Sanjugokubune (三十石舟) Information Discovery

My apologies for not posting more information and updating my wasen modeling site very much lately. There are other things I’ve been trying to get done, and between this pandemic and the heaviness of having my mom in a nursing facility, I’m definitely not at my best. I did finally have a chance to play some traditional Japanese music with my music group at a couple events in Santa Rosa and San Francisco these past few weeks, but it’s not really enough.

It wasn’t until I set aside some things I’ve been trying to get done, and started paying attention to my wasen modeling, that things started feel so much better. So, I guess I’m going to have to make more time for wasen models, for mental health reasons, if nothing else!

The Sanjugokubune (三十石舟)

The most recent wasen topic that’s been on my mind is a type of riverboat transportation called the Sanjugokubune. These were large river boats that operated between Osaka and Kyoto during the Edo period. They are very famous for providing regular, scheduled, daily service for both cargo and passengers. I read somewhere that hundreds of these boats operated on this regular route every day.

In a recent post, I provided a link to a Youtube clip of a Sanjugokubune related story. More on that here.

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Drawing Wasen Tomo no Kai’s “Kawasemi”

Just a few days ago, I mention in a blog post that I’d managed to acquire drawings of an Edo Nitaribune, a cargo boat used on the canals and rivers of old Edo. I also mentioned that it turns out that these drawings are a perfect match for a boat built by the late Mr. Kazuyoshi Fujiwara, a Japanese boatbuilder with whom Douglas Brooks studied under in his third apprenticeship.

Mr. Fujiwara built at least a couple boats that are now used by a group called Wasen Tomo no Kai, or Friends of the Traditional Japanese Boat. This is a group of volunteers that operate and maintain several wasen, giving rides to visitors in Tōkyō’s Kōtō ward.

Today, I spent some time working with the drawings to create an illustration to help me work out the details of my Nitaribune model. Now, I’m using the term Nitaribune and the name “Kawasemi” pretty interchangeably. But, just bear in mind that Kawasemi is just the name given to the boat used by Wasen Tomo no Kai. The name is just Japanese for  Kingfisher. The group pretty much names all their boats after birds.

Anyway, using the drawings I have, plus some photos I dug up on the Japanese pages of Wasen Tomo no Kai’s website (the English language pages don’t have as much info), I was able to do a pretty fair reconstruction of Kawasemi.

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Hunting for the Elusive Atakebune (安宅船)

Atakebune were the largest class of purpose built warships that were used by the Japanese clans during the Sengoku period, or the Warring States period. These ships ranged from around 30 to 50 meters in length, were equipped with a large, box-like structure. Inside were the oarsmen, foot soldiers and samurai, protected by the wooden walls. The structure had two or three levels, with the top level being the roof of the structure. Firing and viewing ports were cut out and may have been closable with a hinged cover.

Atakebune model at the Verkehr Museum in Shizuoka.

In addition to a single-bank of sculling oars, the ship carried a large square sail hung from a single mast, usually mounted near the center of the ship. In bad weather, or when otherwise not in use, the mast could be un-stepped and lowered across the top of the ship. Usually, the ships were equipped with three sets of supports that the masts laid across.

Some ships carried a heavily constructe deck cabin that sat of the roof level of the ship. Some unusually large atakebune, referred to as an o-atakebune, carried castle-like structure atop.

Image courtesy of the University of Tokyo General Library – Atakemaru ship illustration / image edited

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A 3D CGI Model of a Sengokubune

One of my Japanese contacts just posted a web page on his Facebook account. The page allows you to view a virtual 3D model that you can spin around and zoom in on. It looks pretty complete, and should be a benefit to those attempting to build a model of one of these ships, generally called Bezaisen or Sengokubune.

The website is that of the Minamichita Museum, which is located in the town of Minamichita on Ise Bay, south of Nagoya, and across the bay from Ise and Toba. The website is viewable in either Japanese or english, and not only provides this CG viewer of a bezaisen, but below it, there are some excellent photos, animations, and descriptions of important features and items carried aboard the ship.

Some of these items, I have never seen before. Check them out, and make sure to click on the animations, as they tend to reveal more information as they play. This site gave me a little more insight into the details of the interior of the ship’s cabin, and now I’m beginning to think it would be interesting to build a detailed vignette of one.

I also learned a few other things I didn’t know about shipboard details. Check it out and see what you learn:

Also, make sure to go to the main page and follow all the interesting information and links about Utsumi-bune, historical documents, the section on History that Survives in Minamichita, the links on festival floats, and more. Ω

Higakikaisen/Tarukaisen Book( 菱垣廻船/樽廻船)- Tokyo Maritime Science Museum Download (Japanese)

In past posts, I’m sure I’ve mentioned this illustrated small format booklet, printed in Japanese, on these Japanese coastal transports.

The ships, generically known by sailors as bezaisen, had specific terms based on their function. The Higakikaisen (菱垣廻船 were cargo transports belonging to a trade guild, and provided regular transport of cargo from Osaka to Edo in the 17th and 18th centuries. Tarukaisen (樽廻船) were barrel carrying transports that carried sake and soy sauce around the same time.

The book explains about these ships, their history, and design. I bought a copy last time I was in Japan, I think I was in the Toba Seafolk Museum gift shop where I found this and several other books I had to have. The price isn’t on the cover, but as I recall, it’s very inexpensive. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to get unless you actually travel to Japan. And, even then, you have to know where to find it.

Recently, I received some information that the book is actually available as a free download from the Maritime Science Museum’s website. I checked it out and, sure enough, you can get this booklet for free in pdf form.

Here’s the link to the download:

Again, the booklet is in Japanese. But, if you don’t read the language, you can print it out for yourself, look over the photos and diagrams, and use Google Translate to help you with small sections of the text – it’s hard to select large sections of text when it’s published in column format.

[EDIT]: The download is from the Nippon Foundation website. So, before you think I might be providing a link to an illegal copy, here’s the link to the Foundation’s download page for this book: Just so everyone knows!





Funabashi – Boat Bridges in the Edo Period (船橋)

The term Funabashi, is probably most recognized as a city immediately east of Tōkyō, in Chiba prefecture. But the name literally translates to boat bridge. This is a totally unknown subject to me – I never knew they even existed until a few days ago.

Photo of the funabashi near the mouth of the Jinzu river in Toyama prefecture.

While following Internet leads, as I often find myself doing, I ran across the text of a Japanese lecture that turned out to be by Mr. Naoki Hirose, who I know from his connection with Douglas Brooks’ work in Himi City, Toyama prefecture, and more recently from the Wasen Kenkyu Kai meetings that I’ve been attending recently via Zoom. He is the curator of the Himi City Museum. As I already know and communicate with Hirose san now and then, what a coincidence and discovery! The lecture was actually part of some kind of event focused on railroads, but this was an article that talked about how things and people traveled on the “boat highway”.

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Kitamaebune Website

Recently, I discovered a great website about Kitamaebune. I’m not quite sure who is running the site. It has some short, strange Youtube videos in Japanese, and some very basic travel information about the different port cities that were major places connected with Kitamaebune.

The site is simply and it is in Japanese. However, there is an english language section that can be accessed at, or to simply read about Kitamaebune, just go straight to Ω

Nihon Sankai Zudō Taizen and Asia 453

I recently ran across a website on the Internet for a class on Japanese maps and travel literature taught at the University of British Columbia. The site is a repository of student work and appears to be quite current.

I took particular interest in one piece of work on the Nihon Sankai Zudō Taizen, or the Complete Map of the Mountains and Seas of Japan. The map is a hand-colored woodblock print originally published in 1697. The student researched work discusses the map, its background, and some specific features shown on the map, namely, the boats depicted in the artwork.

1703 map from the open collection of the University of British Columbia

The article is interesting, and in fact the whole site is interesting. I don’t agree with the authors statement about the boats. I don’t think you can reliably discern anything about the types shown in the artwork. But, I did find it interesting to see my own Higaki Kaisen model shown in the section about bezaisen, and to see my personal ship model work website referenced regarding Tosa wasen, even if the author did misread the information I posted there.

There does appear to be a lot of good information on maps, history, and culture on the site. You can find this specific article here:


Computer Translation of Japanese Text, Part 1 – Translation from the Internet

Recently, I wrote a blog post about Researching Wasen Remotely, but it was mostly a follow up about the general difficulty of sorting through research information that’s primarily in Japanese and gathered from wide ranging sources. But I’m thinking it might be helpful to go over some of the resources and tools I use in research. This could be pretty involved, so I may need to do this in a few parts.

The most obvious sources of information are going to be books, drawings, photos, web pages, etc. Drawings and photos aren’t language dependent, but books, websites and any text in the drawings and photos, are going to be written in Japanese. If you don’t read Japanese, that’s a big problem, but there are tools that can help.

While I was born in Japan, am half Japanese, and know a small amount of spoken Japanese, my own knowledge of the written language is limited. Here’s how I overcome this limitation.

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