Simple Cargo for a Wasen Model

I’ve been thinking about making a diorama to include my recently completed tenma-zukuri  chabune. One of the uses of such a boat was for transporting cargo. So, a diorama is going to need something for the boat to carry. An empty boat is fine for displaying the boat itself, but it’s not going to look right in a diorama.

Possibilities include barrels of sake or miso, or bales of rice. But, I’ve found that these are can be just bit complicated due to their shape and the way that are wrapped. Sake barrels, called taru, have a somewhat fat, squat shape and, at least in modern times, are wrapped with colorful logos and writing. They would be interesting to include, but a bit complex for what I want to do here, especially with the unique rope wrapping.

One of the simpler examples of a sake barrel I’ve found on the Internet.

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Hozu River Diorama

Something I’ve been working on over the past many months, somewhat off and on, is a mini diorama. I think I was inspired by Woody Joe’s release of the first of their 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō series, the Nihonbashi Bridge. That model depicts the famous Edo period bridge that was the eastern end of the Tōkaidō and Nakasendō roads that connected Edo to Kyōto, and is made to be a diorama with a pair of flowering cherry trees and a pair of small boats on the river.

Seeing this, I thought about the Japanese river boats I was familiar with. Having completed a boat from the Hozu river, its simple designed seemed a natural choice for a small diorama. The idea was also fed by the numerous available pictures of the large sightseeing boats that take tourists down the scenic river route.

Never having made a diorama of any type, I did my research and planning, did several experiments with materials and paints, and came up with what I thought was fairly decent for a first effort.

The diorama depicts a pair of Edo period boatmen traveling through a portion of the rapids on the Hozu river on a 24-foot riverboat, sometimes called an Ayubune, named for a popular kind of fish that they would catch from these boats.

The initial challenge was getting the water to look right. The rocks turned out to be very easy to make using inexpensive sheets of insulating foam. The stoney texture was simple the result of cutting the foam with a knife.

The making of the boat was the easiest part of the whole display. I just scaled down the drawings I had and cut the parts and put it together. It’s a very simple boat design. And, at this scale, the details of a larger model would not really be visible, so I was able to omit them.

The two figures turned out to be the greatest challenge. I’ve fashioned individual figures before, but it’s not a skill I possess yet. Right now, it takes a lot of work for me to get something that passes as humanoid. Then, to try to make it look like they’re wearing Japanese traditional garb took another step. Painting helped make this work, and I’ve done a lot of miniature painting in my younger days, so that I think made a big difference.

The diorama isn’t perfect. For one thing, the type of tree seen here is, I believe, all wrong. Most trees on the river banks are smaller and straighter, but I just used whatever I could find that would work, settling on the myriad of tree making kits available to the model railroad hobbyist.

The water was also problematic as the stuff I used for making the choppy waves, again a product made for model railroad enthusiasts, results in a horrific amount of shrinkage. The diorama is okay for now, but I can’t help but wonder what it will look like in another five years.

It’s nice to have this display done, and I’d like to do a more serene “cherry blossom viewing on the river” diorama in the future. For this, I purchased some trees made by Woody Joe, which should look more correct. However, I’d love to work on the skill of making model trees from scratch. But, another time, maybe. Ω

Absolutely in Awe – My New Wasen Modeler God

Today, I was digging through my usual research websites. In particular the Nippon Foundation’s online library, studying an article on Takasebune, when I ran across this photo, clearly depicting an entire collection of wasen models, all at the same scale. Translating some of the text around this image, I discovered that they appear to all have been built by a Mr. Yukio Nakayama.


Not knowing anything about this person, I began digging around using his name in Japanese for my searches, 中山幸雄. What I found is a gentleman who has been built more than models of traditional Japanese boats and buildings, all at 1/70 scale.



I don’t know much more about him, aside from the fact that he was born in 1953 and has been doing this for a long time, but it appears that the information on his work is fairly current. It seems that there are periodically exhibits of his work.

I will do what I can to find out about him and see if I can contact him. Being that my Japanese isn’t very good, I suspect that I won’t be able to do much communicating.

Time to send out some calls for help through my network of contacts!


Visiting the Edo Tokyo Museum

If you want to see what life in Edo period Japan was like (1603-1868), you might want to make a visit to the Edo Tokyo Museum, located in Tokyo’s Sumida ward. This is a neat place and it’s big. The building’s architecture is interesting and is said to be patterned after the shape of a type of Edo period storehouse.


The Edo Period Tokyo (or Edo period, Edo) is on display as the museum’s permanent exhibit on the 5th and 6th floors of the building, but tickets are purchased on the first floor. The price of admission is 800¥ for adults and the ticket is good all day, so don’t toss it out, in case you might want to exit and come back later. There is, after all, a lot to take in.

Walking through the museum, you get to see some life-size representations of life in old Edo. The first thing you run across is a reproduction of the Nihonbashi, which is one of the main bridges leading into the city, also there is a reproduction of the Nakamuraza theater, which was one of three Kabuki theaters in Edo.



You will also glimpse how people lived and worked in Edo. This place provides a great opportunity to look at the buildings, tools, culture and lifestyles of Edo. Of course, it’s Japan, so the information provided is predominantly in Japanese. But, some of the signs are also written in English. Even so, docents abound at the museum, and you can request a docent, who will lead you through the museum and tell you about the things that were really special about old Edo and Japan.



Being that I was on my own personal search for obscure information, I didn’t bother with a docent guide. However, I kept running across the same groups of English speakers and their docent guides and couldn’t help but overhear some interesting information that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.


For the ship modeler, or someone interested specifically in Japanese watercraft, the museum doesn’t really have much. There is one large model of a Higaki Kaisen that is well worth seeing (I’ll post more photos later).



I also discovered the first model I’ve seen yet of a Takasebune, which is a basic riverboat transport. This is one of the types of boats I’d really hoped to see a model of. Sadly, the lighting in the museum is absolutely horrible, and the model is in a tiny case, barely bigger than the model, creating a lot of haze and glare, and the only light shining on it was from the front, from behind the viewer, so it was hard not to create harsh shadows.






But, the biggest attraction for me, ended up being the large diorama of the Nihonbashi bridge and the activity on the water below. There are many small boats on the river, including chokibune (water taxis), large yakatabune (pleasure boats), and various other small boats who’s specific names I don’t know and/or don’t recall. I only know from the book Funakagami, that the boats are generically called chabune.




For me, it was important to see these boats in the context of their daily work. Seeing the people on them, how they used them, etc.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get better photos of anything due to the poor lighting. The whole museum is this way. Lighting is kept at a low level. As a result, most of my photos are fuzzy, underexposed, or overexposed (due to flash). Okay, some of that’s due to my lack of photographic skill and use of a simple point-and-shoot camera. But, the problem was exactly the same at the Toba Seafolk Museum, and makes for a very frustrating experience.

At the gift shop area, I found no books on Japanese watercraft, and I asked about any books that might have some good photos of the dioramas. The shop staff was very apologetic, but they apparently had nothing useful.

Still, a great experience if you’re in Tokyo, and well worth visiting. Ω