The Tonegawa Takasebune (高瀬船) – a Model in 1/72 Scale

After finishing the Himi tenmasen model, I was at somewhat of a crossroads. Though the Woody Joe kitamaebune kit is close to being completed and waiting for me to make a set of sails for it, I felt that I needed to start some kind of scratch project.

I considered some other boats from Toyama prefecture, now that I have access to drawings of many examples, but there’s always been one type of boat that has intrigued me for quite some time. The boat is a large cargo transport that operated on the larger rivers in and out of old Edo. There were various kinds of transports on the rivers around Edo, but these stood out to me.

These boats were called takasebune (tah-kah-say-boo-nay), and the term can be a little confusing, as the same term would refer to any boats on the Takase river. But, the term was more commonly applied to various types of cargo boats used on rivers through Japan. My interest here is specifically for those that plied the waters of the Tone (toh-nay) river system.

Illustration of a large Takasebune from the Funakagami

The river itself is 200 miles long and is the second largest river in Japan, but its watershed, at about 6500 square miles, is the largest in Japan. The Tonegawa once flowed from the mountains far to the northwest of Edo, through Edo itself, and out into Edo Bay. But, the river was prone to severe and unpredictable flooding, and it has changed its path many times over the years. So, in the 17th century, major works projects were implemented to reroute the river, and to divert its main flow to the east through Chiba prefecture and into the Pacific ocean. Still, the Arakawa and the Edogawa branched off of the Tone river and flowed through Edo, providing a direct connection from Edo Bay to the Tone river and all its tributaries.

The Tonegawa takasebune were just one of many types of boats that plied the intricate network of the Tone river, but it was among the largest, measuring up to around 27 meters in length and was said to have a carrying capacity of up to 900 bushels of rice, or about 54 tons. The more common size of the ship was about 18 meters long, with a carrying capacity of about 500 bushels of rice, or about 30 tons.

These ships were identified by their open hulls, plank-style bow, large rudders, and small cabin located near the bow. They were equipped with a single, long mast that mounted a large square sail, but is often seen in a lowered position, laying across the top of the cabin and across cradles that held it up out of the way of any stacked cargo.

I’ve been interested in these boats for some time, and have been gathering what information I could find about them. They are, of course, mentioned in Professor Kenji Ishii’s book Illustrated History of Wasen (図説和船史話). But, I found more detailed information through a couple other books.

Illustrated History of Wasen

The Takasebune Story (高瀬船物語) is a book I originally found online in pdf form, but have since managed to purchase a physical copy from Japan. The book is short, at only about 56 pages, providing a nice overview of the the takasebune in general, and the Tonegawa takasebune more specifically. The only issue with this book is that illustrations are fairly small. But, it might make sense, as it actually has the appearance of a museum exhibit catalog, as all the photos, tables, and descriptive sections are sequentially numbered.

Takasebune Monogatari

The next book I’ve been using is simply called the Tonegawa Takasebune (利根川高瀬船). It’s a pretty text heavy book that seems to collect stories from people about their experieces with these river boats. However, this book has some drawings that provide a glimpse of life aboard these river cargo boats. This book also contacts a side and top view of a typical 60-shaku (60 foot) Tonegawa takasebune.

It actually has a second drawing of a smaller takasebune, but that one seems to have been modified after some repairs, so it may not have been a typical boat in appearance.  This makes it a poor subject for representing this famous type of river boat. Fortunately, the first drawing in the book seems to be all that is necessary to build a model of the type.

Tonegawa Takasebune

Besides these books, I have been scouring the Japanese Internet for examples. Of course there are some great models, including those of ship modeler Yukio Nakayama, whose work I have greatly admired since I discovered them a couple years ago. See, the wasen of the lower Tonegawa on Nakayama-san’s website:利根川下流域の和船/

Also on the Internet, I found various glimpses of Tonegawa takasebune in model form, 3D rendering, museum displays, etc. Together with the illustrations and drawings I had already collected, I decided it was time to jump into the subject and see if I could create a decent model.


Building a Model

I decided to base my model on the 60-shaku example that I found in the Tonegawa Takasebune book. I originally thought I should build it in 1/20 scale, which is a common scale for Japanese watercraft, but the model would then be 3 feet long, and I wasn’t sure I wanted something that large.

Since my Woody Joe Higaki Kaisen and Kitamaebune models were constructed in 1/72 scale, I thought it made sense to make a comparative model in the same scale, even though it meant constructing a pretty small model, only about 10″ long. Still, it would kind of be nice to make a comparative display of cargo transportation from the Edo period.

The 1/72 scale Higaki Kaisen model is about 16″ long.

At this scale, being a small sized model of a river boat with simple construction, I was able to start construction rather quickly, with some very rapid progress. In fact, by the time I managed to put this post together and publish it, the bulk of the construction work on the model will have been completed.

So, I’ll just post this one photo of the model in some middle stage of construction for now, and I’ll go into more detail about it in my next post. Stay tuned, it’s moving along quickly.




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