Building the Urayasu Bekabune Model – Final

At the bow was the first challenge of cutting a small square hole for the small beam at the bow. I made sure my chisel was good and sharp and lightly cut the shape, little by little. Too much pressure can chip or split the wood, particularly on the back side of the cut, so this took a lot of care.

With the first hole cut to size, the alignment of the opposite hole was aided by running the beam into place to see where it lined up. It was then cut in the same manner.

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Building the Urayasu Bekabune Model – Part 4

With the uwadana (ウワダナ) cut to shape, there was still the process of giving them a perfect fit, so there’d be no gaps between the planking. In real Japanese boatbuilding, according to Douglas Brooks, this would involve sawing in the seam in a process called suri-awase. In my case, it’s mostly sanding where the planks touch, until the planks touch all along the length of the seam.

To make sure I was consistent on aligning the planks, I drew a small pencil mark to register the proper positions.


Once I was satisfied that the fit was good, I glued and clamped the planks into place. I used yellow carpenters glue. I know instant CA glue would be easier, but it will soak into the Japanese cedar too easily. And, since I’m not going to be applying any wood finish, the glued wood would stand out like a sore thumb.

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Building the Urayasu Bekabune Model – Part 3

After shaping the transom, or todate, and completing the test fitting, I glued the lower planks, or kajiki into place, using Original Titebond wood glue for gluing everything together. I prefer this glue, as it sets up quickly, and is easily cleaned up with water. Also, Japanese cedar shows CA glue stains very easily, where yellow carpenter’s glue does not. Everything was held in place with clamps and rubber bands, as I described in my previous post.

It was critical at this stage too make sure that the stem was perfectly straight, as the pressure from the clamping can impart a twist. The stem extension of the framework mold helped out a lot here, giving something to which I could clamp the stem, or miyoshi.

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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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From Douglas Brooks – The Cormorant Fishing Boat is Done

I got an email this morning from American boatbuilder Douglas Brooks, who has been in Japan, studying and constructing an Ukaibune, or a traditional river fishing boat used by the cormorant fishermen of Gifu prefecture.

Photo of completed Ukaibune courtesy of Douglas Brooks.

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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.

 

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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!

 

Paris’s Souvenirs de Marine

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Buying the Tosa Wasen Kit

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If you’re looking to buy the kit, there is good news! There is a faster, less expensive method than trying to get it through Amazon-Japan where I got mine. I found out that manufacturer will sell direct to the USA for a very good price. To buy from the manufacturer,  send an email to the company: info@thermal-kobo.jp. For buyers from other countries. I don’t know what his policy is, but you can always ask.

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Price for the kit is 13,000 Yen. Shipping is via EMS (A Chinese Express Mail Service that ends with a USPS delivery) for 2,400 Yen. Payment has to be via Paypal, sending to the email address above.

This is a really good price. Makes the whole thing with express shipping only about $150. I went ahead and ordered a second kit.

The only thing that I’m not so sure about is that the kit is shipped in its own box, but wrapped with a bubblewrap bag. It’s a long box, so it seems like it would be easy to bend in half. But, I received the first kit this way and it was delivered just fine. Then again, I generally have good experiences with the US Postal Service here.

It looks like I might have been their first international sale of this kit, as the owner posted a picture of the kit shipping out to the USA on their Facebook page.

When you order one, please feel free to mention where you heard about it. Ω

Speaking at the 2016 NRG Conference

Having been involved in Ship Modeling for more than 20 years, I’ve been a big admirer of the Nautical Research Guild and the work of its impressive membership. There have been so many great modelers involved in the Guild, I feel honored to be speaking together in a combined talk with boatbuilder Douglas Brooks at the opening talk of this year’s conference in San Diego. Douglas Brooks will be reprising his talk at last year’s conference on Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding, while I’ll be adding the element of modeling them.

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Douglas Brooks speaking at the 2015 NRG Conference in Mystic, CT.

Granted, my portion of the talk will the shorter segment. In the 15 minutes or so that I’ll have, I’ll only be able to scratch the surface of the subject, mostly talking about resources available to those who are interested in building a traditional Japanese boat. Pretty much, just enough to give folks a nudge toward attempting one.

The other part of my participation at the conference came as something of a surprise as I was told just last month that I was scheduled to do one of the round table sessions. These are 20-minute sessions that takes place simultaneously with 4 other sessions. People attend the session of their choice, and after 20 minutes, people then switch to another table. So, basically, I have a 20-minute demo, repeated a total of 4 times (with one 20-minute break).

Having no idea what I was expected to do, I’d considered a couple possibilities. The first thing that actually came to mind that I thought would work out, was to demo some of the details of paper modeling. Having completed only 1 paper model made it seem a bit odd, but I don’t think anyone else has done it, and I actually did have some interesting techniques to show.

But, talking with Kurt Van Dahm, the NRG Chairman, and others, it seemed that the idea was to give me more time to talk about modeling Japanese boats. So, I’ll be talking a mix of building Japanese kits and building from scratch. It seems a bit odd to me, as talking about kits seems a bit like a sales pitch. The only thing preventing it from being a complete conflict of interest, seeing as how I’ve done some work for Ages of Sail, is that Ages of Sail doesn’t currently carry any of the kits I’ll be talking about. And, my most highly recommended kit, the Tosa Wasen, will only be available direct from the manufacturer.

Bekabune model gifted to me from the Urayasu Museum.

Bekabune model given to me by the curator of the Urayasu Museum.

In any case, I’ll bring my in-progress Urayasu Bekabune models and a small supply of Japanese woods for people to sample themselves, giving them a chance to sand, cut and bend them. Show a couple in-progress kits, talk about how to read the Japanese language plans, etc. A 20-minute discussion should go by pretty quick, then repeat it three more times.

I really hope it won’t end up being the lamest NRG round table discussion in history, and people will find it interesting and useful. Wish me luck!