Building the Urayasu Bekabune Model – Part 2

It took me a long while before I had any hull planking in place, as I considered ways to work on the model with no frames. I also wanted try to figure out a way to build the model as closely as I could to the way the Japanese boatbuilders did it, which is upright, and not on a mold. So, my model actually sat for quite a while.

When I went to Japan, in September of 2016, and visited the museum in Urayasu, I saw that the model builders there had made a special L-shaped fixture that the model rested on with the stem supported by the leg of the “L”.

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Building the Urayasu Bekabune Model – Part 1

The Urayasu bekabune was my first foray into scratch building a model of a traditional Japanese boat or wasen. I chose the subject because of my contact with American boatbuilder Douglas Brooks, who has been studying Japanese boatbuilding methods from Japanese master boat builders for more than a 15 years. This particular boat was the subject of Brooks’s second apprenticeship. He had made some preliminary drawings and made available to me in exchange for some help I provided in getting him signed on as a guest speaker at the Nautical Research Guild conference in Mystic, Connecticut, in 2015.

Bekabune appears to be a term used in multiple regions, generally referring to a small structured-hull boat built with thin planks. The origin and exact meaning of the term is unknown, though there are some ideas that the term refers to the sound of water hitting against the relatively thin planking of this boat.

Those interested in getting more information on this boat should check out the section on it on Douglas Brooks’s website. And, I highly recommend purchasing his book Traditional Japanese Boatbuilding, which provides a tremendous amount of background on the subject, and it details Brooks’s five apprenticeships with Japanese master boatbuilders, including his work on the Urayasu bekabune. The book is also written in a style that makes it a joy to read.

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Urayasu no Bekabune (浦安のべか舟)

The bekabune, sometimes referred to simply as a beka, is a small, one person, flat-bottomed boat used for gathering seaweed. In the city of Urayasu, which was once on Tokyo Bay until landfill projects left it far from shore, there were two types of bekabune used. A smaller one, sometimes called a noribeka, that was used strictly for gathering seaweed, and a slightly large oner which was also used for catching shellfish. Large numbers of these boats operated out of Urayasu, while similar boats operated out of the rival port to the west at Ōta.

Many of these boats were designed to allow the use of a mast with a single spritsail. Others, which I believe were expected to be towed or carried aboard the large net fishing Utasebune, were only designed to be paddled.

At one time, large numbers of bekabune operated out of Urayasu on Tokyo Bay. Photo courtesy of the Urayasu City Regional Museum.

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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.


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.


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.