Back in August (2021), I discovered Japanese boat builder and artist, Mr. Tomohiko Ogawa, who had written several posts on his own blog about his research of a couple wasen in the Kyōto area. One was a type called a Sanjikokku bune (三十石舟), a famous type of river transport for passengers and cargo between Kyōto and Ōsaka. This type was well known to me, so his post on the subject caught my attention.
However, I soon discovered another subject that he wrote about, and that I wasn’t specifically familiar with. And, it soon became clear that this second boat was of a style that I had been very curious about. The boat was a small boat used for fishing and for lotus viewing on the old Ogura pond in Kyōto. It was of a style called a kensakibune (剣先舟) or sword-tipped boat, so named because the hull planks came directly together at the bow, with no stem in between, forming a sharp tip, shaped like the tip of a Japanese Samurai sword.
Ogawa-san also refers to this type of construction as nimai myoshi (二枚水押し), or two-sheet cutwater, differentiating it from the type of boat which has a stem at the bow, which he refers to as ippon miyoshi (一本水押し), or one post bow.
I reached out to Ogawa-san when I found his notes online on the Sanjikkokubune (三十石舟). He was surprised to hear from someone that was actually interested in this boat. But, it was a famous type that I’d encountered in many paintings, drawings, notes, and it is a culturally significant boat type. More on this type another time.
I eventually discovered the notes on the Ogura pond boat, or Oguraikebune, and took great interest. I asked him if he would mind if I use his notes to model the boat and he was quite generous with his support. Though pretty much all the information on the boat was posted on his website, he wanted to get the blessing of the Kumiyama town office that was responsible for the preservation of the particular boat he had studied. The town office wanted an application turned in, but I think it was possibly just to have record that someone was interested in the boat. Ogawa-san was kind enough to help me fill out the forms and he submitted them for me. Approval was quick and he then sent me a copy of his drawings and photos he had collected. Again, these were mostly the same as those he posted in his notes.
Here are links to the four posts Ogawa-san wrote of his notes on this boat and the type in general. The notes include many good photos of the boat he studied that show measurements as well as details. The notes also include a very good drawing that he created. His notes are in Japanese, but the writing translates well using Google Translate:
The kensaki type is quite interesting, as it is built in a manner unlike any of the other wasen models I’ve done. For most subject, I build the hull bottom, then add the stem and transom. These are called the shiki, miyoshi, and todate, respectively. Instead of a stem, some boats have a plank bow, or omote no tateita, but overall order of construction is the same. After these are put into place the hull planks are added, then the beams, etc.
With the kensaki-type, however, the bottom is constructed and then the hull planks are attached to it next. The bow section is a separate assembly that is added to the hull, the same with the transom assembly.
Ogawa-san suggests in his notes that this may be a carryover from the days when boats were built from dugout sections, as the order of construction for those would have been essentially the same, and this makes perfect sense to me.
Building the Model
I’m building my model at 1/10 scale using sugi, or Japanese cedar. At this scale, the model will be approximately 19″ long. I always decide scale and material after examining the drawings. I try to keep models under 24″ long, so some of the larger boats have to get dropped down to 1/20 scale, but this one is small enough to work out at the larger scale.
The method I’ve developed for building frameless open boats has worked pretty well for me, and that is to build a temporary frame to aid in the alignment of the planks, transom and cutwater. The construction of the kensaki-type hull is a departure what what I’ve done before, so I really don’t know if the same temporary frame will work well or not. Still, I have to start somewhere.
Something else that is a bit different is that this particular boat has nails in the shiki, or bottom boards, that are driven in at an angle. I asked Douglas Brooks about this and also checked with Ogawa-san. He didn’t mention it before, but when I looked at photos of the boat, it seemed clear that the nails are all driven, angled slightly towards the bow. This appears to be very uncommon.
I created an illustration as a guide for myself. This later turned into a template I could use for the cutting of the mortises. More on that later.
On other models, I cut the mortises into the separate boards of the shiki before gluing them together. This time, I thought I’d do things the other way around, so I glued up the boards first.
This was my first use of the brass clamps that I was gifted last year. These had belonged to Mr. Kazuyoshi Fujiwara, who was Douglas Brooks’s teacher in his third apprenticeship. Being tools of the late Fujiwara-san, I felt honored to be using them. I know there will be no magical imparting of his great skills to me, but using them certainly makes me focus more on how special the Japanese traditional boats are.
Next time, I’ll be dealing with the mortises and shaping the shiki.