Monthly Archives: November 2015

Tosa Wasen – Japanese Fishing Boat Kit – A First Look

With the Thanksgiving holiday last week, I’d been home a lot except for one day, Friday. Naturally, that’s the day the postal carrier showed up with the package from Japan. With nobody home to sign for it, I had to wait the extra day to pick up the kit. Fortunately, the Post Offices are still open on Saturdays, so in short order, I had the package.

The kit is not all that heavy, about 1-1/2 pounds, but it’s in a long box. I think this kicked the shipping cost up a bit, which was just about $30. Still, a ship model kit, particularly one this rare, for around $170 total, is not bad. That’s just about what I paid for the Woody Joe Hacchoro and the Yakatabune kits I bought from Zootoyz.


Having ordered through Amazon Japan, the only seller of the kit did not ship internationally, so I had it sent to someone that then re-shipped it for me from Japan and they didn’t charge me any service fees. He’s done this twice for me and I don’t want to impose on him any further. There are companies specifically set up to forward packages from Japan. I just finished setting up an account with one called Next time, I’ll try them out.

By the way, it looks like I may have been wrong about this kit being out of production. I thought it was no longer manufactured because the company that makes it, Thermal Studios, primarily makes large model glider kits and doesn’t list the Tosa Wasen kit at all. However, I emailed them about it and if we understood each other correctly, they produce the kit. Perhaps it’s more of a local item since they are apparently close to Tosa, Japan, and seem to have some kind of connection with the Tosa Traditional Boat Society.


The kit itself is basically made up entirely of several laser cut sheets, plus a small bag with various kinds of parts, some other separate laser cut and milled wooden parts, instruction booklet, plan sheet, and even a sanding block.



The laser cut sheets are made from Sugi (that’s “Sue” plus “Gee” with a hard “G”) or Japanese cedar, just like the real Tosa boats. Sugi is aromatic, though not as strong as the Hinoki used in so many Woody Joe kits. The parts are laser etched with Japanese characters to identify them. This probably makes locating parts a little more time consuming than if they were numbered. But, it’s just a matter of pattern matching.


The bag of parts contains all the milled wood parts, all short pieces. Also in the parts bag is the metal anchor, the anchor rope, metal rings and fastener. The kit also includes a roll of yellow hobby masking tape, and for some reason, some plastic applicator tips used for applying CA glue.



As expected, the instruction booklet is all in Japanese. The black and white printed book is 26 pages long and includes a parts diagram on the back cover, showing all the laser cut parts on their sheets. The diagram is pretty small and you really need a magnifying glass to read it. But, magnified, the part identifiers all appear to be readable. Instructions are divided up into 41 steps, with each step being clearly illustrated and each looking to be pretty simple steps.


Time will tell if the Japanese text printed in the booklet is really necessary or if the model can be built solely by the drawings. But, in addition to the booklet, there is also on large plan sheet that gives a nice overview of the boat at full scale, which, by the way, is 1/10 scale.


Overall, this looks like a really nice kit and it’s not that expensive. An additional bonus is that the  manufacturer, Thermal Studios, created a blog showing photos of the construction steps. This is really nice because it reinforces the written/printed instructions, giving you another view of the steps. Also, using Bing or Google translators, you can view the blog pages in English (or whatever your native language). This isn’t great as the translation can be pretty questionable, but it often helps.

Thermal Studio’s Building a Wasen Blog

Having attended Douglas Brooks‘ talk at the NRG conference this past October, and having been reading through his book on Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding, I can say that this kit looks very authentic and true to the way that the traditional Japanese shipwrights would have actually constructed their boats.

This kit would make an ideal study project for someone who is interested in following the work described in Mr. Brooks’ book. Personally, I’ve been planning on scratch building the Urayasu Bekabune that he discusses in his book. I think that building this kit first will help me a long ways towards understanding Japanese boatbuilding so that I can next attempt that scratch project.


Ordering Kits and Other Goods from Japan

There are a lot of small products that are made in Japan, particularly for hobbyists, that are hard to find outside that country. Assuming you’ve already check the usual U.S. dealers, the easiest way to find them is to look on Ebay or Amazon. But, if you’re lucky enough to find what you’re looking for, chances are good that the seller has hiked the price up, knowing that you probably don’t know any other way to get it. But, you may have alternatives.

English Language Support

If you’re looking to buy something from Japan and are lucky enough, you may find a dealer that has a website available in English that also ships internationally. One such dealer that I’ve bought from on many occasions is Zootoyz. I can recommend this company wholeheartedly for those looking for Woody Joe kits, Tamiya plastic kits, and the small variety of other things sold on their site. The site isn’t perfect, but the service is excellent. If you have a hard time using the site or finding an item, just use the contact button on their site to ask about it.

You might also find what you’re looking for through Hobbylink Japan. Their website is more sophisticated, but they mostly deal only with plastic kits and accessories. If you’re a wooden ship modeler, what you’ll mostly find there seems to be out-of-stock Woody Joe kits that list as taking 4-6 weeks to ship. Their prices are slightly discounted, but you’ll find that Zootoyz offers slightly discounted prices too. Those discounts don’t show up until you add the item to your cart.

Japanese Only

Beyond these kinds of shops, buying from Japan can be difficult. Many sites are in Japanese only, and searching for a product usually requires you to be able to type in Japanese, or at least to find text that you can cut and then paste into your search window to find what you’re looking for. Bing and Google translators can be very helpful, but they don’t work with secured sites like Amazon Japan. With a little bit of knowledge and familiarity with, you might be able to get by as I have.

Even though you can’t open secure web pages using Bing and Google translators, you can still copy and paste text into them to figure out what the text is that you’re seeing. Using this method, I was able to set up an Amazon-Japan account, enter my payment information and place the order. However, the sellers I purchased from wouldn’t ship internationally.

International Shipping

Many Japanese sellers do not provide international shipping. The easiest way around this is to know someone in Japan that would be willing to do you a favor. If so, you might be able to impose on them to forward the shipment to you. If you deal with an online seller that does ship internationally and you are a good enough customer, they might be willing to forward something for you. But, if you’re not in a position to ask anyone to help you out, there are still alternatives.

Shipping Agents

I recently signed up with a company called This is one of many shipping agents that provide you with a Japanese address that you can have your orders shipped to. There is no cost to join, and they will ship anywhere in the world for a small processing fee that depends on the weight of the shipment. For a 1kg package (2.2lbs), that’s 600¥ or about $5.

If you want to save a little money, they will also hold your shipment for up to 30 days and combine your items into a single package for you. This way, those who have a hankering for Japanese products and don’t want to pay the premium often charged by importers or Ebay and Amazon sellers can order easily.

I haven’t tried out the service yet, but I have signed up and expect I will try it soon. Ω



Tosa Wasen – Japanese Fishing Boat Kit

A couple weeks ago, I was checking Facebook posts and I saw one from my friend Morikawa-san  who runs the Japanese online hobby shop Zootoyz. He’d posted a Japanese build log that I’d seen quite some time ago regarding the building of a large-scale model of a work boat from the area of Tosa, Japan. When I first ran across the blog, I searched for the kit’s manufacturer, but noted that they no longer produce the kit. It was 6 months to a year ago when I first learned about the kit, so when I saw Morikawa-san post a link to the same blog, I was hopeful that I had gotten mixed up before and that the kit was still in production.

Looking around the Internet again, I found no indication that it was in production. But, thinking about it some more, I remembered that I’d found an out of production wooden Japanese ship model kit on Amazon-Japan before. So, I went to, and used my familiarity with the American site to stumble my way around the Japanese site.

Going back to the posts about the kit, I found the text for the name ”土佐和船” and did a little copy/paste into the search field… And there it was! Available, yet! Well, at least there was one available. Turns out it really is still out of production, but here was an old stock kit for not a whole lot more than the original pricing.


Instead of the 13,650円 as originally marked, it cost me about 17,000円, which is about $140. I think if it had been listed by someone on the US site, they would have asked twice that amount, so I was happy to pay the $140. There was one hitch. The kit only ships within Japan. But, I’d dealt with that before by enlisting the help of a friend in Japan to serve as a kind of a shipping agent. I had the kit sent to him and he shipped it to me.

Shipping has been all happening very quickly, but I won’t receive the kit until Friday or Saturday this week. I’m really excited about this find. Morikawa-san has looked into the possibility of carrying this kit, but the manufacturer, a glider manufacturer called “Thermal Studio” lists it as “out of stock”. Now, why a maker of glider kits would make a traditional Japanese boat kit, I have no idea. I suspect it has something to do with the company’s close proximity to Tosa and the existence of a Tosa Traditional Japanese Boat Society.

I’m hoping he’ll be able to convince the manufacturer to produce the kit again. I’d love to be able to write up a magazine article on this one as it looks nicely detailed, very authentic, and at 1/10-scale, it’s just about 2 feet long – a nice size.






In any case, I’m planning on starting a build log on Model Ship World, and with the NRG conference in San Diego next Fall and the possibility of Douglas Brooks doing another talk on Japanese traditional boats, this should fit in quite well there. Not to mention the fact that it will greatly enhance my Wasen Display in Japantown, San Francisco.

But, one of the things I’m really looking forward to is how it may help me further my understand of traditional Japanese boats given that this kit appears to be extremely authentic – more so than most of the Woody Joe kits in detail.


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Also, I’m interested because I’m doing the preliminary work for scratch building an Urayasu Bekabune, one of the boat documented by Douglas Brooks during his Japanese boatbuilding apprenticeships. While this is a much different boat, I see some design elements that may help me figure things out on the scratch project.

Finally, given the rarity of this kit, I’m probably not going to build it directly. Rather, I’m probably going to use it as a pattern to try scratch building a model from. Just from looking at the build logs and photos of the contents, I can see that this kit has some interesting design elements that I’m interested in.

For one thing, I believe this kit may be of a style that actual traditional Japanese boatbuilders would use to build models of their own work. For one thing, the scale, 1/10, is the same scale that the boatbuilders used when creating their plan drawings (traditionally drawn on a wooden plank). For another, from the photos, it appears that this kit might actually use the same kinds of woods used to build the actual boats. Specifically, it looks the the hull planks may actually be made from Sugi, or Japanese Cedar, while some parts like the stem and beams appear to be a lighter, creamier color, suggesting to me that they are made from Hinoki, or Japanese Cypress.

Of course, this is all just speculation based on photos. I’ll get a better idea when I see the kit, which should be very soon… I hope! Ω

Researching the Kanrin Maru – First Update

Research of the Kanrin Maru continues…

In mid-May, 2013, I receive a set of plans from the maritime museum in Rotterdam after more than 6-months of trying. It was a long process, and it ended up costing around $200 for the plans, bank transfer fees and “shipping,” which consisted of having digital copies uploaded to a file transfer site. But, I have them now. The plans are all digital copies and it took me a while to even understand the scale as the units were in Dutch. Also, I had to print out some of the drawings, adding to the total cost.

Kanrin Maru plans

Plans of the Bali and sister ship the Japan, which the Japanese renamed the Kanrin Maru.

One thing that was free was access to photos of a model of the Dutch ship Soembing in one of the Dutch museums. The Soembing was the ship that steamship that the Dutch first presented to the Shogun, becoming the Kanko Maru, Japan’s first steam warship. This one was a paddlewheeler launched in 1853 and the significance is in that she, like the Kanrin Maru, was Dutch built, and only a few years older than the Kanrin Maru. She had a similar rig to the Kanrin Maru, but the question for me is how similar? The Soembing also gives an example of Dutch naval cannon, providing a better idea of how the Kanrin Maru was armed. Continue reading

Japanese Wasen Model Display in San Francisco v3.0

This week, I installed my latest display of models of traditional style Japanese boats at the Japan Center in San Francisco. If you haven’t seen it before and are in the area, this is a good display to check out. This time around, I added a third model to the collection, my Yakatabune model. So now, there is the Higaki Kaisen (1/72-scale), Hacchoro and Yakatabune models (both 1/24-scale). All three models were built from kits by Woody Joe of Japan.

The display will run from now through all of November and December in the window of the Union Bank community room, which is in the East Mall building.


UPDATE 12/20/15: Wasen Display extended through January, 2016. Take-down date has been moved to January 29th.



One thing I discovered while setting up the new display is that this is a much better time of year to display the models. Because of the lower angle of the sun, the there is far less glare from the skylight above, making the models much easier to view. I’ll have to keep that in mind in the future, though I’ll probably just try to display them at every opportunity I get.

The one addition I have yet to make to the display is a photo board, that I’ll be setting up in the fourth window panel, which is just barely in view in the above photo. But, I have a couple ideas for the display of a fourth model in the future. You’ll have to check back in the Spring for more details on that.

In any case, the new display is a far cry from the very first display, which was only about 9 months ago. Please check it out! Ω