the job just in case the balsa didn’t work out. I also considered using very thin veneer. But, the balsa seemed to work well enough.

The bow and stern pieces would go on next, but needed to be carved first. I made patterns for the sides. I cut the ends of the blocks first, so that when attached, they would have the upward angle needed. Next, I used the side patterns, to get the upward curve of the blocks. Some of the shape I carved by hand, but I ended up finishing them up on my bench sander, which has a disc sander as well as a belt sander.

I then needed to determine the shape when looking down from the top. The drawings don’t provide this view of the bow, so I had to guess a bit. But, paintings of the boat and other models showed a kind of torpedo-shaped ends. So, I eyeballed the shape and drew them onto the tops of the blocks. These had to be sharp enough that the taper of the bow and stern decks would cover the hull ends completely.

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At this stage, I thought the boat was basically double-ended, with the bow and stern being the same shape. The drawing earlier on this page seems to look that way and existing models seem to look that way, but on closer examination, I noticed that the hull planking at the ends were slightly different. The ends I made worked okay, but later on I’ll discuss reasons I might consider building the model differently in the future…

Building the Kamakura Period Umi-Bune, Part 1


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I’m no expert on Japanese history. In fact, my interest in traditional Japanese boats is a way for me to learn more about it. Up to this point, I’ve primarily been interested in watercraft from the Edo period, which was from 1603 to 1868. This era began with the rise of the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu who established the capital of Japan at Edo (now called Tokyo). But, there are some interesting, large watercraft that I’ve been intrigued by as well, and many of these date back to earlier times.

Some of the ships I’ve been looking at were fairly complicated, and my information on them is clearly incomplete. But, there was one that stood as a simple design, with enough information available for me to feel that I could scratch build a model. This ship, referred to only as a large umi-bune or sea ship, dated back to the Kamakura period, which lasted from 1185 to 1333, and saw the rise of feudalism, the establishment of the Shogunate government, called the bakufu, two invasion attempts by the Mongols, and the spread of Buddhism.

The Model

My model is based on reconstructed drawings and models, themselves based on a painting of a large seagoing ship that appeared on a 13th century scroll. I don’t know enough about it to say for sure, but I believe it on a scroll that was originally kept in the Kitano Tenman-gu shrine (北野天満宮) in Kyoto, Japan. It may be from one of the scrolls that records the history of the shrine. I’m looking into this now and hope to understand this better soon.

In any case, this ship represents probably the largest of its type, with a capacity of about 200 koku, or 30 tons. The ship was of a type referred to as a junko zosen, or a ship with a semi-structured hull. This type of construction began with a dugout log style hull (kuribune), to which planks were fastened at the sides, making for a deeper hull and increasing the ship’s cargo capacity. The large size of the ship required more than one log to make up the length, which was roughly 100 shaku (100 尺), about 100 feet.

Image from the Nippon Zaidan website.

Image from the Nippon Zaidan website.

The large umi-bune had two strakes of planks on either side of the hull which were edge-fastened to each other and to the log hull. The planks at the bow and stern would have been end-fastened together. I don’t know specifically how this was done, but I assume it was with the use of wooden dovetail keys, which I know were used extensively on various boat types in later periods across Japan.

At this time, cloth sails were not yet in use, so the sails were made from straw mat. When no wind is available, the ship was rowed by sailors sitting on wooden platforms over the sides of the ship. The models I’ve seen in photos don’t make it very clear how the sculling oars were operated, but the action is shown in many paintings.

However, I recently discovered an excellent illustration of this kind of rowing arrangement in the Japanese ghost story anthology, Kwaidan, which is based on stories collected by the writer Lafcadio Hearn in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The third story in the film is that of Hoichi the Earless, which contains a nice long sequence, though stylized, of the Battle of Dan no Ura. In the sequence, there is one ship lined with oarsmen that rowed the ship in the same way as the large umi-bune. It was a great opportunity to see how they operated.

An Aside

By the way, Kwaidan is a great 3-hour movie in Japanese with subtitles. It doesn’t move quickly, so you might want to watch it in parts, but I highly recommend it. It’s a bit stylized, but I love how that added to the mystique of the stories.

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I don’t appreciate pirated videos on the Internet, but I found a nice fan-made trailer that gives you a good sense of the film, and the story of Hoichi in particular, without giving away too much.

Plans for the Model

There are no plans for the ship per se. But, there is a good side and top view illustration with a couple cross-section views in one of the Japanese books I managed to obtain prior to my trip to Japan. I’ll post more about this and about the model construction later.

 

My First Wasen Scratch Builds

I’ve just about come to the end of the available wasen model kits, having built the higaki kaisen, hacchoro, yakatabune, mini-yakatabune, and mini-hobikisen kits from Woody Joe, plus the Tosa wasen kit from Thermal Studio. There are still a couple kits I haven’t gotten to yet, but now that I’ve had a chance to see a number of models, replicas, and actual examples in Japan, it seemed like it was time to take what I’ve learned and chart a new direction.

I decided to begin with the Urayasu bekabune, which was the subject of one of Douglas Brooks’s apprenticeships. I’ll post the details about this shortly. But, I want to mention that it has been a bit of a struggle for me at times because I’ve never scratch built any of this type or scale before. Also, I’m trying to build this model as close as I can to the way the actual boatbuilders built the full-sized boats. This has led to some issues that I’ve had a difficult time resolving.

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Certainly, I’m not going to be using tiny flat nails to fasten the planks together, but I do want to simulate the mortises. Also, with no internal framing, I’ve had to work out methods for getting the angles of the hull correct, as well as shaping the planks and getting a decent fit between them.

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bekabune and itasebune models at the Urayasu Museum

So, in the meantime, I’ve been interested in larger ships, but detailed information there is tough with anything except 19th century bezaisen. I’ve been curious about the smaller godairikisen, which carried goods along shorter, nearer to shore routes. Also, there are the warships of the Sengoku or Warring States, period. But, these are complicated designs, and decent drawings are few.

But, there is one vessel design that I’ve found interesting, and I’ve seen models of it in museum photos. There is also a decent drawing in the books of Professor Kenji Ishii. The boat is a Kamakura period umi-bune, or sea boat.

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Kamakura period umi-bune model. Photo by Douglas Brooks.

This was a trade boat used in the late 12th and 13th centuries on large rivers and inland seas. The ship’s hull is a semi-structured type, which is based around a dugout log to which hull planks are added, allowing the ship to sit deeper in the water and to carry a larger cargo.

I’ve decided to experiment with scratch building the Kamakura period ship, as I think I can tackle the subject. So, I’ll be posting updates on this model as well. Stay tuned.