This large Kamakura period boat dates from around 1200 A.D. and appears in the Kitano Tenjin scroll painting. This was a large sea boat use for trade in protected waters. Mine is a 1/50-scale scratchbuilt model of this old watercraft.
I brought my Kamakura period sea boat to the Nautical Research Guild Conference, which was held this past weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada. I had some last minute work to complete, but finished in time for the model display.
Kamakura Period Sea Boat (鎌倉時代の海船) at the 2018 Nautical Research Guild Conference.
Preparing it for the display took a bit of last minute work. I hadn’t put the remaining oars on until I was actually in the hotel the night before. The reason for the delay was mostly due to my taking the model to the October meeting of the Hyde Street Pier Model Shipwrights. Carrying around of model of this nature, or any nature I suppose, has certain hazzards associated with it. I had taken the model to the meeting of the South Bay Model Shipwrights the night before with no problems whatsoever.
Just a quick update on the model as I continue to make progress in small increments.
You may recall that this boat has one large sail. I don’t know if I will mount a sail on it or not. I find it rather interesting how the lowered mast is stowed. I think I have a method for creating the sail, which was made from rice-straw matting, not cloth. But, I will have other opportunities to make that, and it would probably be simpler and more realistic at a larger scale.
In any case, I also have the full set of oars I made. I’ve decided that even though the museum models I’ve seen show the boat equipped for sculling, that my interpretation of early scroll paintings suggest they were rowed and not sculled. Also, I started to thinking about the side-to-side motion involved in sculling, and I see only rope bindings on these oars in all cases (museum models).
I can’t see how rope bindings would be able to take the amount of side-to-side pressure without loosing very quickly. If rowed, the binding would simply be to hold the oar and keep it from slipping. All the force of propulsion from the oars are taken by the beam extensions of the ship.
As if my work wasn’t coming along slowly enough, a car accident and heavier work load managed to bring my ship modeling of all types to a standstill. After nearly two months of making no progress on anything, I finally found myself in a position to move forward again on the Umibune. I didn’t managed to figure out too much regarding the making of scale figures for the model, but I did finish tying the bindings on the rails. I also decided on how I wanted to finish the aft deckhouse, or yakata.
I basically returned to the idea of installing only lower panels on the sides of the structure. There seem to be a multitude of ways that artists and model makers have interpreted this design, so I just went with something I recall seeing in a painting. Is it accurate? There really doesn’t appear to be any way to know for sure. But, it seems reasonable. In the photos below, you can see the panels before installation, as well as how they look in place on the model. I originally built these slightly oversized, allowing me to adjust them to fit.
I must confess that I haven’t done much on the umibune model itself. I’ve mostly been working out details on how to make or modify figures for it. I’ve been using wire frames, modifying plastic figures, etc., trying to develop some skills that will work for me. More on this later.
I’ve also been testing out a way to make the large square sail for it. It’s a little different from other sails because sails weren’t made from cloth at that time in Japan. Instead, they were made from straw mat. They were heavy and bulky and you certainly didn’t want to get them wet. I’ve been looking at how these have been modeled on museum models and one large scale 1/10-scale model that someone sent me photos of.
Model that was on display during Douglas Brooks’ work at a museum in Kobe in 2016.
One of the detail features of this vessel is that the railings are fastened to the beams by rope ties. There may have been more to it than that on the real boat. I have seen where a wooden key is used to keep two parts in alignment, while a rope binding holds them together. That may be the case here. But, all that really matters is what can be seen, so it’s important that the bindings make sense and they are all the same.
As I mentioned in my last post on this model, I’d been wrestling with the configuration of the roofs. The 1/20-scale museum model that I often see reference on the web, differs from Professor Ishii’s 3-view illustration that I’ve mostly been basing construction on. Those drawings are more of a match to the early scroll paintings. Oddly enough, none of the models I’ve seen match them exactly. Is it possible that the builders had access to more updated information? Or did they just decide that the Ishii-san was wrong? But, then what about the scroll paintings? Are they simply written off as being wrong?
As you can see in the photo below, which was taken at a ship model club meeting, I initially made flat roofs panels. If I could justify them, they would certainly be the simplest to construct.
Flat roof panel initially constructed is seen in foreground.
Model on exhibit at Kanagawa University. Photo by Masami Sekiguchi.
No, that’s not my model. This 1/10-scale model of a Kamakura period umi-bune is on display at the Kanagwa University, which is home to the Institute for the Study of Japanese Folk Culture. The photo was taken by my friend Masami Sekiguchi, who is one of two Japanese ship modelers I met with in Tokyo last September. The other is Norio Uriu, Both gentlemen are members of The Rope, the Japanese ship model society in Tokyo.
I had been corresponding with Mr. Uriu for over a year, as he is a friend of fellow ship modeler Don Dressel of the Ship Modelers Association in Fullerton, California. Don was building his model of a Higaki Kaisen at about the same time I was building mine, and at some point, he put me in touch with his friend in Japan, Mr. Uriu.
When I travelled to Japan, I made arrangements to meet with Mr. Uriu for dinner in Tokyo and he brought along his daughter Hanako, who helped with our discussions, and Mr. Sekiguchi, who has been helping me understand information on Japanese ever since.
Kitano Tenmangu – Shinto Shrine in Kyoto. Photo from Wikipedia.
About a week ago, my ship modeler friend in Japan, Mr. Sekiguchi, explained a little about the Kitano Tenjin scrolls that depict the Kamakura period Umi-bune, and I have since re-read through online information on the subject to get a better understanding.
The scrolls represent the life of Sugawara no Michizane, a scholar and poet in the Heian period (平安時代 794-1185) who rose high in politics in Kyoto, then Japan’s capital. But, he had powerful rivals in the Fujiwara clan that plotted against him, and he was exiled to Dazaifu on the island of Shikoku, where he died three years later in 903.
Apparently, there was much sympathy for Michizane, and shortly after his death, there were a number of calamities, including a lightning strike within the imperial palace. The emperor’s court fearing that these were caused by the wrath of Michizane’s angry spirit, decided to placate him by deifying him and erecting a shrine. He was given the Shinto name of Tenjin, and the shrine was built at Kitano, and known as Kitano Tenmangū.
The largest source of Kamakura period boat information appears to be in 13th century picture scrolls that appear in books and on the Internet, but I really know very little about the scrolls themselves. What they depict includes a lot of boats with hull designs very similar to the ship I’m modeling. These are semi-structured ships or junkozosen (準構造船) with dugout-style hull, which have been built up with hull planks. Most of those depicted are river boats, but some appear to be sea boats.
I recently found a great sketch of a large sea ship on a blog site. I believe this was scanned from one of Professor Ishii’s books, but it’s not one that I have.
This image is very similar to a less detailed drawing I have in my books. The ship depicted here varies only slightly from my model in that this image shows a peaked roof called a kappa at the bow. It also has only a single rail outboard of the hull, but it extends all the way around the bow. It also may be a somewhat smaller ship, given there are only 4 rowing platforms on either side, where my model will have 6.
A couple things I like about this image in particular is that it shows a roof design on the main deck house that is clear and makes sense to me. Note the boards that make up the roof run along the length of the roof. The drawing I’ve been working off of, shows the boards running perpendicular to these – not that it’s wrong, but that it requires an underlying structure that’s different from what I would naturally build. Also the front of the house appears to have a simple roll-up screen, no door or solid panel.
As I mentioned last time, I’m using drawings in one of the books I ordered from Japan earlier in the year. There were three I bought at the same time using a buying service called Buyee.com. This allows me to shop on Japanese online stores more easily than ordering directly from the stores since the purchases are done in English. It doesn’t help with product descriptions, but once I find something I want, buying it is fairly easy.
This service also receives the items using local shipping service in Japan, inspects the products, and ships them internationally to me. There is a small fee in addition to the shipping charges. I’ve only needed to use the service a couple times, but has so far worked well.