2020 New Year’s Explosion of Wasen Model Projects

I’m constantly studying and reviewing information about various types of wasen, or traditional Japanese boats, that I could possibly model. Sometimes it takes a long time, searching for information in books and on the Internet, until I have enough knowledge, drawings, and photos to get started on something.

I spend time researching and studying subjects based on what information I can find. Often, following a lead that takes me to some other website, or maybe suggests the availability of a book that might be useful. In all cases, I travel up an information stream that eventually just dries up. Then, hunting around, I find some information on a different subject, often repetitive, but sometimes providing some information on an altogether different subject.

So, I end up with all these incomplete branches of study. When interest and clues lead to a discovery, or when it just feels like I have enough information and probably won’t find a whole lot more, a project is born. I gather together the information, create drawings or scale existing ones, and start making templates for hull construction.

But, more often, I sit on a potential project, waiting for more information – waiting to decide if I really do have enough information and to decide if I have enough understanding to successfully build a model from what I have. Sometimes, a project is simple enough that I decide I can get started. Sometimes, the potential model size or the details leave me hesitant about how I want to proceed. So, several potential projects sit on my desk and on my computer, waiting for the inspiration to start it.

Well, it seems that the new year has created a lot of inspiration and there are several potential projects to take up. The inspiration has fired off on several of these all at once. Plus, I’ve been tasked with a couple in addition. So, in addition to finishing up the Woody Joe Kitamaebune kit, and adding some more details to my Kobaya from Paris drawings. The following have sprung to life:

Himi Tenmasen – I’ve been tasked with building a model of the small boat that Douglas Brooks and students built with Mr. Mitsuaki Bansho in Toyama prefecture. Originally, the plan was to build two of these for him, but for budgetary reasons, that’s been scaled back to one, plus a Honryousen model (see below).

Honryousen – This project to model a Niigata kawabune is a fallback from plans to build a second Himi Tenmasen for Douglas Brooks. But, in actuality, it would have happened anyway. It’s a pretty simple subject and should be quick to build. The original was built with Mr. Nakaichi Nakagawa.

Senzan maru – This is one of the more ambitious of the projects which I now feel has to see the light of day. This Edo period whaleboat-type craft was owned by the Hachisuka clan of Tokushima prefecture. It is a particularly important project, as it was made possibly by my Japan research trip back in 2016, for which I received a lot of support from friends and family. For this project, I have a book and drawings published by the Tokyo Museum of Maritime Science.

Tonegawa Takasebune – One of the great mysteries to me has been the details of this important river cargo transport of old Edo. There’s much mentioned about these boats which carried food and bulk goods down river to the bustling metropolis of the Japanese capital, but it’s been difficult to find enough technical details to feel comfortable taking on a build of this type. But, the design is actually pretty simple, so I feel there’s no reason to wait on this one any longer.

1/20-scale Hozugawa Kudaribune – I’ve modeled this boat in smaller scale and it’s a beautiful boat. I was planning on sending the 1/40-scale version off as a gift. And, while that gifting is on hold at the moment, I still don’t want to be without a model of this boat, so I’m just scaling up what it did before, but with maybe some adjusted details.

Sekobune – A chaser-type whaleboat is particularly significant right now, as a number of my fellow NRG (Nautical Research Guild) members attended a conference held at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts. As it turns out there is a beautiful model of a Japanese whaleboat on display there that was brought there by one of my Japanese contacts. I was sent many photos of this model by friends in the NRG and offers of assistance from my Japanese contact, who happens to be the curator of the whaling museum in Japan. With a set of plans in hand, this project is calling for me, but at what scale?


So, it does all seem to be happening at once. But, that’s not a terrible thing. At least I don’t feel stuck. The Honryou will likely be the first started and finished, since it is such a simple design – It basically only has 5 planks, a beam and some boards that make up a seat. Now, I just have to get some measures for it. Ω

The Demise of the Hacchoro of Yaizu

I just heard the sad news that the Hacchoro organization, which operates a pair of these replica bonito fishing boats, is shutting down. It was only a matter of time. When I visited Yaizu in 2016 and was given the opportunity to look over the boats up close, it was clear that they were deteriorating. I was told at that time that when the boats were no longer useable that they would not be rebuilt or replaced. To my knowledge, these are the largest wasen that were still in operation. I feel very fortunate to have had a chance to see them up close before they were gone for good. 

The Hacchoro measured 13-meters long, or just over 42 feet. The name literally means “8 oars”. These boats could also be rigged with three masts and sails when the winds were favorable. They vessels were used for bonito fishing and each carried as many as a dozen fishermen. The boats would travel to the fishing grounds and use a pole and line method for catching fish.


For more information about these boats of Yaizu, check out my post:

Yaizu’s Hacchoro (八丁櫓) Fishing Boat

On my Shipmodeler site, there is an overview of my build of the Woody Joe kit:

Woody Joe’s Hacchoro Kit Finished

Also, my notes for building the Woody Joe kit are here on Wasenmodeler:

Hacchoro – Notes for building the Woody Joe kit

And, finally, if you want to get the Woody Joe kit, order yours from Zootoyz. They provide good pricing and excellent service:

Hacchoro at Zootoyz.jp


If you’re interested in building the kit, I’m considering doing a new build of an “upgraded” version of the kit, using my the notes I took on my 2016 visit to Yaizu, in addition to some other materials I’ve collected.

The Hacchoro replica boats were built with much enthusiasm and fanfare in the mid-to-late 90’s. Now, more than 20 years later, they are out of service. It’s not unexpected. Boats of this type were made for harsh use and not intended to last a long time. Much research was done to re-create them in the first place, and that work is not lost. Perhaps the Hacchoro will be back again one day, if only for a time. Ω

Urayasu no Bekabune (浦安のべか舟)

The bekabune, sometimes referred to simply as a beka, is a small, one person, flat-bottomed boat used for gathering seaweed. In the city of Urayasu, which was once on Tokyo Bay until landfill projects left it far from shore, there were two types of bekabune used. A smaller one, sometimes called a noribeka, that was used strictly for gathering seaweed, and a slightly large oner which was also used for catching shellfish. Large numbers of these boats operated out of Urayasu, while similar boats operated out of the rival port to the west at Ōta.

Many of these boats were designed to allow the use of a mast with a single spritsail. Others, which I believe were expected to be towed or carried aboard the large net fishing Utasebune, were only designed to be paddled.

At one time, large numbers of bekabune operated out of Urayasu on Tokyo Bay. Photo courtesy of the Urayasu City Regional Museum.

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Satsuma-gata Wasen (薩摩型和船) – Toba Seafolk Museum

Recently, there were several posts on Facebook regarding boats from the southwestern end of the island of Kyūshū. It took me some effort to review the posts and linked pages to figure out that the boats described were of the same general type, as the terms used to describe the type seemed to vary a bit. The boat is a Satsuma-gata, or Satsuma-type boat.

Satsuma is an old feudal domain that makes up part of what is now Kagoshima prefecture on the island of Kyūshū. I didn’t know much about this area or about this boat until the recent Facebook posts.

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Hiratabune Model – Edo Tokyo Museum

This is one of those posts where I am really putting my knowledge, or possibly my lack knowledge, out on the Internet. When I visited the Edo Tokyo Museum last September, I found a model that I was extremely happy to find, as it gave me a first-hand look at a boat type that I have been very interested in learning more about.

The boat was labeled a Takasebune, and I first encountered it in the Funakagami, a book published back in 1802, which was used to help identify different river boat types for tax purposes. The Takasebune is a type of riverboat used to carry goods, and specific size and designs varied, but they are generally shallow draft boats with single plank sides that are nearly vertical, and the bow is a flat plank or a pair of planks joined at a slight angle.

The model in the Edo Tokyo Museum was clearly labeled a Takasebune in Japanese and in English, and I was really happy to find it. I took a number of photos to catch all the details I could. But, it was after reviewing the photos of the model and further studying the boat types that I discovered a problem with the model’s identification.

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Mitobune (ミト船) Model – Toba Seafolk Museum

At the Toba Seafolk Museum, I encountered boats and boat models of types I’d never heard of before. That of course is no surprise given my novice status in the study of traditional Japanese boats. But, the number of boat names and terms was quite overwhelming. If I am going to continue studying wasen (tradtional Japanese boats), then I’m going to have to return to Toba at some point, armed with a better understanding of what I’ll see again there.

In this case, there was a nice model of a gyosen (漁船) or fishing boat called a Mitobune (ミト船).

According to the placard, the boat was a type of fishing boat used on the Kumanonada Sea, which is the area of the Pacific Ocean to the south of Kumano prefecture.

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Higaki Kaisen Model (檜垣回線) – Edo Tokyo Museum

The subject of my second Japan boat/model posts is a large Higaki Kaisen model (檜垣回線) located in the Edo Tokyo Museum. The ship is a type of sengokubune (千石船), or 1000 koku ship, a type of bezaisen (弁才船) or coastal transport.

The model is one of the largest models I’ve seen in Japan so far, very nicely detailed, and is particularly nice in that it is relatively easy to photograph as it is fairly well lit and you don’t have to shoot through glass or acrylic. I don’t know the exact scale, but I think it must be about 1/10-scale. I believe there is a larger model in Japan, but this one is readily accessible.

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Sengokubune Model (千石船模) – Toba Seafolk Museum

The subject of the first of my Japan boat/model posts is a Sengokubune model (千石船模型) located upstairs in the Toba Seafolk Museum. Sengokubune, or 1000 koku ship, is a common term for the large coastal transports that were more formally referred to as bezaisen (弁才船).

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Posting Japanese Boat and Model Photos

It has come to my attention that I haven’t posted much on Wasen Modeler lately. At the same time, I have a large collection of photos of Japanese boats and their models that I took while in Japan last September. So, I think it’s time to finally start organizing them and posting them here. These photos were taken in Tokyo, in Toba, and at the Hakusan Maru Museum on Sado Island. These locations are all in central Japan, and most of the subjects will probably also be from central Japan.

Boat repository at the Toba Seafolk Museum.

I plan on periodically posting photos of individual model or actual boats, or small groups of related items, particularly if I don’t have much information on them.

Displays at the Toba Seafolk Museum

I’ll probably focus first on those boat types that I know about and can explain. But, I have to warn you that there are far more types that I do not know about and can not explain. It’s all a learning process, and that’s what this site is really all about.

From the diorama at the Edo Tokyo Museum.

Be forewarned, perhaps by the photo examples you see here, than lighting conditions in Japanese museums are notoriously poor in order to help preserve the subjects, and my photography skills and equipment does not compensate well.

Yaizu’s Hacchoro (八丁櫓) Fishing Boat

Yaizu is a coastal city on Suruga Bay, 10 miles south of Shizuoka, and about 50 miles southwest of Mt. Fuji. On a clear day, you can see Fujiyama. I visited Yaizu during typhoon season, and the mountain was obscured by clouds. Yaizu is the home of two replica Hacchoro (hot-cho-ro), fishing boats that got their claim to fame as boats of these types were once commissioned as escort boats for the retiring Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu.


Hacchoro at the port of Yaizu, wrapped up for the season.

The story goes that the Shogun, or military ruler of Japan, liked to hunt game using a falcon. Travel to the hunting grounds required a trip by sea. To provide escort, 24 fishing boats were commissioned. But, the fishermen operating the boats had a difficult time keeping up with the Shogun’s boat due to strict limitations in place on the number of oars that could be implemented on fishing boats – a limitation imposed to limit the military capability of the craft. The fishermen of Yaizu were then granted permission to use 8 oars, which gave the boats their name – Hacchoro, translates to “8 oars”.

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