Yaizu is a coastal city on Suruga Bay, 10 miles south of Shizuoka, and about 50 miles southwest of Mt. Fuji. On a clear day, you can see Fujiyama. I visited Yaizu during typhoon season, and the mountain was obscured by clouds. Yaizu is the home of two replica Hacchoro (hot-cho-ro), fishing boats that got their claim to fame as boats of these types were once commissioned as escort boats for the retiring Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu.
The story goes that the Shogun, or military ruler of Japan, liked to hunt game using a falcon. Travel to the hunting grounds required a trip by sea. To provide escort, 24 fishing boats were commissioned. But, the fishermen operating the boats had a difficult time keeping up with the Shogun’s boat due to strict limitations in place on the number of oars that could be implemented on fishing boats – a limitation imposed to limit the military capability of the craft. The fishermen of Yaizu were then granted permission to use 8 oars, which gave the boats their name – Hacchoro, translates to “8 oars”.
I owe much thanks to my contact and friend at Woody Joe, Mrs. Yukari Gojo, who coordinated my visit with Mr. Hiroyuki Kobayashi, who works with the Hacchoro. Yukari-san drove me from Shizuoka to Yaizu and Mr. Kobayashi met us there. Accompanying us was David O’Neil, an American student at Shizuoka University, who served as an interpreter.
I have been in touch with Mr. Kobayashi for many months. I found him through Mr. Toshihiko Shibafuji, who I have been in contact with ever since I began working on the Tosa Wasen model, late in 2015. Mr. Kobayashi had offered to meet me in Yaizu and show me the Hacchoro, but it was Yukari-san that finalized everything by email and telephone and provided the transportation, which save me a lot of time and trouble.
The Hacchoro were wrapped up for the season, so the four of us had to spend a bit of time untying and unwrapping. I’m very thankful to David, in particular, for getting his hands dirty and sweating in the hot and humid afternoon, as he was just there to interpret.
The sun was amazingly hot as it beat down on us, and humidity was up around 87% to 90%. It had rained prior to my arrival, but cleared up when I arrived. I’d actually expected it to rain during my entire visit to Japan but lucked out, as it really only rained on one occasion, and I never once felt the need to break out my umbrella.
Climbing up on the deck of the Hacchoro, I felt a bit out of place. I’d never studied boats up close like this, and never had access to them like this. Having 3 people go out of their way to help me out was a new experience for me. I didn’t even know what to ask at first. But, as I looked over the boat, details about it started to gel. I’d built a model of the boat from kit, and there were a number of differences, and I started taking in some of the details.
The first thing that I really noticed is that these wooden boats are aging. I later learned that the two are nearly 20 years old, and they are showing their age. They were built in 1997, and every year, they get patched up, deck boards are replaced, the hull is repaired as needed, and the boats are put once again to sea.
Mr. Kobayashi indicated that no other will likely be built. So, they have to make these last. The results of hull patch work can be seen on the hull exterior, as the repairs are covered by copper plates. The hull itself seems to be in the better shape than the decks, probably due to annual clean-up, repair, and repainting. The condition of the wood making up the decks was a bit disconcerting. At one point, our translator, David, took a step, and his foot went through a rotting board.
But our visit and these pictures, were at the end of the operating season for these boats. It would be nice to see the boats at the beginning of the season with new wood, new paint, ready to put to sea again.
Regardless of the condition at this time of year, there were a lot of details to check out. One item is common on many Japanese boats, a kind of faceted post. I’ve seen photos before, but never at this angle. From most angles, it appears like a faceted ball on a tapered post. But from here, the design is clear, and I should be able to replicate it easily. At some point, I’d seen the name in Japanese, but it escapes me at the moment.
Some of the deck boards had a feature that I only learned about when building the Tosa Wasen kit last year. There are scribed lines on some sections deck boards to aid in putting the boards down in the right order. When everything is in the right place, the lines form a large “V” or arrow that points toward the bow. Also, in every set of planks, there is at least one board with a finger hole, allowing you to easily pull up the boards.
Another feature that these boats have that is not on my model, are wooden strips nailed to the underside along the edge of the bottom board. These serve as skids that protect the bottom, when hauling the boat up onto the shore.
There is, of course, far more to mention. But this post is really about my visit. I have since purchased another Hacchoro kit and will review it and the many updates I plan to make to it. The Woody Joe kit is a simple build. It’s in my nature to make it far more complex. Watch for future updates about that project!
As for the visit to Yaizu, after we climbed all over the Hacchoro and got all dirty and sweaty, the four of us went to lunch across the harbor. I sat down to a plate of sashimi that, being in a fishing port, was extremely fresh, and surprisingly inexpensive. We sat, talked, ate, and rested.
Afterwards, we returned to the Hacchoro to wrap it back up again to protect it from the weather, and spent a bit more time discussing the boats. As the day was getting on, and I still had to take the train to my final destination that day, which was still another 4 hours away by train, we hurried to the next stop that Mr. Kobayashi wanted me to see. We headed toward the big red building that you can see in the background of many pictures of the Hacchoro at Yaizu harbor (in fact it’s visible in distance in the fifth photo I posted here). That building is the Fukuichi Fisheries Co., building or Fukuichi gyogyō kabushikigaisha.
The company has a memorabilia collection on the building’s top floor, which I might point out, has no air conditioning, so they hand out uchiwa, or small, round, hand-fans. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend here, but it was an interesting collection. Somewhat random selection of items: fishing poles, buckets, models, paintings, outboard motors, full sized boats, ropes, anchors, floats, a small Japanese-style ropewalk, etc.
Unfortunately, it was only a very quick look. We then headed a short distance to Yaizu station, where I saw these new friends for the last time. I have been in email contact, but who knows when or if I will see them again. I am grateful to them all for making my visit to Yaizu so special and so memorable, and it gives me great resolve to do something good with what I’ve learned about the Hacchoro. Ω