Simple Cargo for a Wasen Model

I’ve been thinking about making a diorama to include my recently completed tenma-zukuri  chabune. One of the uses of such a boat was for transporting cargo. So, a diorama is going to need something for the boat to carry. An empty boat is fine for displaying the boat itself, but it’s not going to look right in a diorama.

Possibilities include barrels of sake or miso, or bales of rice. But, I’ve found that these are can be just bit complicated due to their shape and the way that are wrapped. Sake barrels, called taru, have a somewhat fat, squat shape and, at least in modern times, are wrapped with colorful logos and writing. They would be interesting to include, but a bit complex for what I want to do here, especially with the unique rope wrapping.

One of the simpler examples of a sake barrel I’ve found on the Internet.

Miso barrels seem simpler, though I haven’t been able to get decent dimensions on them. For those who don’t know, miso is a paste made from fermented soy beans. It is used as a flavoring and is probably most commonly known as a soup base. As for the barrels, I have a feeling they weren’t as standard as sake barrels, so I haven’t been able to find common dimensions. They have a simpler, bucket shape, but I haven’t figured out yet a good way to simulate the wooden bindings on them without getting into weaving thin strips of rattan. Sake barrels actually have the same bindings, but their straw mat coverings hide that detail.

Example of a small miso barrel.

Another example of a larger miso barrel.

Tawara, or rice bales, are probably the most common kind of cargo. I have been able to find measures on the Internet, suggesting that they were generally around 60 kilograms and the bags were a straw mat. When filled, they were about 75cm long and 45cm wide. Since they are bags, the shape starts off more or less cylindrical, but I expect they flatten out after a time or under the weight of other bags.

Photo I took of the example tawara inside the hold of the replica ship Hakusan-maru on Sado Island.

On a small, 1/150-scale, diorama, I just shaped some polymer clay into little lozenge shapes, which worked okay. At 1/20 scale or larger, I think they’ll need more detail, which I’m working out now.

For now, the simplest cargo seems to be some kind of finished products, like those that would have been shipped by bezaisen from Osaka. Perhaps something like porcelain ware, lacquer ware, silk or cotton cloth, etc. As in modern times, such products are going to be shipped in some kind of protective packaging. I really know nothing about how this was done in pre-modern Japan, except for what I’ve been able to find in images.

Large yatai, or cart, loaded up with large packages.

Some packages in the foreground and miso(?) barrels in the background.

And, what I’ve found to be the simplest, so far, is what appears to be a box, wrapped in a heavy cloth or straw mat, like a Christmas present, and tied up with rope. The above photos show a couple examples. Note that in these images, the smaller packages are bound up with more rope, but less attention is paid to the neatness of the straw mat wrapping. This is from some kind of reenactment and not an actual historical photo. The upper photo is an actual historical photo, probably late Meiji era.

I decided to make something a bit in between. For 1/20-scale, I started by cutting some small wooden blocks 22mm or 7/8″ across. I then found some cloth that’s has a fairly loose weave. I figured this would kind of approximate straw mat, though scale-wise, something finer would probably be more accurate.

Wrapping the block is pretty much like wrapping a gift, but with glue, and it doesn’t have to be so neat. I used a little Aleene’s Tacky glue, which worked very well for the cloth on wood.

For the neatest appearance, I wanted the visible end of the cloth to be close to one edge, like in the photo below. There were some wild threads, so I trimmed them off before going any further. You can see them below on the left.

I then used some heavy thread to represent twine used to tie it all together. Note that all the wrapping is glued up first. The final package is shown below.

I made 12 packages, which is as many as I could find in the tenma-zukuri chabune model without stacking them. So, the boat might carry as many as 24 easily, though it would be difficult to move between the bow and stern of the boat with this much aboard. That shouldn’t be a problem if there are two sendō, or boatmen. If there’s only one, he would have to walk along the top of the uwakoberi, or gunwale.


I’m satisfied with this for now, but I do want to start working on making tawara, sake barrels, and miso barrels for future models. Also, I think for chabune, I need to make a cooking stove, some lacquerware, tea pots, sake cups, and bowls of udon and miso soup. And, of course, hashi. Ω

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