Thursday, December 31, 2009

Comments From a Reader

I met Mr. Kiyo Shirado when he was visiting his hometown of Iejima.  He now lives in Seattle.  After reading my blog entry on the tankobune (boats made from American Air Force drop tanks, see my earlier blog posting entitled Tankobune) he wrote me the following, with photos:

Hi Douglas
Thank you for your E-mail, as you know I commented on your blog about fishing with a tank guni (boat). Here are several pictures attached  from when I was in IE-JIMA at the end of Novmber to December.  My brother usually keeps a tankobune at shube beach but relocated to Ishayara.  I remember I was 12 years old when I started fishing with my father in Tankoguni (same size as the ones showing in your blog pictures).  Right before the sunset we would carry nylon net sets from the beach to the reef overnight then early next morning (before I would go to school) pick up the net.  Back then there were a lot of fish. My mom would give them away to neighbors or go house to house to sell fish.

Douglas,  I have a lot of interesting stories about wooden boats and IE-JIMA CHU(people) who moved overseas.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Day in the Life on Iejima

My days start before dawn.  The sun doesn't come up until about 7 am and I am generally up at 6 making coffee in the guest house kitchen.  Iejima Guest House is a cute, clean, friendly and cheap place to stay; I highly recommend it.  The other guests besides me have been three construction workers who were here when I arrived in mid-November and just left.  Occasionally another guest will stay for a night or two but this is off season for Okinawa, so things are quiet.

I have a three mat room, so its about 6' by 9'.  Most of the other rooms are just two mats and there are bunk beds with curtains in the hallway that qualify as dormitory living.  There are also two small outbuildings that have larger rooms with beds.

Putting on my jiko tabi is the last thing I do before heading out the door.  These are traditional toe shoes worn by construction workers.  I've come to really like them, though the people who notice them can't believe they were available in my size (12-13, or 30 cm).

The guest house is on one of the main roads here and as I head out for the five minute walk to the shop the street is generally pretty empty.  That's the post office on the left and our local slot machine parlor on the right.

I head past a little cattle ranch where they are raising beef calves.  The breed is called wagyu.  Japanese agriculture happens on a very, very small scale, generally.  The sugar cane fields on the outskirts of town are the largest agricultural operations I have ever seen in Japan and even those are just a few acres each.  My very first posting showed some shots of the island I took from the top of the mountain, and you can see the sugar cane fields and other agricultural operations.

Break time: me on the left, Shimojo san on the right and our volunteer Shimabukuro san in the middle.

We work basically from around 8-5, with breaks at 10, noon and 3.  My teacher's wife demands that we break at noon for lunch, and every day I join my teacher for the meal.  He takes a short nap right after lunch and I see him back in the shop between 1 and 1:30.

Early on we were working during minpaku season.  This is the name for visiting high school students from all over Japan, who are hosted for two or three days by island families.  Several of the host families know my teacher, and his son was a regular host, so daily we would have one or two visits from teenagers.  The island's high school students are living on dorms and attending school on the main island.

Here are some kids visiting the shop enjoying snacks made by my teacher's wife, on the right.

The one day I took off, to go see the sabani races, a group of students was leaving with me on the ferry.  Here they are waving to their host families, who came down to the port to see them off.  Its truly an industry here.

I came across a couple of actions shots from the sabani race that I didn't share with my earlier posting.

Most of my touring of the island has been when I go for a run after work.  Since we work seven days a week its been hard to see various sites but slowly I am finding different interesting places.

This is the view from the local junior high school.  You can see the 200 meter (half the standard size) clay track I've been running on lately.  The island's population has been falling for the last 30 years (from a high of 7,000 to the current 5,000) and there is no longer a high school here.  Students live in dormitories and attend schools on the main island.  The junior high school track team has gotten used to me.  Despite the miles of rural roads just beyond the school, all distance training is done by running endless laps of a short circuit around the school grounds.  For some reason this is very common in Japan.

Junior high school sports are pretty serious.  Kids pick one sport and then train year round.  If I run the course around the perimeter of the field the baseball players all chant "gamba" as I go past (short for "gambarimashyou" or "good luck/do your best")

The track team has come to look forward to me showing up to sometimes run with them.  After every practice they line up, chant a loud thank you to their coach, and give him a bow.

There is one very tiny Catholic church on the island, serving mass on Thursdays when a Vietnamese priest comes over from the main island.  I was told they have five congregants.  There is also one small temple with a single priest.  Since Buddhism came to Japan from China it actually came to Okinawa early.  I've been told that the island's temple is extremely old, though the current building is not.

Okinawans have their ashes interred in small structures called ohaka.  These evolved from a cave-like repository.  Most are concrete though some newer (and expensive) ones are polished granite.  Most families have one that is used for many generations.  Ashes are placed in a pottery urn which is then placed inside the ohaka.  The ohaka are all located outside of town in the countryside.  They are clustered in small groups but some old ones stand alone.

Traditionally, the religious life on the island was dominated by noro, old women who were regarded as shamans (that's how it gets translated, perhaps imperfectly).  Noro were sanctioned by some sort of governing body and I have been told that there is a 94-year old women still living here who was at least a noro-in-training.

I have found one wooden house in my travels here, everything else is poured concrete or concrete block construction.  This local barbershop (still in business) is typical: a rectangular floor plan, concrete block walls and concrete tile roof.  Before the War the houses were wood with thatched roofs.  My teacher told me that having the roof blow off during typhoon season was a pretty regular occurrence.  During the Battle of Okinawa every single building on the island was destroyed.  Since Iejima was to become an air base (there were three runways here) I think that the US military intentionally razed all the homes.  They evacuated all the surviving islanders after the battle, regardless.  When they came back they lived communally in Quonset huts, and then began rebuilding with concrete block or coral block after the War.  They then abandoned their traditional style of home for what they have today.

Speaking of the War I came across this memorial to all the islander's civilians and soldiers who died in World War Two.  The large tablets have their names inscribed and there are over 3,500 names on the monument.  This represents the vast majority of the island's population at the time, as much as 75%.  Most, of course, were civilians killed in the battle for the island.

Here's a mystery: a small colony of huge land tortoises.  I've asked many people on the island what they are for and while everyone knows about them, no on seems to know the reason they are here.  One person did seem confident that the owner was harvesting the eggs for regeneration efforts.  But my conversations typically are like the one I had with an elderly lady who pulled up on her scooter while I was photographing them:
"What are the turtles for?"
"I know the owner, he's my neighbor, but I don't know."
"Are they pets?"
"Are they for food?"
"Is it a zoo?"
"What is it then?"
"It's for people to stop and take pictures."

But lest you think that Iejima is a backwater, slow-paced existence, I've already attended two rock concerts here.  One was mostly local talent while the other was imported from the main island.  Most bands were late middle-aged men jamming classic rock and roll.  The audiences were everyone from tiny kids to grandparents.

Rock on!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Forty Days and Forty Nights

Shimojo san told me several times that when he was young he could build a sabani, even in the days of hand tools, in forty working days.  Well, today was our forty-first day in a row of work (I had one day off to go see the sabani races).  I was told at the end of the day today (December 28) that our New Year's holiday would start tomorrow after we had cleaned the shop thoroughly for Shogatsu, the Japanese New Year and perhaps the biggest holiday in Japan.  We may be off until as late as January 4th, which is the end of the customary holiday, so readers should not expect any new blog postings about this boat.  I do plan on using the time to research two older sabani that are on the island: one in a small, private museum and one of Shimojo san's first boats, which is displayed outside a municipal building.  I don't see any reason why I can't throw up a blog posting or two about them.  I also plan a long post about my life on the island.

Here's how we leave the boat at the end of the day in the event of rain.  The shop roof is not watertight.

What has happened since the last posting is that we finished off the bow and stern transoms, did some more finish sanding inside the hull, installed the inwales and just today fitted the mast partners.

We glued and clamped the stern transom, coming back the next day and installing huundu, trimming it flush with the top of the planking, filling holes and sanding the whole thing.

At the bow Shimojo san and I drilled and hammered right through the bow transom and planking several long cedar dowels that I was given the job of making.  These were made of scrap (sapwood I noticed) and well oiled before we drove them home.  Note that the "heads" alternate from side-to-side.

Shimojo san cut the heads flush and left the other ends slightly long and split these with his knife.  Then he drove a cedar wedge into the split and finally trimmed the end flush.  At the stern the dowels simply ran into the transom through the hull.  The top one was horizontal while the others were square to the planking.  They were not wedged or glued, but Shimojo san wanted a tight fit with my dowels.

We hunted around our scrap pile and found some material for our inwales.  We used the bandsaw and planer to prepare this material.  Lo and behold, we used stainless steel twist nails to fasten the inwales.  Shimojo san often tells visitors to the shop that there are no steel nails in the boat.  There are now…. though the basic hull is entirely fastened with wood and bamboo (and glue).

He used his jogi, or homemade wooden ruler, to "horn" the location of the mast partners.

Then he clamped temporarily the mast from his small sabani and sat back to take a look at it.  He was confirming that the rake was correct, which he told me later should look square to the sheer of the boat.  I plan on measuring this angle when the mast partners are finished.  The length of the mast should be about 2/3rds the length of the boat.

We are using Iejima Matsu (pine) for the partners.  I have got to find out more about this wood, which is very dense, unlike any pine I've seen.  It has a curious, slightly unpleasant smell as well.  Beautiful stuff to work with a plane and chisel, however.

The partners have graceful, sweeping curves in two dimensions.

The word is that our mast is being delivered to us in the form of a young pine tree.  We will cut it to length, strip the bark, shape the base and that's it.  Otherwise we would use cedar and work it with a plane.  Shimojo san's masts are square in section, tapering from the partner down to the step.  Above the partners they are oval in section, slightly wider side-to-side than fore and aft.

There will be multiple holes in our step to allow the mast to have different rakes, or angles.  Shimojo san says as the wind picks up you want the mast to rake further back.  In very low winds it rakes forward.  Sabani also have a curious system of mast wedges (illustrated here with the small sabani in the shop).  In high winds you put the side wedges together to make the mast lean into the wind.  I know of two naval architects who should be reading this blog and I hope at least one of them comments on these sailing arrangements.

The typical arrangement

Mast raked to starboard.

To port.

Increasing the rake aft.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Inside the Hull

The last couple of days, since we turned over the hull, has involved putting in forty huundu along the entire inside seam between the bottom and side planking.  This was mostly my job, with Shimojo san joining me to do a few.  Otherwise he and his son fitting and installed the bow transom.  Then yesterday Shimojo san and I started fitting the stern transom.

The huundu inside need to bisect the angle between the bottom and side, and one just has to be conscious of chiseling that angle correctly.  Shimojo san laid out the fastenings to lie in between the ones on the outside of the hull, making small adjustments now and then to avoid a large knot.  At the very hood end of one of the bottom's side timbers, he made a custom huundu that spanned the tiny end of the timber.  He explained that this small amount of wood might crack under the wedging action of the fastening, so the middle of the key is straight.  Of course, these timbers are all glued together so in effect they are like one solid piece, so….  But I've noticed that Shimojo san's reasoning always comes from the pre-glue days.  He spent most of his career not using the stuff, so he isn't going to change his fundamental methods now.

I would say it was about six hours of labor for me to install the forty huundu.

As you can see, as always our rough cut stock has plenty of extra material.

After fitting the bow transom, using the saw in the joint, the transom was glued in and huundu installed in the face.  Note more special fastenings to deal with this area.  The bow and stern transoms are four inches thick.

We removed all the hardware that had kept the stern spread, replacing it with a wooden bar forward of the transom so we could work.  The transom fit quite closely with its rough bevel.  It got too dark yesterday to continue (a rainy Christmas Day) but I suspect today we will have this fit and glued in pretty short order.

Shimojo san and I talked at break yesterday and he told me that he has material for two more sabani, and his plan is to very slowly build them on his own schedule, and then he figures that's it.  He realizes that physically this has become a bit too much (anyone else would have said that to themselves years ago -- his stamina and determination are amazing).  Anyway, it was sad to hear him talk like this, and it made me feel ever more grateful that I had this opportunity to work with him.  I visited my two Tokyo teachers on my way here and it was sobering to see how both men have aged.  They were in their seventies when we worked together (and they could both have worked circles around people half their age).  They are in their eighties now and no longer active.  At this point the majority of the fifty or so boat builders I have met over the years in Japan are in their eighties.  I don't know a boat builder under seventy, in fact.