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
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.
I had to post this, because it is a very rare find. This book, written by Professor Kenji Ishii, was published in 1983 and is pretty much the bible of historical Japanese watercraft.
Illustrated History of Japanese Traditional Boats
This is the primary source for my own research on the subject of wasen, or traditional Japanese boats. I bought my copy used from Japan and it cost me around $170 with shipping. It was definitely worth the investment, as this information is extremely hard to find anywhere else, especially outside of Japan.
Well, today, I was updating my post on my Kamakura period large sea boat project and I thought I see if I could find a link to this book on Amazon.com. I did and lo-and-behold, there’s an actual copy available in the U.S. for about $100!
I had to pass this along to readers here – this is a steal! I’m surprised to even see it listed here, because it’s written entirely in Japanese, so I wouldn’t expect copies to be turning up in the U.S. again, except in very rare cases. In fact, I don’t even see it listed on Amazon Japan at the moment.