1/20 Scale Nitaribune (荷足船) Progress – Mortises

I moved ahead with the small nitaribune model, a 1/20-scale model of a cargo boat based on drawings by the late Mr. Seichi Fujiwara, who was one of Douglas Brooks’ teachers in Japan.

The boat is about the right length, but somewhat narrow for a traditional nitaribune. This one would be about 5′ wide in real life. But, according to the Funakagami, these boats were about a foot wider and possibly a little shorter, making the actual boats a little less sleek looking as this. I tend to attribute the sleek lines to represent more of a modern evolution of the traditional Japanese boat.

Here, you can see that the construction is basically done. All that really remains is to fix the great beam, or ōtoko, into place, and add the pin and base for the rogui, which is the pivot for the sculling oar. I mostly used photos that I could find on the Internet of the boats of the Tokyo based group called Wasen Tomo no Kai, which gives rides and teaches the traditional sculling oar techniques to the interested public.

I’ve made some modifications, plus I’ve had to guess at some of the internal structure that would support the deck for the carrying of cargo. I have inserted a beam along the center line in the mid-section of the boat, and you can see the part of it that sticks up to separate the deck boards in the photo below.

The next step, which I’ve already begun, was to cut the remaining mortises and add the copper coverings. This particular boat has quite a bit of copper on it, which help protect the wood from rot at joints, end grain, etc.

The copper is, of course, quite bright and shiny. On the actual boat, it becomes tarnished and turns green. The copper often appears dark brown or black in most period artwork. I do not know if the black is possibly due to application of urushi lacquer or what.

On a previous model, I have tried bathing the model in the fumes of a liver of sulfur compound, which turns the copper very dark, very quickly, and even reaches a grayish black color.

I may experiment with this again and possible even try touching it up with a dry-brush application of copper green paint to see how well I can approximate the verdigris appearance. The other option is to leave the copper bright, which is the way it appears on many museum models I’ve seen in Japan.

Lots more copper to go. Also, I’m not quite sure what I want to do about the lower hull. Fujiwara’s boats were often painted red, but that is more of a modern touch, I think. In earlier times, black paint seems to be more common. And, before that, the bottom of the boats were dark from treating them with fire to make them harder and more rot resistant.


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