Zutta Tenma in 1/10 scale – Himi Rice Field Boat – Final

The Zutta Tenma is a small Tabune, or rice field boat, from Toyama prefecture. My model is based on a drawing that I got from Douglas Brooks, which is very similar to one he used when he built one in 2016.


The todate or transom on my drawing is in two parts. I could have, made it from a single piece, but I chose to make it in two pieces. Unfortunately, the drawing doesn’t show how these are fastened together. To keep the model simple, I’m assuming that nails of some type were driven down from the top through the short piece of the todate. This is then covered by a board, the name of which I don’t know.


On the face of the todate is a carved symbol of the owner. I don’t know a whole lot about these, but was told it was a yago. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, as I thought a yago was a house name. The above is a from the plans I’m using. It shows what appears to be twin mountain peaks inscribed in a circle – clearly not a name. The other plan shows what looks like a Chinese character. It looks similar to this one, 又, but it doesn’t make much sense as it is the word mata, which means “also”.

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Zutta Tenma in 1/10 scale – Himi Rice Field Boat – Part 2

The Zutta Tenma is a small Tabune, or rice field boat, from Toyama prefecture. My model is based on a drawing that I got from Douglas Brooks, which is very similar to one he used when he built one in 2016.

Photo of the drawings used by Douglas Brooks to build a Zutta Tenma in Himi in 2016. Photo courtesy of Douglas Brooks.

This drawings varies only slightly from one I used, which I believe was published in a museum book on boats of Toyama prefecture. I managed to find a couple of these books on Yahoo! JAPAN Auctions and used my Buyee.com account to purchase it. This, by the way, is a very useful buying service, which allows you to view products in english and ship them to a Japanese address, where they handle the international shipping for you. It’s very easy to use and gives you access to lots of great stuff for sale in Japan.

One of two books on traditional Japanese boats of Toyama prefecture that I just purchased.

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Zutta Tenma in 1/10 scale – Himi Rice Field Boat

In early 2016, Douglas Brooks was in Himi, Japan, to build a small Tabune, or rice field boat, known locally as a Zutta Tenma. He is back in Japan now, on his way back to Himi, this time to build a general purpose boat that I’m told is simply called a Tenmasen.

As part of a fund raising plan, I’d agreed to build a couple models for fund raising purposes for him for a nominal fee. This will happen some time in the next 6 months, probably, as I wait for more details on the boat’s construction.

Himi Tenmasen

In the meantime, Douglas was also in Niigata prefecture, where he worked on a very simple river boat which has been called a Nouninawase or Itaawase, or as I just learned today, a Honryousen.

Douglas Brooks caulking a seam on a Honryousen

I’m not sure if it’s going to happen, but Douglas was interested in getting a model of the Honryousen he just built, so I’m waiting on some dimensions on that too.

But, while I’m waiting for information on those, I decided that I really haven’t done all that much in the way of a model of a boat that he’s built, and I’m about to build two. So, I figured I’d better get a head start and get in some practice by building a Zutta Tenma model.

Zutta Tenma were boats used in and around the rice fields of the region. This one is a smaller type and has a very simple design. My understanding is that these were not built by boat builders, per se, but by builders who specifically built these tabune, or rice field boats.

Zutta Tenma in a museum in Himi, Japan

The boat is only about 12 feet long, so I’m going with a 1/10-scale model. At this scale, the model will be about 14 inches long. This also allows me to put in the mortise detail, which is hard for me to do at smaller scales. It also keeps the model from seeming too simple. Unfortunately, most of the interesting detail is on the underside of the boat, so you won’t be able to see it unless the model is displayed upside down.

For the most part, I think the boats look best on a simple wooden base. But, a mirrored base, would allow a viewer to see the bottom of the boat as it sits upright. I’ll have to think about this.

You can read more about Douglas Brooks’s 2016 Zutta Tenma project on his blog here: http://blog.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com/2016/02/the-rice-field-boat.html


Building the Kamakura Period Umi-Bune – Final

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.

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Building the Kamakura Period Umi-Bune – Part 10

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.

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Building the Kamakura Period Umi-Bune – Part 9

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.

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Building the Kamakura Period Umi-Bune – Part 8

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.

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Building the Kamakura Period Umi-Bune, Part 7

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.

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Building the Kamakura Period Umi-Bune, Part 6

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.

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Building the Kamakura Period Umi-Bune, Part 5

Umisen Model

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.

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