Starting a 1/20-scale Senzanmaru Model

A couple weeks ago, in a spurt of initiative, I finally began work on a 1/20-scale model fo the Edo period boat Senzanmaru.

Senzanmaru is a whaleboat-style craft that was used by the Hachisuka clan of the former Awa province, now called Tokushima province. The boat measured just under 34 feet long and was propelled by up to 5 sculling oars. In addition, the boat has a mast step, though many boats have such a feature that goes unused.

I don’t know all the details of the boat and how it was used, but it is highly ornamented with elaborate designs painted on her hull and a relieve carving of a dragon on either side of her stem. While boats similar in size and type were used in large numbers to tow large gozabune, highly ornamental military-style vessels that served as yachts and transports for high-ranking samurai, the highly ornamented design of Senzanmaru suggests that this boat was also used to carry high ranking members of the clan. Perhaps it was more for transferring these individuals between ships or from ship to shore, or for carrying important dispatches, etc.

But what makes Senzanmaru such a special subject, is that the actual vessel was found intact in a storeroom of Tokushima castle and is currently on display as the only existing example of an actual Edo period wasen. It is now on display at the museum of Tokushima castle, and has been designated an Important National Property by the Japanese government.

I was fortunate to have found the book and plans set published by the Museum of Maritime Science in Tokyo when I was last in Japan in 2016. I wrote a bit about it shortly after returning from Japan, and you can read about it here: https://wasenmodeler.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/looking-at-the-senzan-maru-a-traditional-japanese-whaleboat/

So, all of the above is to say that I started on the model and have been actually making quick work of it. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best scale for me to build a model of the Senzanmaru, but due to Covid, all my models have to sit around in my house for who knows how long. So, I finally reduced the plans to 1/20-scale and started the model.

As with all my wasen model projects, I start with the construction of the internal hull former or mold. This part has become pretty easy to make, starting with a copy of the side profile of the boat.

I don’t usually make the parts interlocking like I did on this. Normally, I just glue the crosswise formers to the central strong back. But, the interlocking pieces make for a stronger former assembly. It just takes more time to cut and fit the pieces together to make sure everything is straight and properly centered.

The first pieces of the boat are the shiki, or hull bottom, the miyoshi, or the cutwater, and the todate, or transom. Now, I could outline the steps here, but the steps are exactly the same as with previous models. So, readers, I’m thinking  that yoiu don’t really need me to repeat the same stuff over and over again, but might just be interested in following progress. So, I’ll just post some photos so you can see what I’m doing. And, if it seems like I should be explaining something unusual, I’ll do that.

Note that I’ve started to add more notches into my molds to give rubber bands something to grip solidly to. I may start to do something similar with the station formers too. But, the real tricky part is trying to find ways to allow clamps to hold without slipping out of place.

Once I start adding the internal beams and bulkheads on this model, the former is removed for good.

I now have the basic hull of the Senzanmaru. I must be getting really accustomed to building these models now, as this really came together shortly after I started putting the first hull pieces together.

It’s funny, because I’ve really had details for this model for more than 4 years, but I never felt ready to take on this scratch build project. Of course, I still have a long ways to go, but I’ve only been working on the hull construction for just about 4 weeks. And, during that time, I’ve been working on the hull for another wasen model, which I’ll post about later.

The next four photos show the current state of the model as of today. As you can see, I’ve started to add some of the various details, like the rail that holds the splash board.

Yes, that’s the other wasen project sitting up on my work pile in the background. Again, more on that later. Next time, you should be able to see more of the interior progress with more beams, some supports for deck planking, splash board details, etc. But, the big challenge will be all the decorative features. I suppose I’ll try to create some kind of decals for the painted artwork. I don’t think I’ll attempt painting all the fine details at this scale. But, it is making me consider modeling this some day at 1/10-scale.

The next similar type of project, however, will more likely be a Japanese chaser-type whaleboat called a sekobune. These were painted in bright colors and patterns, but I’ve looked at examples of paint schemes and while some are pretty elaborate, they’re not as complicated as the Senzanmaru’s decorations. And, there are some whaleboat designs that are quite simple. So, I should be able to find something I can handle well enough.

Anyway, I’ll post more about the Senzanmaru model when I have something significant to show. But, I’m really happy with the way it’s turning out. It’s certainly not perfect, but I’m learning from this model, and I’m very happy with it so far.

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