Building a Gozabune (Kobaya) from Paris Plans – Part 9

A couple weeks ago, I reached a dilemma about the kobaya’s paint scheme. I’m trying to stay as true as I can to the 1868 notes by Armand Paris. He describes the lower hull, hanging beams and rail stanchions as painted in red lacquer. He then describes the interior deck area as being all painted a “blood red”.
This suggests two different shades of red, and there’s only one model I’ve seen that displays two shades. It is a model of the large gozabune Tenchi-maru, which was kept in use right up to the beginning of the Meiji restoration, 1868. From what I can tell, the model was part of the Tokyo Maritime Science Museum. Since the main museum is closed, I don’t know what the status is of this model.
But, since my kobaya also was apparently in use up until the start of the Meiji restoration, it might makes sense that dark red was common for the decks of these state ships, with red and black lacquered exteriors.

Model of the famous gozabune Tenchi-maru. Note the dark red deck areas, with the lighter red color for the hull.

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Building a Gozabune (Kobaya) from Paris Plans – Part 8

So, I drilled out the rogui on which the ro, or sculling oars, pivot. I used a sharp point to start the hole and finished up using a small drill in a Dremel rotary tool. Because I’m starting to consider painting the model, I’m going to hold off on adding the pins to the rogui until some later time.

Also, I found more structural work to complete before I have to deal with the rails, so I’m putting that assembly off for the moment.

Finishing Mortises

Today, I finished the remaining mortises. I did these the same way as the ones done earlier, laying out strips of tape to maintain even spacing, but the mortises at the todate (transom) and the miyoshi (stem), were a little smaller and slightly closer together. 

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Building a Gozabune (Kobaya) from Paris Plans – Part 7


While I’m waiting for the urushi, there is still more work to do on the hull, as well as more design problem solving as well. The main feature needed next are all the mortises. Mostly these are along the bottom edge of the upper hull plank. In addition, for the lower planks, there are mortises at the bow and stern edges. Technically, there would also be mortises at the bow edge of the upper plank and ones all along the bottom edge of the lower plank. But, these apparently do not have metal plates covering them. Most likely, these are plugged and painted over, so you wouldn’t see them anyway.

These mortises measure out to be approximately 5mm long at this scale, with a 4mm separation between them. To help position these evenly, I first lined the edge of the plank with tape, tryng to keep and even alignment about 2mm from the edge of the plank.

I then took some more tape and cut two long strips, one 5mm wide and another 4mm wide. From this I cut short strips crosswise and laid them into place, alternately, to create a pattern for the positions of the mortises. To cut the mortises, I used a 5mm wide Japanese carving chisel and a second chisel that I ground down to a width to 1mm.

Below, you can see some of the mortises I cut and the pattern of tape I used to create the proper spacing. the section on the right has been completed and the tape removed. On the left, I have yet to start cutting.

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Building a Gozabune (Kobaya) from Paris Plans – Part 6

The Paint Scheme from Paris

Having made some great progress on the model, it’s time to begin consideration of the paint scheme. From the very start, as a gozabune, it’s been very clear that this is a highly ornate ship, painted in black and vivid red lacquers, and decorated with gold trim.

Model of a large gozabune I found on the Internet.

I’ve noted that modeler Yukio Nakayama’s gozabune models, as well as those made by other Japanese ship modelers, are painted inside and out. Pretty much everything except the decks. This left me wondering how I would end up finishing this model.

I’ve been in a quandary because I do like the look of the interior painted bulwarks and beams with the bare wood deck. But, I recently looked more closely at the notes on the Paris drawings and discovered that interior painting information is actually there in addition to the exterior info.

Another gozabune model found on the Internet.

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Building a Gozabune (Kobaya) from Paris Plans – Part 5

The Rudder

One of the sub-assemblies that can easily be worked on at any time is the large rudder. The detail in the drawings is very simple, but I felt that it should be very similar to other large rudders used on larger vessels. With the

I made mine from three planks glued edge to edge and cut to the shape of the plans. I then attached a rudder post that I cut round and then tapered toward the bottom. To hold the planks of the rudder together, I took example from the Woody Joe Higaki Kaisen kit I built a few years ago, and added three cross-pieces as shown in the following photo.

I don’t know what amount of detail to add yet, so I just left the rudder assembly as is. Continue reading

Building a Gozabune (Kobaya) from Paris Plans – Part 4

More progress on the model and I’m on something of a roll now, as the trickiest questions I had I’ve now managed to pretty well answer. Let me begin by posting a translation of the French text that accompanied the drawings in Le Souvenirs de Marine. This is something of my own interpretation based on direct translation of the text using Google Translate and my own knowledge of French, and of a Japanese translation of the text that I found on the Internet, which I then translated into English, again using Google Translate. Correlating the translation, and the translation of a translation, I then went and rewrote the description based on the drawings and on my knowledge of Japanese watercraft. The notes in square brackets are my own clarifications.

From Paris:


Japan, Small Galley Measured in Yokohama in 1868 by Mr. Armand Paris, Ship’s Lieutenant.(Drawing No. 15-1)

This kind of small galley belonged to the Taikun [ “Great Prince,” the Shōgun Tokugawa]. The construction of extreme lightness is very careful and the method of assembly of parts is the same as that of other boats with a single layer of planks. The stern differs in that it is closed by a panel [false transom], and it has bulwarks raised at the back. The beams are in pairs and placed one on top of the other the lowest one carries the joists, on which rest the deck planks.

The upper beam protrudes and carries the galleries, which are supported by the beams. Between these are short hanging beams mounting the oars like aboard the great galleys [sailing ship], but at their short length, only one rower is on each oar.

On the deck near the bow is a lowered section, above which is placed a flying hut [a framework covered over by an awning]. In the galleries on the side there are no oars here. Instead, boards for walking are placed.

The mast is square and set up as on other boats. Sails are not known, but they must be of little use for a boat so well made for rowing.

In Yokohama there were three such ships, but the dimensions of the largest ship are shown in the layout diagram.

 The dimensions of the two smaller:

    Maximum length             12 m 81             12 m 62

    Ship width                        2 m 96              2 m 52

    Maximum width               3 m 80                3 m 30

    Mold depth                     0 m 93                0 m 79

These ships were abandoned and in poor condition, like other Japanese ships, the days of these ship have passed. Continue reading

Building a Gozabune (Kobaya) from Paris Plans – Part 3

If you look at the Paris drawings, you will see that there are seven pairs of main beams across the hull, not including the otoko, or great beam, at the stern. In each pair, there is one beam above and one below. The lower beam runs between hull planks. The upper beam goes through the hull planks and supports the rail assembly, which supports the yokes for the sculling oars.

Below, you can see a general cross-section of the hull. There are actually three beams running the width of the hull. Since I already have the internal framework, I don’t need the lowest most beam, so I’m calling the one just under the deck the Lower Beam.

There are also several short longitudinal beams show in cross-section below, but I’ll be dealing with these later when I begin dealing with the deck.

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Building a Gozabune (Kobaya) from Paris Plans – Part 2

I have seen the coastal transport replica on Sado Island, the bezaisen Hakusan Maru, up close, inside and out. The construction seemed much different from the smaller hacchoro, the bonito fishing boat replica that I visited in Yaizu. This gozabune is about 17 meters long, the hacchoro of yaizu was about 13 meters long, and the Hakusan Maru, about

Lower Planks

From building the Hozugawa-bune and the Bekabune, I learned that a card stock pattern is the best way to get the shape of the lower edge of the lower plank. Taping the cardboard into place, I used a pencil to mark the outer line where the bottom and the lower plank came in contact. Then, measuring the width of the station lines in the Paris drawings, I marked out the points on the cardboard template and drew in the curve of the upper edge of the plank.

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Building a Gozabune (Kobaya) from Paris Plans – Part 1

Kobaya-bune (小早船), or simply, kobaya , is a term for a type of military-style traditional Japanese vessel that was fast and maneuverable. The size of the boats labeled kobaya, which translates literally to “small, fast,” seem to vary widely. I have seen boats called kobaya that had as few as 6 oars, and larger ones that had 24 or more oars, but my access to details on these warcraft is limited.

The largest warships were called atakebune. They were big, slow, lumbering craft with a castle-like structure atop. The mid-sized warships were called sekibune, and sometimes called hayabune, or fast boats, ostensibly because they were faster than atakebune. War boats smaller than this seem to have all been classed as kobaya.

During the Tokugawa period (A.K.A. Edo period), which began in 1603, daimyo were forbidden to have atakebune. During the time of relative peace, the smaller warships, most commonly sekibune, were turned into gozabune (御座船), highly ornate and brightly painted vessels used by daimyo and their clans for ceremonial and other official purposes.

A gozabune of the Hachisuka clan of Tokushima prefecture.

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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. In my limited experience, smaller gozabune are often referred to by their military name, kobayabune or simply kobaya, which means “small and fast.”


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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