Before the advent of laser cutting, Woody Joe made two bezaisen kits, the Sengokubune and the Kitamaebune. Both were described as 1/30 scale models, but were in actuality about 1/60 scale. These kits were supplied with milled wood parts, wooden sheets, strips and dowels. Construction was more what one would expect from a wooden model kit.
The subject of my second Japan boat/model posts is a large Higaki Kaisen model (檜垣回線) located in the Edo Tokyo Museum. The ship is a type of sengokubune (千石船), or 1000 koku ship, a type of bezaisen (弁才船) or coastal transport.
The model is one of the largest models I’ve seen in Japan so far, very nicely detailed, and is particularly nice in that it is relatively easy to photograph as it is fairly well lit and you don’t have to shoot through glass or acrylic. I don’t know the exact scale, but I think it must be about 1/10-scale. I believe there is a larger model in Japan, but this one is readily accessible.
The subject of the first of my Japan boat/model posts is a Sengokubune model (千石船模型) located upstairs in the Toba Seafolk Museum. Sengokubune, or 1000 koku ship, is a common term for the large coastal transports that were more formally referred to as bezaisen (弁才船).
There are a several kits available to the wasen modeler, between Woody Joe and Thermal Studio, but if you want to scratch build something unique, you’re going to have an extremely difficult time. Japanese boat builders didn’t draw detailed plans the way western boat builders did, and pretty much all that is available are those created from a study of an existing boat type.
However, there is one fairly accessible set of drawings of Japanese watercraft that was made in the 1880s and published in a set of books called La Souvenirs de Marine by French Vice-Admiral François-Edmond Paris. This set of large-format books has seen a number of re-prints, and I’m not sure what the date is on the most recent reprint. But, there should be copies accessible in most of the larger library collections, and used copies can be found on Amazon and other booksellers, with prices that vary greatly depending on edition and condition.
Drawings included are of ships from across the globe, and the text is in French, but this collection contains some of the few contemporary records of traditional Japanese watercraft available. Of the sections I’ve collected from the books, one illustration plate shows four different riverboats of various types. Other plates show two examples of bezaisen, or coastal transports. Other plates show a couple examples of highly ornate row galleys, one of which bears the crest of the Chiba clan on it’s large squaresail.
I haven’t studied these drawings in too much detail except for the two sets of bezaisen drawings, which are specifically of what appear to be northern port coastal transports, or Kitamaebune. The text doesn’t mention any Japanese terms, and again, it’s all in French. But the drawings are fairly well detailed. And, I suspect the text doesn’t give a huge amount of detail about the watercraft as it’s mostly limited to labels and sidebars.
Now, that I look at it more closely, I’m seeing how I might be able to model some of the other boats illustrated in the books, so I’m finding myself more interested in learning about them. If I find out more, I’ll post about them here.
There are a couple of paperback books of selected plates that were published by James E. Hitchcock, which you can find on Amazon.com for less than $10. While the images are scanned and reprinted from an original copy, and the French text is very difficult to read, the book provides a handy reference so you can determine which plates you may be interested in.
I have found that the San Francisco Maritime Research Center has the set of books available, and will scan whatever figures you need and will email them to you at your request at no cost. You can contact them for details at 415-561-7030 or email them through the Park’s website.
When I visited the Toba Seafolk Museum on Tuesday, I took a lot of photos. In fact, I killed off a camera battery, but luckily had purchased a second battery before leaving for Japan. I also made sure to purchase a larger SSD card for my camera. A 32GB card wasn’t all that expensive, and literally allows me to take 1000’s of pictures before filling up the card.
But probably the biggest find for me was in their gift shop. Okay, first biggest find was the cold, bottled water (The temperature was in the 80’s with something like 86% humidity). But the next biggest find was that they had several books on Japanese boats. Some of them I was aware of, but I was surprised to find titles I was not aware of.
It was difficult looking through all these books, because I really wanted them all, and their not available in the U.S., and, as I verified later, they are very hard to find on the Internet in Japan. Of course, I couldn’t get everything I wanted to buy, and not just because of the cost, but also I’d be lugging them around Japan for the next several days.
So, I selected a few titles. A couple that I passed up, I had thought I’d seen though Japanese online sites, and a few others, I figured I’d find in other museums I’d be visiting, so I might still be able to pick them up. As for lugging them around Japan, well I could just send them to my Tenso.com account, which is a forwarding service I signed up for that gives me a Japanese mailing address, and that will package up anything I send them, and they’ll ship it to my home. Of course, books are a bit heavy and shipping won’t be cheap. So, I’m lugging around what I can for now.
I can’t tell you anything about these until I’ve had a chance to sit down and do some translation and study, but you can see what they are:
The last book was a “no brainer”. It’s a small format publication from the Tokyo Museum of Maritime Science. It’s just a 40-page book and cost a whopping $3 (300¥).
The other three books were $15 each, except for that third book, which included a set of drawings. I thought it was $35, but I think they only charged me about $26, as best as I can figure.
As you can see, the first three are numbered. They’re part of a series of books that appear to be connected to the Nippon Foundation. But, the publication information in the books all reference the Museum of Maritime Science. There looked to be some 9 books in the series, though some of them looked to be on subjects I wasn’t interested in.
The third book, I believe the title refers to a boat named the Senzanmaru, I got mostly because it was the only book I’d seen that included a set of plan drawings. I know nothing of this boat, but hey, the drawings make it build-able. So, I bought it in kind of a “shoot now and ask questions later” mentality (I have to say that phrase now has become incredibly awkward to write). Here are a couple of the sheets.
The top one shows the actual Edo period boat below and an artists rendering of the original boat above.
The plan drawings are really done in a modern style, which is a good technical drawing, but a model builder will have to loft a lot of the hull planking details from one of the sheets which shows station lines and hull contour.
Meanwhile, the little book on Higakikaisen and Tarukaisen included a nice fold-out (centerfold sounded weird)
Today, I’m off to the Edo Tokyo Museum and will try to get to the Urayasu Museum as well. There’s a Typhoon passing by this afternoon. With luck it will mostly stay away, but I might get the first rain of my trip today.
The model is in a case made using a Woody Joe case kit. I made a couple informational displays to go with it. Sorry about the quality of the photo. Shooting through glass in brightly lit open area doesn’t work out so well. Maybe with a polaroid filter – do they make those for iPhone cameras?
The bank administrator was very happy with the display and cleared out all the general promotional bank stuff that’s normally in there. The model will be on display from now until about April 3rd, when SF Cherry Blossom set up takes place and a Japanese doll display goes in. We’ve already discussed the possibility of bringing the model back after some time in May when the display case may become available again.
The only thing is that the model looks awfully lonely in the big display window. We both agreed that there should be two other models to accompany it – the display window is just laid out perfectly for that.
Now, I do have a partially completed Hacchoro model, which will actually be larger than the Higaki Kaisen model since it is at 1/24 scale. I just need to finish it and get another display case. Not sure what to do about the empty third spot. I have the large Sengokubune kit, but it’s unstarted, and there’s no way I can justify taking the time to build it with all these other projects waiting for me.
Woody Joe’s 1/24-scale Yakatabune kit is a possibility as it’s almost identical to the Hacchoro in construction except that instead of all the oars and sails and accompanying details, it just has a deckhouse. That would be a pretty quick build and it would fit the theme very well.
Lastly, because of the low position of the floor of the window display, a friend of mine was suggesting maybe putting in some kind of box stand. I suppose anything would work. Lot of possibilities here. Almost screams for some kind of diorama.
I got a nice surprise a couple months ago when the editor of the Nautical Research Journal, Paul Fontenoy, asked me to submit a short article on my Higaki Kaisen model. So, a while back, I sent him some photos to use and a very short write-up with some captions to accompany the photos. Then, I got an even nicer surprise when I was told the model would appear on the cover.
Having been an NRG member/supporter and having long admired the models that have graced the pages of the Journal, this was a really tremendous honor. Now, I’ll have to admit, it really the model subject and the uniqueness of the kit that got the model on the cover and not my artistry or craftsmanship. But, still it’s pretty nice to see it there.
Of course, being that I’ve been advocating Woody Joe kits here, it’s great to get people’s attention this way. I got an extra copy of the issue and sent it Woody Joe and they should be receiving it any time now. I’m sure they’ll be very happy to see their kit receive such attention.
The timing of this article probably couldn’t be any better, as I just submitted the proofs for my Higaki Kaisen kit review article, which will appear in Seaways’ Ships in Scale in the next few weeks. As for my history/build article for Ships in Scale, I’ve been getting pretty distracted with all the projects I’m trying to get done. But, with these articles both out in August/September, I’ll need to get back on it very soon.
But, while I’m mentioning the NRG here, I would like to say that this is a really fine organization, dedicated to ship modeling, and it deserves and needs your support. It’s not all academic and it’s not about being “purists” or anything of the like. The tagline “Advancing Ship Modeling Through Research” is just to say it’s about making better models, it’s about helping the modeler make better models, it’s about getting help to build better models.
Seeing my own model on the cover, I can’t help but wonder when the last time was that a kit build was featured on the cover? Times really do change. So, join the NRG. It’s a great organization, you’ll be supporting a great cause (ship modeling) and you’ll get your quarterly issue of the Journal!
While I finished my Higaki Kaisen kit some time ago now, it recently occurred to me that some builders may have trouble with the Japanese characters for the nobori or the banner at the stern of the ship. The kit provides a blank piece of cloth for this, so if you don’t know how to write in Japanese, what do you do?
Well, maybe this will help. Below, I’ve put a couple names together in Japanese. If all else fails, copy these into your word processor, enlarge them, arrange the characters so that they are oriented vertically and print them out on regular paper. Make the banner out of that and at least you won’t have a blank banner at the stern!
This is the the name of our kit from Woody Joe. It is not a ship name per-se, but it’s more descriptive: Higaki Kaisen – 菱垣廻船
This is the name of the replica ship upon which this kit was based. Naniwa is another name for Osaka: Naniwa Maru – 浪華丸
Any others? Maybe not so imaginitive, but you could use names of local cities. So, how about the name for old Tokyo, Edo: Edo Maru – 江戸丸
I don’t know how symbolic or imaginative coastal transport names got, but you might also just do a google search for your favorite Japanese symbols like the Pine Tree (Matsu), or the crane-tortoise (tsurukame), thunder god (Kaminari), mirror (kagami). If you can find the characters on a website, you can copy them and print them out for your own use.
The last time I wrote about my experiences with Woody Joe’s Higaki Kaisen kit, I described the issue of interpreting the Japanese instructions. The main issue there being that some steps in the instructions tell you not to glue certain parts together, and if you’re not aware of them, you’ll run into a few problems.
Well, I can tell you now that there is much more challenge beyond just watching for those key steps. I’m over 80% complete with this model and it’s been weeks since I’ve had to worry about not gluing certain pieces together. Instead, the main challenge of the ship model is cutting and aligning strip woods and laser-cut parts in the construction of the upper works of the ship.
Things slowed down quite a bit as the main effort has been with the final alignment of parts. All those earlier steps where parts were put into place now come to the test – How good a job was done on alignment of the parts in those early steps? Now parts are put into place and the you find out if they fit correctly.
In my case, there are some places where I found that parts were not quite where they should have been. In most of those cases, there was nothing terrible that stood out. However, I did end up with a gap when fitting a particular laser-cut piece into place in step 60 (out of 90). This step involved the completion of the upper works at the stern or what might be termed the poop.
Because I didn’t have everything in perfect alignment in an earlier step, I ended up with a slight gap later. This might not have been that noticeable, but I thought it best to fix the issue. There’s nothing that says you have to use the laser cut parts in the kit, so I simply took some of the scrap wood and fashioned a replacement.
An unsightly gap.
Alignment of the replacement piece.
The completed stern.
The completed stern and deck.
Not Quite According to Instructions
Another place where alignment issues came up was with the inner and outer upper walls, or bulwarks. In many ways the walls are somewhat “free floating” and don’t depend on each other too much, particularly around the main cabin. However in a later step, step 69, your supposed to fit 3mm wide stripwood pieces between them.
In my case, the separation between the walls was close enough to 3mm to work in one spot, but the other spot where a stripwood piece was to fit, the separation was closer to 4mm. Fortunately, this didn’t affect anything significant, and I was able to use a 4mm wide strip instead.
Overall, I’d say that Just about two-thirds of the way through this kit, it kind of changes from being an assemblage of pre-cut parts, like a plastic kit, to the kinds of work you might normally expect in a wooden ship model kit. There’s a lot of cutting of stripwoods and a lot of time is spent doing a final fitting of railings, trim, etc.
Cabin Roof Configuration
Steps 64 through 67 involve the construction of the main cabin roof or quarter deck. While I cut and fit the beams into place, I decided to hold off on gluing them in or planking until I figure out how I want to display the model. The instructions show an example of how to show off the interior detail, but I’m still thinking about it.
Cabin roof beams fitted, but not glued in yet.
Painting the Hull
Before continuing, I decided it was time to paint the lower hull. This is not a step described in the kit, but bezaisen seem to have been painted black in a very particular way that doesn’t exactly follow a waterline. I used available drawings and photos of replica ships as my guide.
The last thing I’ll mention here is that adding the outer hull walls or bulwarks was extremely satisfying as this is when the ship pretty much looks like a bezaisen. The lattice work of the Higaki Kaisen is very thin and delicate because of the laser etching on the surface. It had to be trimmed very slightly to fit, and took a lot of care to keep from ruining it, requiring a very sharp blade. I used just a light touch of wood glue on the back to make it just tacky enough to hold it.
I’m just about 80% done with the model – getting close! Ω
I’ve had the Higaki Kaisen kit for close to two months now and I’ve been working on it pretty steadily except for about a 2-week period where I couldn’t due to the holidays and a shoulder problem I had. But, I’ve had a chance to work on it again and develop some more thoughts on the kit itself.
This is still a really fascinating kit and at about half-way through, it’s still fun and challenging. I’m spending a lot of time now on interior details and I’m finding that the level of challenge seems to be increasing as I get further along in the build. But, my comments on the amount of care and patience needed still hold. You really want to study the illustrations very carefully, and at this stage, you also have to be consulting the plan sheets to check measurements for the deck beams and such.
I’ve had a chance to go over the text in the instructions with someone who can read Japanese and, had they been written in English, I think it wouldn’t make all that much difference. Much of the text is there to remind you to be careful or to watch to make sure you glue a piece on with the correct side up or make sure that you line up the parts along the edge. Most of these things you can get from close study of the illustrations.
Here’s a helpful clue to successful build of this model: There are times when you are not supposed to glue parts together. Of course, this instruction is given in Japanese. However, it is always noted in red and if you can spot the Kanji (Chinese characters), you can “read” these most important instructions. The text to watch for is 接着. These are the characters for “bonding” or “gluing”. If these characters are followed by either of the negative verb endings しない, or しません, then don’t glue the indicated parts. When parts are to be glued together, the characters for gluing (again, that’s 接着) are usually followed by しますor する or simply have no verb ending at all.
So, summing up:
接着しません or 接着しない = Don’t glue together
接着します or 接着する or just plain 接着 = Glue together
This might seem like too much to deal with, but actually there isn’t a tremendous amount of text to follow. There is no separate written paragraphs of instruction, unlike in many Western kits. All the instructions are in simple steps, so there are only a few sentences with each illustration. Also, the text to watch for will be marked in red. Finally, Japanese verbs come at the end of sentences, so they’re pretty easy to locate (plus, the Japanese period is an open circle “。” – easy to spot).
Above is an example of a piece not to glue into place. In this case, you are just using the piece to aid in getting a proper angle on the cross-beam. I circled the important text in a green dashed line.
Here is another example where you are instructed not to glue the dowel in place. If you look ahead in the instructions, you will find that you later need to be able to push the dowel out temporarily.
I include this to remind the builder to look carefully as the text telling you to glue the part is similar to that which tells you not to glue. Proceed slowly, look ahead and study illustrations carefully.
I recommend going through the whole instruction book and searching very carefully through the text before beginning the build. Circle any occurrence of 接着しません or 接着しない to flag them so you’ll clearly catch them later. There really aren’t that many times that you have to avoid gluing parts, but if you miss the call to not glue, you’re going to be trying to pull apart parts at some point. On that matter, I’d also suggest that you glue sparingly. The parts in the kit are pretty light and don’t need much glue to secure them.
Alignment of parts is probably the trickiest part of this build. I’m finding it best to read ahead in the plans, see what parts are in contact with what and do a lot of test fitting. In some cases, I found it best to jump ahead on some small sub-assemblies to make sure they’ll fit into place properly when the time comes to glue them into place.
I’m about half-way through this model and I’ve run into mistakes I’ve made, most of which I was able to fix one way or another. In most cases, I glued where I shouldn’t have, but was able to pop glue joints loose to make corrections. There was one issue with the hull planks where they didn’t come together too well and I ended up having to fill a small gap, but that shouldn’t be too noticeable in the end.
I’ll post more about the build later. But, I think I’ve pretty well covered the issues you will run into when building this kit. I’m still really enjoying this build a lot. It’s neat to see it come together and the details are nice. This is definitely a kit for the patient and careful, but adventurous modeler. Ω