Category Archives: Japanese Boats

Higaki Kaisen Build Article – Ships in Scale March/April ’17 Issue

Those of you who might be interested in this Woody Joe kit, but are worried about the instructions, might be interested in picking up these upcoming issues of Seaways’ Ships in Scale.

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I hadn’t heard any word at all from the editors of Seaways’ Ships in Scale magazine after submitting my article on the construction of Woody Joe’s Higaki Kaisen kit. I submitted the article in late November, so I figured I’d send them a note to ask what the status was. I got their reply a short time later and it’s good news, the article is scheduled to appear, starting with the March/April issue.

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Given the size of the article, I expect it will appear across 3 issues. That’s the what happened with my Mary Taylor model article a few years back, and it was of similar size. This one actually might be a little longer, so maybe it will span a 4th issue. I don’t like super long articles, so I hope it gets limited to 3, but certainly no more than 4.

As a reminder, Zootoyz is selling Woody…

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Higaki Kaisen Build Article Submitted

More writing completed. This time, on building Woody Joe’s Higaki Kaisen kit.

Wasen Mokei 和船模型

Those of you interested in building Woody Joe’s Higaki Kaisen kit, I just completed the final edits to my article and sent in the 29-page work to Seaways’ Ships in Scale magazine, and is accompanied by a selection of 44 photos and illustrations.

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I’ve been working on this writing project for a terribly long time, at least 2-1/2 years, if I recall correctly, though the model only took a matter of a few months to complete. The big hold-up has been in trying to develop an accurate and informative background on these coastal Japanese transports.

This will be my sixth article submission to this magazine. And, while the last 4 articles I’ve written have been 3500-word kit reviews, this one is a good 25% larger than my 8500 word, 3-part article on scratch-building the pilot boat Mary Taylor, which probably means it will be a 4-part article. I would have preferred no more…

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New Glossary of Japanese Terms Added

For those studying traditional Japanese boats, you might find this helpful in your research.

Wasen Mokei 和船模型

I’ve just updated the Wasen Modeler site’s Resources menu and added a new glossary of Japanese boat types of terms. This is definitely a work in progress. As much as anything, it’s a place for me to store my notes. But, it’s publicly accessible to you.

I’ve included the opening text for the page in the text below…


This is a list of terms relating to traditional Japanese boats, or wasen, that I’ve collected in my notes. This is not even close to being a comprehensive list, and the descriptions given are really quite basic. I’ve compiled this list from my own studies, and with the help of many others who are more knowledgeable than myself.

Yubune 湯船 - a bath boat from the Edo period. Yubune 湯船 – a bath boat from the Edo period.

Sources of information include the book Funakagami, books I’ve collected by Professor Kenji Ishii, the works of Douglas Brooks, information parsed from the Internet, and…

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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!

Funakagami – A PDF Book on Japanese Boat Types

As I’m preparing for my study trip to Japan in, I’ve been checking on museum websites and such. The Maritime Science Museum is closed, except for a small museum annex, their website still lists the museum publications.

I don’t see any place to actually purchase these, but there are a couple books that you can download as a pdf. The one that immediately caught my interest had a number of Edo period boats on the cover. So, I immediately downloaded it and started looking through it.

Funakagami cover

Funakagami cover

I’m still working to understand the text, but the first part of the book is mostly old illustrations. Apparently, this is taken from a book called a Funekan, which was used by the Bakufu, or Shogunate government, to aid in identifying the many types of small boats on the rivers of the Kanto district, which is the region of old Edo (Tokyo) and its surroundings. The identification was necessary for taxation purposes.

Such a book is a boon to anyone who is trying to learn about different types of Japanese boats. There is little information about the boats themselves, but there is a nice large illustration of each boat type, and an index which classifies the boat. In the back of the book is a section which identifies the names of the parts of each boat. In the end, the text gets very meaty with, as far as I can tell, discussion about taxes, etc.

The book can not be printed as it is a password protected pdf. But, I discovered I can still copy text and take screen shots of the images to compile into my own notes. The copied text can be pasted into Google Translate or similar service. I’ve found that the translation is sometimes not as useful as the pronunciation/romaji spelling that is shown – For those who are familiar with Google Translator, just look under the box on the left, which is where you paste in the original text.

Click here to download the pdf

For me, the book has confirmed things I’ve already learned, taught me a number of new things, allowed me to see things I’d only read about, and raised a number of questions that I will be researching answers to.

Hope you find this helpful or at least entertaining. Ω

Japanese Boats Display in Japantown (v 4.0)

Last week, I spent an entire afternoon in San Francisco setting up my latest display of models of Japanese traditional boats in the Japan Center Mall in San Francisco. This is the largest display I’ve done, which is now up to 5 models. It’s probably about as large as it will get as I can’t imagine that I can possibly cram any more into my car. And, given that I live about an hour’s drive outside the city (or two hours in bad traffic), I’m not likely going to be making two trips to set it up. But, the size is actually pretty good now.

Since I’m doing some fundraising to go to Japan this Fall to do some more first-hand research on Japanese watercraft (don’t forget to check out my gofundme page), I’m taking the opportunity to really get some attention for this display. As with those people involved in the fine arts, I’ve made up an announcement card that I’m having printed up that I will be sending to various friends and people that  I think will be interested in it and possibly interested in helping me out (as well as those who have already done so). In addition, I’ve made a simple email announcement photo that I’ve been sending to people.

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My email announcement card

If you’re already familiar with the last couple displays, you will see two new models added, a simple Japanese traditional boat shop display and the Tosa wasen model. Both are a nice, big 1/10 scale, so the details are better for a window display like this.

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The 1/10-scale Tosa Wasen is the newest boat model added to the display.

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This is my simple model of an Urayasu boat workshop, showing some of the aspects of traditional Japanese boatbuilding. Under construction is a Bekabune, a seaweed gathering boat that was once used on Tokyo Bay. The model still needs a few additions – a work in progress.

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The Hacchoro and the Urayasu boat workshop with their scale boatmen silhouettes. The Hacchoro is one of the boats I will be focussing my attention on while researching in Japan this Fall.

You may notice in that display window photos that I’ve created little silhouette boatmen to provide scale reference for each model. This was a last minute effort, though I’ve been thinking about it for months. I finally sat down and scoured the Internet and found photos of boatmen dressed in traditional outfits on someone’s blog photos. I took the best one and did some Photoshop work to turn him into a silhouette, which I scaled to the needed sizes, printed them, and mounted them on cardboard.

There are, of course, things to do differently next time, which I’ve already noted. The boat workshop display should probably be on some kind of a riser, like the other models, there is enough room to put up another large, hanging photo board, and there’s room for at least one more model, using the tall stand I introduced in this display. I suppose I could consider staggering them a little too.

That tall stand, by the way, is actually a better stand for me to use because it’s simple two boards hinged together. This makes them foldable and they take up a lot less space in my car. I’m seriously thinking about replacing the box pedestals on the other models with short folding stands, which would allow me to carry more stuff in my car. And, actually, if I build models without sails, I might be able to fit one or two more in that car. Of course, that means building more models and I’m pretty far behind on other projects as it is. We’ll see… Ω

 

Speaking at the Northern California Japanese Sword Club

On Sunday, June 19th, I was at the monthly meeting of the Northern California Japanese Sword Club as a guest speaker, talking about Japanese boats, their construction and history. Their meetings take place at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, which is located in San Francisco’s Japantown.

Now, I’m not a particularly comfortable speaker, but it’s something I’d like to be better at doing, and this seemed like a really good opportunity. Now, I’m no expert on the topic of Japanese boats, and even less so on their history. But, the subject is one that I’m very interested in, and have been spending a lot of time actively studying  this past year, so I wasn’t totally unprepared for it.

The speaking engagement came about as a direct result of my Japanese boat models displays that I set up in the window of the Union Bank Community Room in the Japan Center Mall. Their member who organizes the themes for each meeting saw the display and thought the club members would enjoy a talk on the subject.

In all honesty, I was a bit worried about what I could talk about that a group of sword collectors would want to hear about. My knowledge of Japanese history is limited, particularly about the early use of boats by warring armies or about the warships of the Sengoku period. But, I agreed to do it, with assurances from Tom that the group would enjoy the talk regardless.

I ended up delaying my participation for a bit to brush up on my Japanese history and did some intensive study on the development of Japanese boats. Most of the available material was in Japanese, so it took a bit of an effort. But, I managed a basic level of competency in the subject.

In the end, the talk went swimmingly, and I really had a great time talking to the club about Japanese boats. I started off by talking about the four models I brought and then using that to lead into how boats developed over time, how they were constructed, talked about how they were used in battle and about purpose-built war vessels.

It helped that I was really familiar with the meeting place, having met there on many occasions with my shamisen teach, who also happened to be in the room next door giving lessons, which we could hear during the meeting.

But, most importantly, the members of this group were some of the nicest people I’ve met. They were a very receptive, very appreciative, and a very supportive group. I couldn’t have asked for a better audience!

I can’t imagine how the next talk I give could go any better than this one, but at least I’m better prepared for it now. Ω

My Higaki Kaisen Article

Quite some time ago, while I was building my Woody Joe Higaki Kaisen model, I started working on a construction article. It has essentially done for many months, but I’m trying to wrap up the first 1/3 of the article, which essentially talks about the background of the Japanese coastal transports.

I’ve been having some trouble, as there is some conflicting information regarding possible imposed restrictions on Japanese ship building during the Edo period. Most sources indicate the existence of restrictions, but a few scholarly sources say that there’s been no evidence of any restrictions at all. Yet, even in the 1850s report from Perry’s expedition, there is mention of restrictions on the construction of Japanese ships.

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Still, not being an academic, it’s hard to get in the middle of this discussion. I don’t want to alienate myself by possibly insulting people who have studied the subject, and some of whom have helped me out. So, what to do?

I sent the article to a Mr. Toshihiko Shibafuji, who was involved in sailing the Naniwa Maru during sea trials conducted before it was placed in the museum in Osaka (now closed). He has been very helpful regarding Japanese traditional boats and is a friend of Douglas Brooks. Shibafuji-san sent his comments back to me along with some technical data on the sailing characteristics of the Naniwa Maru. He also pointed out that the discussion of shipbuilding restrictions is one that even scholars in Japan have disagreements over.

Image courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Research Center

Image courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Research Center

So, I’m going to look over that part of my article and probably do a few rewrites. Perhaps the best thing to write is about the disagreement over this issue.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading a number of articles on JSTOR, which is a digital library of academic journals and books. A free account is available, which provides access to the collection. But, downloading articles requires a paid pass. This is generally available through academic institutions and some libraries, but can also be purchased by individuals. I signed up for a one-month pass for just under $20 that allows me to download up to 10 articles.

Using this system has actually been quite helpful. I’ve found some information on shipping during Tokugawa Era Japan, and other articles where references to sengokubune appear and specific information about Higaki Kaisen and Kitamaesen.

I’m not sure how much of this additional information I’ll use in this article. I’ve already been delaying this article for the last year. It’s time to wrap it up! Ω

Hacchoro – Notes for building the Woody Joe kit

I have completed an initial draft of notes I compiled on building the Hacchoro kit by Woody Joe. The kit is a model of an 8-oared Japanese finishing boat from the area of Yaizu, Japan, which is on the coast, roughly about 100 miles southwest of Tokyo. The boat is a traditional type boat, following the classic 5 sided Japanese construction. That is, bottom, garboard strakes and shear strakes in a hard-chine hull configuration.
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The real boats were roughly 45 feet long and could carry 3 square sails on masts that could be stepped as needed. There are still Hacchoro in existence today, though I don’t know what the total number is like. I also don’t know how they are used today, except that there are Hacchoro races where teams man the boat’s oars to race each other on a short course.

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I am aware of two operating Hacchoro in Yaizu. With the help of a wasen authority in Japan, I have made contact with a gentleman in Yaizu who has offered to show me the Hacchoro there. So, I am now making arrangements to see them in order to record some of their finer details for later use in modeling them. This is part of my Japanese Boat Research Trip that I’m trying to raise some funds for. If all works out, I will take lots of photos and record the details.

For now, anyone who is building Woody Joe’s Hacchoro kit can download a copy of my notes.

But, in using these notes, you must accept that these are just suggested guidelines and there are always the possibility of errors in the document. Also, the document includes my own translation of the text of the Woody Joe instructions. I am not an expert in translating Japanese into English. Use them to give you more confidence in using the kit instructions, but you must agree not to hold me responsible if you end up gluing a part into place wrong. The kit is pretty well buildable using just the illustrations in the instruction book. But, sometimes it helps to know what the text says. Also, note that there are a lot of labels in the instructions, and I’m only translating the descriptional text and not all the individual labels.

Download Hacchoro Notes and Translated Instructions

Of course, if you have any questions about the document, just send me a comment with your email address and I’ll answer as best I can. Ω

Douglas Brooks’ Japanese Boatbuilding Class Project

American boatbuilder Douglas brooks recently finished teaching a one-month class on building a traditional Japanese wooden boat at Middlebury College, in Vermont. The subject was a boat that was once used on the Agano River in Niigata Prefecture.

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What an awesome class to be part of! The students did an amazing job. I can only wonder if they realize how fortunate they are to have been part of this experience.

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You can see more photos and description on Douglas Brooks’ blog here. Ω