Hiratabune Model – Edo Tokyo Museum

This is one of those posts where I am really putting my knowledge, or possibly my lack knowledge, out on the Internet. When I visited the Edo Tokyo Museum last September, I found a model that I was extremely happy to find, as it gave me a first-hand look at a boat type that I have been very interested in learning more about.

The boat was labeled a Takasebune, and I first encountered it in the Funakagami, a book published back in 1802, which was used to help identify different river boat types for tax purposes. The Takasebune is a type of riverboat used to carry goods, and specific size and designs varied, but they are generally shallow draft boats with single plank sides that are nearly vertical, and the bow is a flat plank or a pair of planks joined at a slight angle.

The model in the Edo Tokyo Museum was clearly labeled a Takasebune in Japanese and in English, and I was really happy to find it. I took a number of photos to catch all the details I could. But, it was after reviewing the photos of the model and further studying the boat types that I discovered a problem with the model’s identification.

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What I Learned Today – Wasen Names

Last night, I finished writing a post about the set of books published in the late 19th century called Souvenirs de Marine, which contain drawings of ship from around the world, and specifically contain several examples of traditional Japanese wooden ships and boats.

Afterwards, I was inspired to do some hunting around for images on the Internet of a specific type of ship I was looking at called a gozabune (Goh-zah-boo-nay). This is a type of large river or coastal ship that was highly ornate and used as official yachts by daimyo and other aristocracy. Many are simply warships, sekibune, dressed up during peacetime.

 

seto-ryu-sekibune

A Sekibune

In order to get the best hits on Internet search engines, I went to my Glossary of Terms page and copied the Japanese text for the gozabune to use for the search. This, by the way, is the reason I added the Japanese text to the page. If you’re looking for something specifically Japanese, the best way to find it is to do the search in Japanese. So, I searched for images using the text, 御座船, for gozabune. 

I found what I was looking for: lots of images of gozabune. But in my search, I stumbled across many things. One drawing, in particular, got my attention and it led me to a great article in the Nippon Foundation’s online library on the story of the Takasebune. To the best of my understanding, this was a book published by the Chiba Prefecture Tsukigaki Castle Museum in 2005.

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I don’t know if it’s still in print or available somewhere, but this appears to be the contents of that book: https://nippon.zaidan.info/seikabutsu/2005/00589/mokuji.htm

There was one image in particular in this article that showed various types of Takasebune and on what rivers they were used. Click on the image if you want to see the full-sized version on the Foundation site.

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Now, I recognize some of these boats and their names, and specific information is great. But, what I’ve come to realize, more than anything else, is that the specific names of these boats may be irrelevant unless you are looking at a specific river system. This article is about Takasebune, but all the boats shown here have different names and are still Takasebune, even though some are called Hiratabune.

I think the issue may be that academics, and in this case I think I have to put myself under this group, attempt to classify these boats by names, but the names were given to them by the local people. They didn’t plan out how they were going to name them, they just named them.

So, I learned that when you hear or read the name of a boat, don’t think you know anything about the boat or what kind of boat it is unless you know the location it was used and have actually seen one or a drawing of one. There is much to learn!