Drawing Wasen Tomo no Kai’s “Kawasemi”

Just a few days ago, I mention in a blog post that I’d managed to acquire drawings of an Edo Nitaribune, a cargo boat used on the canals and rivers of old Edo. I also mentioned that it turns out that these drawings are a perfect match for a boat built by the late Mr. Kazuyoshi Fujiwara, a Japanese boatbuilder with whom Douglas Brooks studied under in his third apprenticeship.

Mr. Fujiwara built at least a couple boats that are now used by a group called Wasen Tomo no Kai, or Friends of the Traditional Japanese Boat. This is a group of volunteers that operate and maintain several wasen, giving rides to visitors in Tōkyō’s Kōtō ward.

Today, I spent some time working with the drawings to create an illustration to help me work out the details of my Nitaribune model. Now, I’m using the term Nitaribune and the name “Kawasemi” pretty interchangeably. But, just bear in mind that Kawasemi is just the name given to the boat used by Wasen Tomo no Kai. The name is just Japanese for  Kingfisher. The group pretty much names all their boats after birds.

Anyway, using the drawings I have, plus some photos I dug up on the Japanese pages of Wasen Tomo no Kai’s website (the English language pages don’t have as much info), I was able to do a pretty fair reconstruction of Kawasemi.

I use Adobe Illustrator to do all the drawings I use, but I don’t like to pay for forever-subscriptions, so I’m using CS5 on a Mac running OS 10.13, High Sierra. I’d like to use a more up-to-date operating system, but my Adobe Softare is keeping at this level. But, it’s fine. I like this OS version and it does everything I need it to do.

With Illustrator, I’m able to assign drawing elements to different layers that I can turn off and on, and I’ve really only recently started taking advantage of that. For this drawing, it’s allowed me to use one file to easily create different versions of the same boat, using common drawing elements in different styles.

My rendering of Wasen Tomo no Kai’s boat “Kawasemi

Now, you might think that I’d make the simpler drawing first and then add details to make the more complicated drawings. But, as it turns out, starting complicated worked out the best. The other drawings are simpler versions of the same type of boat, just with some drawing elements turned off.

The image above shows Kawasemi with it’s red-painted bottom. The green all over it is the copper that has been added to help protect critical areas from rot, but some if it is more decorative.

I don’t really know how close I got to the actual boat. I was using photos that were small and low resolution. They were also incomplete, showing only small aspects of the whole boat. I don’t have any measurements of the mortises, for instance, or the spacings between them, and their numbers may be off by quite a bit. However, I did try to get as close as I could. I’m expecting to show it to some Wasen Tomo no Kai members to get their reactions. Maybe I can get some help in making corrections.

Kawasemi unpainted, except for the pinwheel design that is Fujiwara-san’s trademark.

One thing where I know I am off is on the locations of larger copper squares that should cover the ends of beams that penetrate the hull. I could either try to match them to the positions of beams shown on the original drawings, or try to match the boat’s external appearance. I went with the latter, but In the future, perhaps I’ll make some changes if I can get more details.

As far as my model goes,  I don’t know if I’ll make it into a model of Kawasemi, or if I’ll make it into a more general example. My interest has always been boats of the Edo period, and as far as I know, boats didn’t have their hulls painted red then, except for those more ornate types belonging to the nobility. I suppose it’s possible it may have been painted red back then,  but that would have made for one very glitzy boat. Depending on the exact time period, they’re more likely to have their bottoms painted black, but early boat hulls were simply charred to help protect them from rot.

A Nitaribune of the Edo period?

A black painted bottom should look good on a model, I have a few painted this way, but this is a very sharp looking boat. In my mind, it makes me wonder if such a boat really belonged in the Edo period. These boats were built well into the 20th century, so I’m guessing this is a modern styling. After all, if you look at woodblock prints of the Edo period, the boats looks a lot less sleek. This could also be due to the style of the woodblock print art.

A Nitaribune or Chabune from the Funakagami

If you look at the example of a Nitaribune in the Funakagami, you see a boat with a steeper, higher stem. I don’t think you can’t really blame the difference entirely on an older sense of artistic perspective. I think the boats evolved, with Kawasemi, being the ultimate evolution of the Nitaribune. After all, it may very well be the last, as there are fewer and fewer people alive today who are capable of building one.

So, regarding my interest in Edo era boats, I think I will have to take what I can learn from Kawasemi, and reconstruct an Edo period Nitaribune using the artwork of the Funakagami, like I did with the Tenma-zukuri chabune. This would result in generating my own set of plans. But, that will make for yet another project, and I have plenty for now. Ω

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