Tenma-Zukuri Chabune Display at the Nakagawa Bansho Museum (中川船番所博物館)

I ran across some images from a Japanese museum in Tokyo’s Koto ward in early May, and I feel like some of my work has been completely validated. This little museum is called the Nakagawa Funabansho Museum (中川船番所博物館), and I know absolutely nothing about this museum. I don’t even know if I’ve heard about it before, though I recognize the Nakagawa, or Naka river, or middle river in Japanese, which flows down from Saitama prefecture through Tōkyō.

A large display in the museum is a full-sized diorama of a small, fully loaded canal boat that looks like it’s pulling away from the dock. What surprised me was that I recognized this specific type of boat as one that I studied and created a set of drawings.

This is a tenma-zukuri chabune, a small general purpose boat from the canals of old Edo. I’ve seen very little about this boat, outside of a woodblock print in the Funakagami, an illustrated identification guide to river boats that was used to aid the government’s tax assessors.

Page from the Funakagami, with my annotations on the names of parts.

Using this illustration, plus some information provided in the book, I came up with a set of drawings that I created in Adobe Illustrator.

My own drawings based on the Funakagami illustration and provided dimensions.

There are some variations from the museum display, but all the details mostly seem to match. I will consider some modifications that I might make to the drawings, but I’m very confident with them, especially now that I’ve seen this museum display.

The drawings have been used to make at least two models: My 1/20-scale model and one by Japanese modeler Kouichi Ohata, who built a beautiful 1/10-scale model. Kouichi-san’s model actually came before mine, and he provided some great feedback that helped me improve the drawings from their original version.

My 1/20-scale tenma-zukuri chabune

1/10-scale tenma-zukuri chabune by Kouichi Ohata

This is the first time I’ve researched a particular boat type and created a set of drawings based mostly on the interpretation of a woodblock print. While I knew I had the basic dimensions right, I never really new for sure if my interpretation of all the details was correct.

Seeing this museum display is not proof that I got everyhing correct, but at least it shows me that whoever was involved with the creation of this museum display agrees with my interpretation of this boat. That means a lot to me, given how separated and independent my study of wasen has to be.

So, I look forward to visiting this display at some point after Covid concerns have lightened up. In the meantime, perhaps I should pick another subject to try to illustrate and model. Ω

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