The Tonegawa Takasebune (高瀬船) – a Model in 1/72 Scale, Part 3

The bow cabin, which was called the seiji (say-jee) actually turned out to be one of the easier features of this model to reconstruct. And, honestly, nothing about the Tonegawa Takasebune is difficult to construct, though I did have a little trouble getting the upper part of the bow so that it looked right. But, the cabin is essentially like a wooden tent. Triangular walls front and back, a center beam at the top, and sloping roofs divided into three parts by a pair of beams on either side.

You might notice that I put an interior wall in the bow of the ship, and I added strips to simulate the frame around a sliding door. It’s not a big cabin, maybe close to 9 feet square, so there’s not a lot of living space. Probably enough for a small family to sit or sleep together. But, bedding, utensils and dishes would certainly have to be put away when not in use. Most of it, probably in the storage in the bow.

The roof of these boats appears to be designed with large panels that can slide open. These panels, called netoba (neh-tow-bah), can make the cabin nice and airy or easily closed up in bad weather. Also, there appear to be no doors on a the cabin of a boat this size, so entrance and exit would be by climbing in or out of one of these openings, making them more like hatches.

I didn’t have any specific information on the construction of the cabin roofs, except that the sliding panels seem to slide under the fixed roof panels. I did my best to replicate what I thought the construction must have been like. But, these boats only exist now in art and in photos. And the photos that I’ve seen are all taken from a distance.

Large takasebune model from the Museum of Maritime Science in Tokyo. I couldn’t find a higher resolution photo.

In the black and white photo above, which I found on the Internet long ago, you can see the cabin roof detail about as well as anything. In these photos, the takasebune in the background appears to have a cover erected over the open hull, which would make for a very sizable enclosed space.

Takasebune were effectively house boats, with the boatmen living aboard. I don’t know if they permanently resided aboard, but many are seen with families aboard, so I presume they were permanent housing.

I managed to find a couple nice sources for information on the interior of the cabin. One of the most detailed pieces of information on the seiji of a takasebune comes from a Hokusai woodblock print. Here, you can see inside the boat, and note that the back wall appears to be made up of open panels. Presumably, these can be closed up with some kind of shutters.

This appears to represent the largest size of takasebune, which was maybe 50% larger than the one represented by my model. It seems to be large enough to have quite a bit of storage organized inside the cabin. I can’t tell from this picture if the person emptying out the pot over the side of the boat is standing in the opening of a sliding panel, or if it is some kind of fixed opening that probably has some other way to close it up. I see no evidence here of any sliding roof panel.

The other source of information is this funky little sketch inside the Tonegawa Takase book. It illustrates the interior of the cabin, and you can see the sliding doors that lead into the bow storage area (left), and a little storage space on the sides of the cabin, which must not be very large, and probably server more like cabinets or cupboards.

In this drawing, there appear to be two tatami mats on the floor, each about 6 feet long. The whole forward end of the cabin is a bit sliding door into the bow storage area. There appears to be a the small shrine hanging up at the top of the forward wall of the cabin.

Initially, I thought that was a pot of tea sitting on a tray, but I think this is some kind of portable fire pit, filled with sand that the pot is sitting in. What I originally thought was a pipe for smoking tobacco, or maybe a pair of chopsticks, seems like it could be some kind of fireplace utensils for handling hot cookware, etc.

In the future, it may be interesting to build a large scale takasebune model, complete with cabin interior. Though I really only have this one sketch to base anything on. But, there appears to be a very large scale model of a takasebune at the Chiba Prefectural Museum in Japan. So, I hope to make it back there some day to see its details.

I decided to leave one of the sliding panel open on the right side and two on the left (saying starboard and port just doesn’t seem quite right on a Japanese boat model). I then turned my attention to making the rudder and the mast.

The rudder was actually fairly straight forward. The rudder is not shown in the drawings I used for this model, but there are plenty of other examples of the rudders of river boats. They are basically tall and long. The large size helped to mitigate the lack of a keel when sailing. They also helped to keep the boat tracking straight when using poles or sculling oar. I based my models rudder on various examples I’d found on models on the Internet.

If anything, my rudder is a bit rectangular, and could stand to be a little more triangular, with the less area near the top of the blade. But, it can’t be said to be wrong, so I’ll just leave it for now. Maybe on a future model, I’ll change the shape a bit.

So, the next step will be to finish the mast details and the structure used for raising it and holding it in place.

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