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.
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.