Category Archives: Kanrin Maru Build

The Kanrin Maru was Japan’s second steam warship, built for the Shogun by the Dutch and delivered in 1857. She accompanied the first Japanese embassy to the U.S. which was carried aboard the USS Powhatan, arriving in San Francisco on March 17, 1860. This model project is based on a 1/75-scale kit by the Japanese manufacturer Woody Joe.

Building the Kanrin Maru – Japan’s First Screw Steamer – Part 4

After the modification of the bulwarks, the rest of the model should look pretty much like the plans. The Woody Joe kit seems to be pretty well spot-on with the Dutch maritime museum plans as far as hull shape and deck layout. So, it’s basically the smaller details that I need to consider.

The scrollwork for the bow is a cast metal piece, which looks fine. There are a few artifacts from the casting process which need cleaning up, but this is pretty easy to do. I just used a sharp, chisel pointed blade to cut them away.

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Building the Kanrin Maru – Japan’s First Screw Steamer – Part 3

Notice anything special about that photo of the fully planked hull in my last post? If you look closely, you may notice that the center section of some of the bulkheads are missing. If you’ve followed any of my wooden ship model building, you’d probably be aware that I can’t leave kits well enough alone. One of the things I’ve always liked to do is to add a hint of an interior. Nothing blatant, just a hint to create something of an image in the observer’s imagination.

Arrows showing where bulkhead sections were removed

I’ve discovered that I don’t like building full interiors and I don’t like lighting a model’s interior. That’s too blatant and too showy for me. I want the observer to look at the model and discover an open door and to catch a glimpse of more detail without actually being able to see beyond it.

You’ll notice in the photo below where I’ve started to make my modifications.I figured I might leave the aft companionway doors open, and have clear skylights, giving a glimpse of the lower deck. So, I cut away the centers of a couple bulkheads, painted the interior bulkheads white, planked a some small floor pieces, and inserted them into place.

Now, to be clear, I went back and forth quite a bit on how much detail to include on the model’s interior. In this case, I decided that all I really want to do is to have some planked deck space down below the hatchways and companionways. For the planking of the lower deck pieces, I used some 3/32″ wide strips of South American boxwood – the same as I will use on the main deck.

Section of interior deck in place. Note the cutout for the mizzen mast.

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Building the Kanrin Maru – Japan’s First Screw Steamer – Part 2

Planking the hull of the Kanrin Maru is pretty easy. The ship has a sharp bow and the run of the planks is easy, needing little bending. You might be tempted to taper the planks at the bow, but that’s not what the instructions have you do. And, if you do, you may very well run out of planking material. If you want to more authentic planking, you’ll need to supply your own additional planking material.

I chose to build the hull straight from the kit at this point, so I simply laid the planks as is, starting at the bulwarks and working towards the keel. Hinoki, or Japanese cedar, is the material used for much of the kit, and it’s a bit brittle when dry. To bend or twist planks, the wood doesn’t need to be soaked, just wet. But little bending or twisting is required for this model.

As the model is intended for painting, the planks stop abruptly at the stern bulkhead. Here, the stern shape is provided in the form of a stack of thick pieces that have to be filed down to shape.

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Building the Kanrin Maru – Japan’s First Screw Steamer

It’s been just about three years since I last wrote about researching the Kanrin Maru, and I really haven’t done much about it lately, but I did start construction of the 1/75-scale model based on the kit from the Japanese wooden model kit manufacturer, Woody Joe. The model is being constructed with modifications based on my research.

I started construction long ago on this model, but set it aside for other, higher priority projects. Recently, I realized that I don’t have any models on permanent display anywhere. My only models on display are my Japanese traditional wooden boat models that I put on display in San Francisco’s Japantown a couple times a year.

There is a possibility that I could build this model and have it on display at the Mare Island Museum, where they have an existing display dedicated to the Kanrin Maru’s 1860 diplomatic mission to San Francisco.

Woody Joe’s 1/75-scale Kanrin Maru kit.

The Build Plan

The hull of the Woody Joe kit is very close to the line drawings I acquired of the ship, so it’s an excellent start to building what should be a pretty accurate model. There are a few details of the kit that I will change or am considering changing:

  • The planking and shape of the hull at the bulwarks
  • The presence of a winch above the propeller well in the kit
  • The shape of the hawse pipes from the kit
  • The location of the hawse pipes on the deck of the kit
  • The armament
  • The location and configuration of the ship’s wheel
  • The size of the turnbuckles provided in the kit
  • The configuration of the fore-and-aft sails
  • The presence of mast wooldings in the kit
  • The presence of a mizzen mast top in the kit
  • The absence of coal loading ports in the kit
  • Miscellaneous small details

I’ll deal with these as the build progresses. Continue reading

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

It’s March 17th – Happy Kanrin Maru Day!

While most people who celebrate today are drinking green beer and thinking Irish thoughts, today is also the anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese government ship to visit the United States. It was on March 17, 1860 that the Japanese screw steamer Kanrin Maru arrived at San Francisco as an escort for Japan’s first embassy to the United States aboard the USS Powhatan. For the 150th anniversary celebration, the mayor of San Francisco declared March 17th to be Kanrin Maru day. I don’t suppose there is a lot of celebrating of the event in the city, or anywhere else for that matter. So, I’ll just do that on my own.

But, for those interested, the journey of the Kanrin Maru is pretty interesting, and involves many important historical personalities for both Japan and the United States. The captain of the Kanrin Maru, Katsu Kaishu, is considered the father of the Japanese Navy and is later  instrumental in his involvement with the transfer of power from the Shogun, the military ruler of Japan, to the Emperor. One of the crew members was Yukichi Fukuzawa who later founded the prestigious Keio University, one of Japan’s oldest institutes of eduction. Another was Manjiro Nakahama, also known to many Americans at the time as John Manjiro, who’s own story of shipwreck, rescue by an American whaler, life in the United States, and eventual return to Japan, is an adventure known to many. Then, there was then Lieutenant John Mercer Brooke, who with the help of a handful of his sailors, helped the Kanrin Maru survive a treacherous Pacific crossing, and who went on to become instrumental in the creation of the Transatlantic Cable, and in the development of a new rifled cannon known as the Brooke Rifle.

Here is some interesting reading I’ve run across:

As We Saw Them, the First Japanese Embassy, to the United States by Masao Miyoshi

John M. Brooke’s Pacific Cruise and Japanese Adventure, by George M. Brooke, Jr.

Manjiro, the Man Who Discovered America, by Hisakazu Kaneko


And a link to my previous Kanrin Maru Day post: My Kanrin Maru Day

Kit Review: Kanrin Maru by Woody Joe – Addendum

Having actually started work on the kit, there is one thing I want to point out. As I mentioned in the earlier parts of my review, some of the wood used for the laser cut parts in the Woody Joe kit are very thin and have been laser cut very finely. For the plywood parts and the thicker wooden parts (which look like Poplar) that’s not much of a problem. But, some of the finer parts are cut from thin Mahogany. And, to the company’s credit, they use straight Mahogany, not Mahogany plywood. For larger pieces, this isn’t too much of a problem, but the skylight frames and the mast top details have some very thin pieces and even if you are very careful, they will break in multiple places.


When building the mast tops, I was very careful, but I still had the first two laser cut Mahogany pieces break on me. This isn’t really a tragedy as long as you keep all the pieces closely accounted for. It is wood, after all, and anything wooden is relatively straight forward to repair cleanly. But, by the time I got to the last one, I got smart (it happens now and again) and here’s is my advice:

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Kit Review: Kanrin Maru by Woody Joe – Part 2

In Part 1 of my Kanrin Maru kit review, I provided an overview of the kit. Here, I’ll try to go into depth on some of the details. But, let me start by talking about the identification of parts, which is going to be of particular interest for those who don’t know any Japanese.

The first page inside the instruction book is a parts list. As I mentioned before, parts are numbered and color coded. All laser cut wooden parts have a number with a pink background (doesn’t show up well in the photo below), stripwoods and other non-laser cut woods are numbered with a white background, all metal parts are numbered with a blue background, and miscellaneous parts including rigging and plastic parts are nunbered with a white background.


The parts list includes short descriptions, but if you don’t know Japanese, obviously, they’re not going to help a lot. However, the numbering/lettering in the descriptions themselves and the size measurements can help you decipher the part. For instance, part #1 has A~D in the description. This means that there are four parts in this group, so it should be a little easier to identify them.

Each of the part bags are nicely numbered to identify the contents. Below is an example of one of the packs of metal parts. As you can see, they are part numbers 14, 15 and 16, as identified on the card. The backs of the cards describe the parts in Japanese, but also list the quantities of each part in the bag.


Similarly, the laser cut wooden parts have numbers burned into them directly. On parts where any lettering or numbering may be visible on the model, the identifiers are burned onto the sheet next to them instead. Because of this, it’s advisable to only remove parts as they are needed.


An Example of Locating Parts

So, just to be clear, here’s how you might put this into use. Starting with the plans, you identify the part you will need. It is number 31 with a white background. This indicates a wooden piece that is a strip wood, not laser cut.


Looking this up, we can see that the piece in the parts bag is a 476mm long piece,2mm thick by 20mm wide.

DSC01244 DSC01247

Perusing the parts, we find the bag containing parts 30, 31 an 32. If we flip the attached card over, we see the descriptions and how many of each part is in the bag. In this case, there is a single piece.


A Second Example

In another example, we are working on the screw lifting mechanism in a later Step. We see that we need part 15, which looks like a winch head and it looks like there are a couple of them needed here. We also note the blue background, which indicates that this is a metal part and we know from earlier inspection that all the metal parts are staples to three cardboard strips to help keep things organized.


Knowing the part number and what the part looks like, we can locate it in its bag. The card on the bag also tells us that there are 4 pieces of this type, which should further help to identify the part if we’re unsure.


Strip Woods

The kit contains 4 packages of strip woods for a total of 7 sizes. I’m not sure exactly what kind of woods are used for the most part, but the quality seems fine. The one wood I recognize instantly from it’s aroma is a variety of Japanese Cypress called Hinoki. If you know the scent of this wood, you probably love it. If so, you’re going to love Woody Joe kits, just because of their use of Hinoki.

For those of you not familiar with this wonderfully aromatic wood, it is used to make traditional Japanese baths, has fungicidal qualities and the aroma is considered to have certain health benefits. All I know is that the wood smells heavenly. It is used for the hull planking, so if you want some serious aroma therapy, you’re going to love building this model.

As for quantity of wood in the kit. There isn’t an abundance of it. In fact, there is just about enough to build the kit if you follow the directions correctly. If not, and say you decide to try to taper the hull planking or stray in some other way with the planking, you risk running out.

Laser Cut Parts

As I mentioned previously, there are a LOT of laser cut parts in this kit and the quality of the laser cutting seems very good. So much laser cutting has been done that there are very few items that need to be built up from scratch. This is almost the exact opposite of the early American solid hull ship model kits where you were given some combination of strip wood, sheet wood and solid block and expected to recreate a deck house or skylight, for instance.


With this kit, Woody Joe has made things very simple for the builder, and there is very little that you actually need a knife for except to remove the laser cut parts from their sheets.


One thing I’ve discovered on these precut wooden parts is that they generally very thin and delicate, and some of the wood in the kit seems a little on the brittle side. So, you want to be extra careful. Even the bulkhead pieces that form the framework of the ship are only 3mm thick and the smaller parts are easy to break.


Probably the least attractive aspect of this kit is the use of plastic for ship’s boats and for blocks. It’s certainly not unheard of. Other manufacturers have used plastic parts here and there, particularly on more modern types of vessels where the full-sized parts are plastic or fiberglass. But, I think many ship modelers, including myself, tend to prefer their models be entirely from wood and metal, though it may be a silly bias.


For those who find the plastic parts undesirable, replacing the blocks is a very simple matter. Replacing the ship’s boats requires a little more searching to get the right sized replacements, but it’s still a pretty simple matter. At 2-7/8” long, the boats come out to about 16’ long and 4-1/2” wide, which seems a bit on the small side anyway, particularly in comparison with the boat outlines drawn on the museum plans. But, I’ll talk about scale and differences from the plans a little later on.

Replacement Parts

Probably the biggest drawback to buying a Woody Joe kit at this time is what happens when you lose or break a piece. I suspect that missing pieces is not a big issue with this company’s products when you look at how the kit is packaged, the heavy use of laser cut parts, which come in sheets, and the high organization of the contents. But, if you break a piece, you will probably find it simplest to try to recreate the piece rather than trying to get a replacement piece shipped to you from Japan.

I contacted Woody Joe about some parts and they referred me back to the store I purchased from. On the plus side, the store manager where I bought the kit was very helpful and told me to send him the page number where the part appears and he would determine the part for replacement by Woody Joe. Of course, there is still the matter of international shipping, but we didn’t get into that.

The best course is just to be very careful with your parts – take extra care not to break or lose parts. On the laser cut parts, don’t punch them out from the sheet, cut them carefully and only as you need them so as to avoid losing any.

The Plans

I probably should have brought this up at the start of the article, but better late than never. The plans look very clear. There are two large sheets, one of which is printed on both sides.

Plan 1: Profile view that shows standing rigging and some other small rigging details. Insets at the top of the page shows a belaying plan and turnbuckle detail.

Plan 2: This plan view has drawings of all the masts and yard and shows details of the mast tops, locations of blocks and so on.

Plan 3: This plan shows the deck layout, locations of the bulkheads and mast steps and  such.

The one thing that is notably missing is a drawing of the laser cut parts sheets. That kind of detail is nice to have if you have to remake a damaged or lost piece. Given the  likely difficulty, length of time, and potential cost of getting a replacement part, this is a feature that I really wish were provided.

All that said though, of all the kits I’ve built that include the laser cut parts drawings, I’ve never once had to use them to re-make a part. So, maybe that’s a feature that is just more a security blanket than something really useful.

Accuracy and Scale

Now we get to the actual design of the ship model. How accurate and authentic is the kit and the plans? How is the scale accuracy?

I’ve done what research I can, but the information I’ve been able to get has been fairly limited. I did manage to located and obtain plans from the Prince Hendrick Museum in Rotterdam. But, the plans that were sent to me are only a portion of what are actually available. It was difficult enough to get the plans I got. Trying to get more help from the museum staff has been next to impossible for me. Plus, the plans I obtained cost about $200 by the time all was said and done, and this project doesn’t currently warrant additional expenses.

In any case, comparing the model plans to the plans I obtained from Holland, the hull looks to be quite accurate from what I can tell. Many of the deck features, like the windlass, the deck house and stack are also spot on. This isn’t surprising as I’m told the designer of the kit used original plans.

There are some variations in the exact positions of skylights, companionways and such, and I’m not sure why. I suspect it may have mostly to do with the addition of the ship’s wheel. But this differences looks to be pretty minor and it looks to be simple enough to adjust the locations of these features.

There are a few things that stood out to me. The first of those is that the masts seem a lot thicker than those on the Holland plans, about 25% thicker. I’m not sure if this would be a problem for anyone, especially since they look fine on the model, but the fore and main masts in the kit are about 5/16” in diameter, whereas the Holland plans show them at about 1/4”.

The Details

Overall, the small details on the model are a bit on the light side. The kit doesn’t show jackstays or stuns’l booms, and the yard arm truss is very simply made from a piece of brass. There is no cannon rigging, simple eyelets are used for hawse pipes, there are no cleats, kevils or bollards, and so on.

But, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just makes this a simpler kit. It should be a fairly easier build which, aside from the language issue, should make it suitable for, say, the advanced beginner.

Those who want more detail can easily add these yourselves. I’m personally planning on building the kit with added details and hopefully will end up with an article that I’ll submit to Seaways’ Ships in Scale in the near future.


I really like the Woody Joe Kanrin Maru kit. It looks to be an easy build that provides a pretty accurate frameworks from which to detail a very nice model. The subject is unique and interesting and its history is culturally and politically significant. It also represents that fascinating period where steam power was just getting started and many ships had both sail and steam. At a 1/75 scale, it builds to a respectable size of just over 32” long and 19” high. Language is an issue, but not much of a barrier given the pictorial instructions and well organized and numbered parts. A little pricier because it’s an imported kit, but looks to be a fun build.

Read Addendum

Kit Review: Kanrin Maru by Woody Joe – Part 1

Judging from my blog stats, there seems to be some kind of interest in Woody Joe kits. So, I’m going to post here my first kit review of Woody Joe’s 1/75 scale Kanrin Maru kit. Keep in mind that I have yet to actually build this kit, so I can’t tell you how well it goes together or what pitfalls you may run into. What I can tell you is the apparent quality of the kit, when you get and what the instructions are like. Also, I spent 6 months working to get copies of the plans of the original ship from the Prince Hendrick Museum in Rotterdam, so I can say something as to the accuracy of the kit with respect to those drawings.

Note: Woody Joe kits are currently not distributed within the United States. So, purchasing one will require you go through a seller in Japan. I highly recommend buying from the place recommended to me by Woody Joe, called Zootoyz. They have an english language website, their prices are excellent (that is, they do not attempt to gouge the international buyer who may not know the actual retail prices of the kits unlike certain Japanese Ebay sellers), their shipping charges are very reasonable and they are easy to deal with, and the manager, Kazunori Morikawa, has been very helpful.

Their pricing is in yen, the Japanese currency, and rather than charging a fixed dollar amount, they charge at the current exchange rate. This is to their disadvantage right now with the value of the dollar so high against the yen. But, it means that their kits are cheaper as of this writing, so it’s a good time to buy.

The Kanrin Maru was Japan’s first screw steamer. To clarify some misconceptions, she was not the first Japanese ship to cross the Pacific – A Japanese-built galleon did that in 1614. The ship did not carry the first Japanese ambassadors to the US. Rather, she accompanied the USS Powhattan, which carried the embassy. Finally, the Kanrin Maru was probably not a good example of rapid Japanese mastery of the seas as the ship might not have completed the journey without the help of the American officer and sailors aboard who helped sail the ship when the weather turned violent, which was for most of the trip.

The Kanrin Maru was built by the Dutch in 1856 at the request of the Tokugawa Shogun shortly after Perry’s arrival. She was Japan’s second steam warship. The first being the Kanko Maru, which was the Dutch Navy paddlewheel steamer Soembing, presented as a gift from the King of Holland. The Kanrin Maru was primarily a sailing ship. Her small 100 horsepower engine was primarily for use maneuvering in and out of harbors and the ship carried only enough coal for 6 days of steaming.

For those interested in reading about the journey, the most complete information comes from John M. Brooke, the American officer who was given the role as advisor on the ship’s Pacific journey. At that time, Lieutenant Brooke (later to become the namesake of the Confederate’s “Brooke Rifle” and who would be involved in the construction of the C.S.S. Virginia), an accomplished scientist and engineer, had maintained a journal of his experiences at the time. These have been published in the book John M. Brooke’s Pacific Cruise and Japanese Adventure, 1858-1860.



Versions of the Kanrin Maru Kits

There are actually 3 different Kanrin Maru kits that are made by Woody Joe. One of them is a large 1/50 scale kit, which was directly inherited from the old model company, Imai. I actually don’t know much about whether this was an acquisition or if the company changed its name or what. I also don’t have much information about the old Imai kit other than what I’ve seen listed on Ebay when these kits pop up, which is only rarely.

[I’ve only recently learned that the large kit is out of production for the moment, but is slated for an eventual re-release in a revised version]

In any case, the 1/75 scale Kanrin Maru is available in two versions. One version with sails and one without, both of which were released in 2010. The version I bought is without the sails and it is slightly cheaper than the sail equipped version. The main difference between the two, as can be expected, seems to be the lack of sail plan and sail material in my kit.

Also, the Kanrin Maru had a telescoping smoke stack and a lifting mechanism for the screw. So, on my kit, the stack fitting (turned wood) is in its raised position. I’m not sure if the screw (propeller) is any different. From the parts in the kit, it looks like you could simply attach it in a raised position.

Finally, there is a steam venting tube just aft of the stack that would be folded into a stowed position when the engines are not in use. Other than this, and probably a difference in instructions, the kits should be virtually identical.

Opening the Box

The box isn’t particularly large at about 24″ x 10″ x 2-1/2″. I didn’t bother to weight it, but one seller list the shipping weight at about 8.6 lbs. It is well illustrated and gives you a few views of the completed model as well as one of the skeletal framework.

The first thing you notice upon opening the box is how tightly packed the kit is. This is a very good thing as it keeps the parts from bouncing around during shipping and keeps the box size down, which can save money on shipping costs. I never really considered this until one distributor I was talking to told me about how he was trying to convince one of the other model manufacturers to get rid of some of the empty space in their kits by making the boxes smaller because it was costing a lot of extra money when shipping pallets of kits at a time. Bigger boxes = more pallets = more cost.


The contents are what you would expect in a kit. There are two large plan sheets, one of which is double-sided. The instruction booklet is in full color, is 28-pages and well illustrated. The instructions are entirely in Japanese, so you either want to be able to read Japanese or have a very understanding Japanese friend or relative nearby. However, the illustrations are very clear and the parts are well labeled – VERY well labelled, in fact. So, with some ship modeling experience under your belt, you may very well be able to get through this on your own.


A Little Japanese

If you can bother to learn to read the Japanese script called Katakana, that will go a long ways in your interest in Woody Joe kits. The nice thing about this script is that it is used pretty exclusively for foreign words, and sailing ships of this kind and the terminology that goes with them are pretty much all foreign imports. So,  you can get a lot of clues without actually knowing Japanese.

For instance, the text ミズんロアマスト says Mi-Zu-N-Ro-A-Ma-Su-To. And, if you say it really fast, you get Mizzen Lower Mast. Or ビレイピン = Bi-Re-I-Pi-N = Belay Pin for Belaying Pin. It’s actually kind of fun… But, in a nerdy sort of way, I suppose.

Of course, that only works for some of the text, but it’s helpful.

Organization of Parts

Looking through the kit, one of the first things you’ll notice is that everything is packed into separate plastic bags and these bags are individually labelled and numbered. There are three different sets of numbers, but they’re easy to distinguish because one set of numbers is for the metal parts, another set of numbers is for wooden parts and the third is for the miscellaneous materials. In the instructions, the numbers are circled and the background color indicates the part group. A red/pink background indicates a laser cut part, a blue background color indicates a metal part including brass, etched brass and cast metal parts, and a clear or white background is for wooden material and miscellaneous parts, including rigging material and plastic parts. These part number and color code are used to match up with the parts list on page 2, which is the inside of the cover of the instructions.

The larger laser cut parts are two sheets of 3mm plywood. This consists of the framework backbone on one sheet and the bulkheads and related pieces on a second, larger sheet. Other laser cut parts, and there are many, are divided up between 6 parts bags.


The packages for the metal fittings are themselves stapled to heavy card stock, keeping the box well organized. According to an email from the manufacturer, these parts do contain lead, though the quality of the castings seem pretty high, and they seem very similar to Britannia pewter parts that are common in American kits. There is a possibility that there is some mistranslation here. But, to be on the safe side, I recommend that any metal parts be properly primed and painted to avoid any potential problems with deterioration later.


There are some plastic parts in the kit, but these are limited to the ship’s boats and the rigging blocks. Those modelers who prefer not to use plastic on their models can easily replace these parts with those of their own choosing.

Rigging line is included on 5 spools. One spool is tan line and the others are all black and in four sizes.

Coming up next, A Closer Look at the Parts…

Read Part 2 

Buying Woody Joe Kits

Woody Joe is a Japanese manufacturer of wooden model kits. They have a range of subjects, mostly Japanese, that includes some very interesting and unique things, ranging from Mikoshi, a kind of portable shrine that is usually carried in lively processions, to Japanese temples and famous Japanese castles, even a 1/24 scale model of a Mitsubishi Type 52 “Zero”. But of course, on a blog like this one, the most important thing is their ship models, and these range from a modern day Japanese ocean liner to well known western ships from the age of sail, and also a unique line of Edo period Japanese boats.

So far, I only have seen photos of examples of their models that people have built, all of them in Japan, and have yet to build one myself. So, I can not attest to the quality of the build. But, I finally broke down and purchased one of their kits in December of last year and it is waiting patiently for me to get started. Having the kit in hand, I can make a few comments about it.

A Kit Overview

The kit is the 1/75 scale Kanrin Maru. Woody Joe actually makes two versions of this kit, one with sails and one without. Why they didn’t just make one kit and give you the option to build with sails I can’t say. I guess it saves the buyer a little money in the long run, but doesn’t give you any room to think about how you want to finish it as you’re building it.

75kanrinmaru_hotsuki2                  75kanrinmaru

You might think, big deal, just pay a little extra for the one with sails, then you can decide, and you’d mostly be correct. The minor issue is that since the ship had a telescoping smoke stack and raisable propeller, you’d have to make allowances and scratch build a new stack, but that shouldn’t be too difficult. Anyway, mine is the version without sails.

My first impression, looking over this kit, is that it is the most well organized kit I’ve ever seen. All parts are packed in plastic bags in small sets, even the dowels for the masts and yards are separately packaged, hull planking is separately packaged, deck planking is separately packaged, and each package is labeled with part numbers. This is essential if you don’t know how to read Japanese.



Laser cut parts are very clean and there are a lot of them. In fact, I would judge that there are very few parts you have to fashion yourself – they’ve seem to have all be laser cut and ready for assembly. The only things that are not in plastic packaging are the bulkheads and keel pieces, which are on laser cut sheets.



Metal parts are mostly cast white metal and seem to have good detail. Some etched brass parts are included as well.

Probably the one apparent downside to the kit is the use of plastic for the ship’s boats and for the blocks. This ship apparently had metal rigging screws or turnbuckles, so there are no deadeyes in the kit. If there were, I’d think they’d be plastic too. A finicky ship modeler (like me) would probably replace these plastic parts with wood ones. And anyway, the blocks in the kit are all the same size, which would be very unlikely and very unrealistic. But, that’s an easy fix. The ship’s boats should be easy to replace too, though aftermarket boats are often metal or plastic.


As for the plans and instructions, this is probably the trickiest issue. They’re all in Japanese. However, the instructions are very well illustrated and the plans are clear enough. I expect that someone with model building experience wouldn’t have much trouble figuring things out from the drawings.


Meanwhile, I’ve put a US distributor onto the idea of importing these kits. If this happens, I think they will include some kind of english language translation or english version of the instructions. Until then, you’ll have to work through it or wait for me to write my article on the Kanrin Maru build, which obviously isn’t going to be published until after I’ve built it!

But, I may post my translations of the parts list and description of the construction steps here before then.

Buying Kits

So, how does one go about purchasing a Woody Joe kit today?

I’ve seen them pop up occasionally on Ebay and elsewhere, but the asking prices are highly inflated, as much as $200 above MSRP. Right now especially, the exchange rates are extremely favorable for US buyers of Japanese goods. Since I bought my Kanrin Maru kit in December, the change in rates has dropped the price of the kit by almost $50. Being that the kits are little on the pricey side to begin with, this is a real boon for us here in the US.

When I contacted Woody Joe, they pointed me to an online dealer called “Zootoyz” and I have to say that the service was very good and the pricing matches the prices that Woody Joe lists. The Zootoyz site has english language pages that are easy to follow (though translations aren’t perfect) and when you add items to your cart, you will see the price in Yen and the converted price in dollars. This seems to be automatic and varies with the current exchange rate.

Shipping from Japan is one of 3 ways: Air lines package (AIR), economy air lines package (SAL), and express mail service (EMS). As it turns out, this is not all that expensive when you consider how much you end up paying for shipping in the US anyway. I ordered my Kanrin Maru kit by express mail and it cost about $35 to ship. If I’d ordered a similar kit from say Model Expo, they charge $25 and ship by a ground service that takes a week or more. I got my kit from Japan in a matter of just a few days for not much more money.

In any case, this is a far cry from the Japanese Ebay sellers that want to charge $60 to $90 to ship you a kit that they are already overcharging you for.

For general information of the full range of Woody Joe products in Japanese:

Eventually, we’ll hopefully see a US distributor bringing these products into the US, making them more readily available. In the meantime you can buy here:

UPDATE 11/2/20: During the Corona virus outbreak, while everything is good with both Woody Joe and Zootoyz, shipping from Japan to the U.S. is extremely limited. For most products, I believe FedEx shipping is the only available service, but it is extremely expensive. However, very small products might be shipped by a service called Yamato Transportation, which is now available in the U.S. For one or two mini-kits or maybe some landscaping accessories, etc., it might be possible to ship using this service. It’s fast and not too expensive. You can email Zootoyz about the shipping charges here.