Mitobune (ミト船) Model – Toba Seafolk Museum

At the Toba Seafolk Museum, I encountered boats and boat models of types I’d never heard of before. That of course is no surprise given my novice status in the study of traditional Japanese boats. But, the number of boat names and terms was quite overwhelming. If I am going to continue studying wasen (tradtional Japanese boats), then I’m going to have to return to Toba at some point, armed with a better understanding of what I’ll see again there.

In this case, there was a nice model of a gyosen (漁船) or fishing boat called a Mitobune (ミト船).

According to the placard, the boat was a type of fishing boat used on the Kumanonada Sea, which is the area of the Pacific Ocean to the south of Kumano prefecture.

From memory, I’m recalling the model to have been maybe 3-1/2 feet long, but I didn’t notice that a scale was given anywhere, certainly not on the placard. Not being able to read Japanese, I have to translate things after the fact, and it’s quite possible that I missed it, or didn’t connect another sign with this model. But, given the size of the model and the number of oars, I’d guess that it was likely a 1/10-scale model.

One of the most notable features of the model is that the sail was made from a piece of wood. Mostly likely, I would guess that it was a thin sheet of wood, soaked and bent to shape, but I suppose it could have been carved.

My apologies again for the grainy low-light photos. Here’s another view of the wooden sail. Of course, the real boat didn’t use wood for the sail. Japanese boats used cloth sails, just like anyone else. However, early boats, like the Kamakura period umibune, did use straw mat sails, but that was many centuries before this boat.

Another interesting feature of this model, are the fishing accessories like the pole mounted nets, buckets and other gear in the above photo. Below you can see another view of the tools wedged into a slot in one of the beams.

I don’t have any specifics on this boat, so I don’t know if had a live well for storing catch or bait. Were I to go back, I would know what things I would specifically look for. Holes in the hull amidships or on the bottom would indicate the presence of a live well. The buckets on deck, at least one of them, are mostly likely used for storing bait.

I don’t know for sure whether this is a net fishing or a pole-and-line fishing boat. I suspect the latter as there are a couple long poles on the deck, and I think it’s more likely that the pole mounted nets would be used in scooping a single catch out of the water. With net fishing, I don’t think these tools would be necessary.

I’m guessing that the large ladle in the photos above and below is a bailer, though most that I have seen in Douglas Brooks’ photos taken in Japan are rectangular in shape and resemble dust pans.

There is a lot of detail that can be found in this model including the four sculling oars, tools, buckets, ladels, fishing poles, nets, etc. This is a great resource, but now it has to be connected with information about the boat. Of course, that’s the case with everything I’ve looked at in Japan.

Even at the large scale of this model, it doesn’t show any of the fastenings, but it does provide a lot of detail on the equipment and general construction of a boat of this type. In order to be able to model it, much more specific information has to be found.

This will be added to the long list of boat information to watch for. Many more of those will be showing up here in coming weeks!


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