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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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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Visiting the Edo Tokyo Museum

If you want to see what life in Edo period Japan was like (1603-1868), you might want to make a visit to the Edo Tokyo Museum, located in Tokyo’s Sumida ward. This is a neat place and it’s big. The building’s architecture is interesting and is said to be patterned after the shape of a type of Edo period storehouse.


The Edo Period Tokyo (or Edo period, Edo) is on display as the museum’s permanent exhibit on the 5th and 6th floors of the building, but tickets are purchased on the first floor. The price of admission is 800¥ for adults and the ticket is good all day, so don’t toss it out, in case you might want to exit and come back later. There is, after all, a lot to take in.

Walking through the museum, you get to see some life-size representations of life in old Edo. The first thing you run across is a reproduction of the Nihonbashi, which is one of the main bridges leading into the city, also there is a reproduction of the Nakamuraza theater, which was one of three Kabuki theaters in Edo.



You will also glimpse how people lived and worked in Edo. This place provides a great opportunity to look at the buildings, tools, culture and lifestyles of Edo. Of course, it’s Japan, so the information provided is predominantly in Japanese. But, some of the signs are also written in English. Even so, docents abound at the museum, and you can request a docent, who will lead you through the museum and tell you about the things that were really special about old Edo and Japan.



Being that I was on my own personal search for obscure information, I didn’t bother with a docent guide. However, I kept running across the same groups of English speakers and their docent guides and couldn’t help but overhear some interesting information that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.


For the ship modeler, or someone interested specifically in Japanese watercraft, the museum doesn’t really have much. There is one large model of a Higaki Kaisen that is well worth seeing (I’ll post more photos later).



I also discovered the first model I’ve seen yet of a Takasebune, which is a basic riverboat transport. This is one of the types of boats I’d really hoped to see a model of. Sadly, the lighting in the museum is absolutely horrible, and the model is in a tiny case, barely bigger than the model, creating a lot of haze and glare, and the only light shining on it was from the front, from behind the viewer, so it was hard not to create harsh shadows.






But, the biggest attraction for me, ended up being the large diorama of the Nihonbashi bridge and the activity on the water below. There are many small boats on the river, including chokibune (water taxis), large yakatabune (pleasure boats), and various other small boats who’s specific names I don’t know and/or don’t recall. I only know from the book Funakagami, that the boats are generically called chabune.




For me, it was important to see these boats in the context of their daily work. Seeing the people on them, how they used them, etc.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get better photos of anything due to the poor lighting. The whole museum is this way. Lighting is kept at a low level. As a result, most of my photos are fuzzy, underexposed, or overexposed (due to flash). Okay, some of that’s due to my lack of photographic skill and use of a simple point-and-shoot camera. But, the problem was exactly the same at the Toba Seafolk Museum, and makes for a very frustrating experience.

At the gift shop area, I found no books on Japanese watercraft, and I asked about any books that might have some good photos of the dioramas. The shop staff was very apologetic, but they apparently had nothing useful.

Still, a great experience if you’re in Tokyo, and well worth visiting. Ω