Category Archives: Japanese Boats

The Making of a Man (in 1/20 Scale)

Working with my Japanese boat models, after the tenth or twelfth model, I’ve felt that there’s now something missing. I enjoy modeling traditional Japanese boats, but up to now, there hasn’t been much context. So, I started experimenting with making cargo, which is a relatively easy, if not somewhat tedious, task. But, I’ve always felt that the cargo was just one step towards giving the models a better sense of what they were and how they were used. What the boats really needed were one or more figures, to give them a sense sense of scale, and a sense of the place and time when they were in their heyday.

Kawasaki: The Rokugō Ferry, from Hiroshige’s Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō

Mitsuke: The Tenryū River, from Hiroshige’s Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō

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Act Fast! Douglas Brooks Online Workshop – Saturday, February 20

Ship modelers who have even a passing curiosity on the subject of Japanese boats and the Japanese apprentice learning system will be sure to find this talk fascinating. Douglas Brooks was a speaker at past Nautical Research Guild conferences, and his talks were very well received.

Wasen Mokei 和船模型

Sorry for the short notice, but there is an online workshop this Saturday, Feruary 20th, from 11am to 1pm PST. That’s 2pm to 4pm Eastern. The Zoom-based workshop is being hosted by Kezurou-Kai USA and there is a fee of $50 for non-members and $30 for members. Douglas will be discussing the building of Japanese boats under the traditional Japanese apprentice learning system.

For those who haven’t had a chance to attend one of his talks, this is a great opportunity. I have been fortunate to have attended his talks both in-person and online, and I’m always learning new things. But, the story of his apprenticeships is fascinating and entertaining and I’m sure you will feel that way too.

Whether or not he plugs his book, Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding, I strongly recommend it for anyone who is interested in building a real Japanese wooden boat, a model of one, or…

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2019 Wooden Boat Festival Follow-Up

I recently got back from the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend, Washington, and it was a very long drive, so I’ve been spending some time recovering and not blogging. It was a great experience though, with a very supportive event staff and many, many appreciative visitors. The event took place over three days in September by the Northwest Maritime Center, and has apparently been going on every year since 1977.

I made the long drive up from home, staying overnight at my sister’s home in Shelton, Washington. From the San Francisco Bay Area, it was a 14-hour drive in my car loaded with models of Japanese traditional boats, plus tools and supplies to demonstrate model construction. Luckily, everything arrived safely.

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Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, Sept 6-8, 2019

The Port Townsend Wooden Boat festival is coming up this weekend, and I’m headed up to Washington state tomorrow for a long, long drive, to display a number of models of Japanese traditional boats the whole weekend inside the boat shop.

I’ll also be demoing construction of 1/20 and 1/10 scale models of a rice field boat from the area of Himi, a small town in western Toyama prefecture on the Japan Sea coast. I’ll be working on some other models too, since I’ll be there for three days.

Here’s a link to some of the info on the Himi rice field boat that boatbuilder Douglas Brooks built for the Himi museum: http://www.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com/zutta-tenma.html

Mr. Brooks held a workshop in Port Towsend last week in which students spent several days learning to build a Japanese-style river boat using traditional tools and techniques. That boat will be on display at the festival, and there will be a small shinto ceremony followed by a boat launching ceremony on Sunday, preceded by a taiko drum performance by Seatle-based group, School of Taiko.

At the boat launching, your’s truly has been roped into leading a lively mast-raising song (yes, not a sail raising song – we’re talking Japanese here) called Hobashira Okoshi Ondo with some call and answer audience participation. Hopefully, I won’t screw it up, but you never know… 🤨

For details on the festival, check out the following link: https://woodenboat.org

If you’re in the area and have a chance to visit the festival, please stop by and say hello! Ω

My Next Japanese Boat Models Display Next Month

For those of you in the Bay Area in March and interested in models of traditional Japanese watercraft, I’m setting up my first display of 2018 next month. The models will be in the display window of Union Bank’s community room, located inside the Japan Center’s East Mall, from March 1st through March 31st, 2018.

Models will include kit build models from Woody Joe and Thermal Studio, as well as four scratch built models, two of which will be brand new to the display.

Here’s my original post on wasenmodeler.com: https://wasenmodeler.wordpress.com/2018/02/16/my-next-wasen-model-display-march-1st-31st-2018/

Building a Gozabune (Kobaya) from Paris Plans – Part 1

My latest Japanese boat model project is a 1/32-scale model of a Shōgunke Gozabune – a state yacht belonging to the Shōgun. The model is based on measurements taken by a French officer in the 1860s and published in a French, multi-volume book of drawings of watercraft from around the world and through history, called Souvenirs de Marine, first published in the 1880s.

There is a model based on these drawings in the French national maritime museum.

Wasen Mokei 和船模型

Kobaya-bune, or simply, kobaya, is a term for a type of military-style traditional Japanese vessel that was fast and maneuverable. The size of the boats labeled kobaya, which translates literally to “small, fast,” seem to vary widely. I have seen boats called kobaya that had as few as 6 oars, and larger ones that had 24 or more oars, but my access to details on these warcraft is limited.

The largest warships were called atakebune. They were big, slow, lumbering craft with a castle-like structure atop. The mid-sized warships were called sekibune, and sometimes called hayabune, or fast boats, ostensibly because they were faster than atakebune. War boats smaller than this seem to have all been classed as kobaya.

During the Tokugawa period (A.K.A. Edo period), which began in 1603, Daimyo were forbidden to have atakebune. During the time of relative peace, the smaller warships, most…

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Building a Hozugawa Ayubune Model in 1/10 Scale – Final

My first completed scratch build of a Japanese traditional wooden boat or wasen. This was a simple design that’s ideal for a first scratch build. While I’ve started scratch building other Japanese wasen subjects, this was the most straightforward to take to completion.

The project had it’s beginnings back in May of this year, when I started creating drawings for the building of the model. I started cutting some wood for it in June, but it didn’t really go anywhere until I developed the former for it in mid-October. Then, in mid-November, I got serious with it and decided to take it to completion. Finished December 3rd.

Wasen Mokei 和船模型

This is the completion of my 1/10-scale model of the 15-shaku ayubune. This began with the cutting of the beams. I made the smallest beam at the bow, called the tsunatsuke, 1.5-sun square. The other two main beams I made 3-sun wide and 2.5-sun thick. I didn’t have any sugi of the necessary thickness, so I had to use two pieces glued together. I put the seam on the side of the beam in hopes that would make it less visible.

I used the beams as a guide to help me size the cutouts in the hull, which I cut with my Japanese Hishika, Super Fine Cut Saw, that I got from Zootoyz. It worked really well for this.

I found a supplier with the exact same saw in the U.S., but the cost for the saw was more than what Zootoyz charges, even when you add…

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Building a Hozugawa Ayubune Model in 1/10 Scale – Part 5

The Ayubune model is close to complete. Here’s the hull planking getting details and going on in part 5 of the build. The result is officially a boat!

Wasen Mokei 和船模型

Progress continues with my 1/10-scale model of the 15-shaku boat used on the Hozu river, northwest of Kyoto. I’m 6 months into the build, but I have certainly not spent a great deal of time in actual construction. Mostly, I’ve been contemplating how I was going to accomplish each task of the build. Things are progressing quickly now.

Ayubune model with former clamped to the baseboard fixture

With the new fixture holding things in place, I taped a piece of cardstock into place to trace the shape of the hull planking. I rough marked the outlines of the bottom, bow plank, and transom on it. The planking will be cut oversized, so getting the exact shape isn’t really necessary, except to make sure that the wood I cut is large enough, but not too wasteful of my limited wood supply.

Next, I cut four straight strips of 3mm sugi

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Building a Hozugawa Ayubune Model in 1/10 Scale – Part 3

If you’re interested in modeling non-western boats, you might be interested in this 1/10-scale ayubune I’m building from scratch, based on research done by Douglas Brooks. This is a very simple small boat made for fishing and navigating the rapids of the hozu river.

Check out his blog on building one in Japan, back in 2014:
http://blog.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com/search?q=ayubune

Note that this is not one of the subjects of his book.

Wasen Mokei 和船模型

Counting up all the major planks, transom, and beams, this Ayubune model will be made up of only 17 pieces:

  • Shiki (bottom) – 3 pieces
  • Omote no tate ita (bow plank)
  • Todate (transom)
  • Tana (hull planks) – 4 pieces, 2 on each side
  • Omoteamaose (bow platform)
  • Tsunatsuke (lit. rope attachment) – Bow beam
  • Omote no funabari (forward beam) – 3 pieces
  • Tomo no funabari (aft beam)
  • Tomoamaose (stern platform)
  • Transom Strake

In addition to these, I made patterns in paper for obtaining the proper angle for the lay of the hull planking. I have yet to decide at this point just how I’m going to fix the hull planks to that angle. But, there’s time before that needs to be deal with.

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Wasen Display 6.0

The latest display of Japanese boat models takes place through the end of March. Check it out if you’re in the area and haven’t seen the models yet.

Wasen Mokei 和船模型

The sixth display of wasen models is now set up at the Japan Center Mall in the window of the Union Bank Community Room inside the East Mall building. The display will be up through the end of March and features the same models as before, but with the addition of my Kamakura Period Sea Boat or Umi-bune. Though the Umi-bune model is not quite complete, I figured it was far enough along for public display as an “in progress” model.

The display then consists of the Hacchoro, Higaki Kaisen, Yakatabune, Tosa wasen, and the Umi-bune. The main change in the display is the use of new folding pedestals I made. This makes transportation easier, as the new pedestals take much less room in my car.

My hope for future displays is to have a model of a Kitamaebune, which is very similar in appearance to the Higaki Kaisen, and to…

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