Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Goodbye Tokyo

Just a connecting flight away from home.  It was a great trip all in all, an amazing boat built and some interesting old boats measured.  And a belated thank-you to the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History for being the fiscal agent for the grant funding for this project.  Thanks to Angela Robins for all of her help.

She and I are now discussing some sort of publication detailing how the isobune is built.  It will require more fundraising, perhaps crowdfunding, so stay tuned.  Some final images from Tokyo:

Who would have thought reptiles could be tamed?  But you can get right up to these fellows in the canal park in Koto-ku, Tokyo.

What a civilized place!  The Tokyo International Forum, where I could get good coffee and wifi.

The plaza outside has funky eateries.

An old Taisho-era building clad in copper in the Ueno district.

Right nearby a similar vintage building in Western style.

This antique shop had two gorgeous inklines, both about $275.  This one carved of keyaki, the other in ebony, both unused.  Tempting, but no...

In another antique shop I found this.  Its four feet long...

 has a plane blade....

and a rounded bottom....

Its a specialized cooper's plane, for reaching inside a barrel to smooth the inside.  About $125 but I decided if I wanted one that badly I'd just make it myself, but a very unique artifact.

A gallery of contemporary craftspeople and artists in a warren of studies built under the JR train line just north of Akihabara Station.

Waiting to board my flight home.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Research: Hobikisen and Sappabune

I spent yesterday talking to Tagami san about his life building boats, along with two researchers from the Tokyo area who are involved in documentation work on the hobikisen.  Then Tagami san's son, wife and my friend Tominaga san traveled to a smaller lake to measure a sappabune.  When we returned I was able to ask the elder Tagami about building these boats, getting some interesting background on them as well as details of their construction that I couldn't see.

Ichiro Tagami standing, at center, discussing hobikisen with visiting researchers and two staff from City Hall.

Professor Masaaki Kon of Kanazawa University, right, talking to a retired fisherman about the sailing rig of hobikisen.  Behind is an architect who is doing the drawings for Kon san.

At the mast storage shed near the boatshop, pulling out one of the masts.

The masts for these boats are bamboo.  These boats unstep their masts every day so they need something light but strong.  The masts are 11.4 meters or about 37' 4" long.  The top yard consisted of two pieces of bamboo slipped together and reinforced with a wooden bar.  The yard was 15.25 meters or just over 50'.  The mast at the base is 15 cm diameter or about 5-1/2" in diameter.  The fisherman said the bamboo masts crack and only last about two years.  He said its become increasingly hard to find proper bamboo, but they do harvest it locally.  The massive sails are made of 20 vertical panels laced loosely together.

Later we drove to a smaller lake and a small harbor full of defunct boats.  This sappabune was sunk.

But I came here to measure this one.  It is 18 shaku long (roughly 18 feet).  

Later, Tagami san explained these boats were made in set lengths of 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, and 25 shaku.  There were the most common small fishing boat of the region, and traces of their design can still be seen in some of the smaller tourist boats.  He also detailed for me the joinery where the bow and stern planking attaches to the bottom, something I couldn't see because the outside of this boat has been fiberglassed. (Photograph by Ms. Minako Tagami)

The bow planking is slightly peaked outward.

This boat was later adapted for an outboard motor, with a transom inserted in the stern and a hole cut in the hull aft.

A common type of joinery used in the rub rails of Japanese boats.

A view from the stern.  The small post visible on the aft deck is for a sculling oar.

As we were leaving I noticed this sitting on the wharf, a funadana, or a Shinto shrine carried aboard a boat, set in the boat upon launch.

Inside were coins and two dolls depicting a man and a woman, along with seeds wrapped in paper, all common motifs for these onboard shrines.  My friends and I debated whether it was good luck or bad luck to take it.  Since I would like to build a sappabune I proposed giving it a new home aboard my boat.

The harbor and its derelict boats.

This looks like the remains of a hobikisen, and we theorized the funadana may have come from this boat.

Me standing in a grove of mosodake.  You can get an idea of the size of mature timber bamboo.

Away from the lake widely-spaced farms have quite a variety of vegetables under cultivation.  If you have ever flown into Narita Airport you probably noticed these islands of higher land set among the flat rice paddies.  We were up on this higher ground and it was just a beautiful setting.

Lake Kasumigaura, Mr. Ichiro Tagami, and the Hobikisen

My friend Shinya Tominaga drove me here yesterday, a couple of hours outside of Tokyo, to visit Mr. Ichiro Tagami.  He is the last builder of hobikisen, one of the most dramatic boats in Japan.  These were trawl net fishing boats, sailing sideways under a huge sail to pull their nets.  I met Mr. Tagami on one of my earliest trips to Japan, and its been twenty-two years since I last saw him.

Today, hobikisen sail out of two ports.  The boats set their famous sails and tourists follow and photograph from larger boats.  Hobikisen were working boats until 1965 and amazingly I just learned that the tourist boat phase began the year before I met Tagami san.  I am here in part because there is talk of having him build another one.  He's in his eighties now and there is a realization that his methods need to be documented.

The old days, when fishermen used winches off their anchored boats to pull in their nets.  About 90 years ago the hobikisen method was developed.  The word means, literally, "sail pulling boat."

Nice motor boat built by Tagami san that I found.  He told me he's built about 100 wooden boats in his career.

Detail of the scuppers on either side, lined with copper.

Mr. Ichiro Tagami

He showed me some of his sketches, but he works largely from memory.

A pattern he uses that only he understands.

The workshop.

He showed me how when setting plank angles he props the garboard against the keel and slips a pattern into the gap.  His patterns have the proper angle for this joint.  I've never seen this method before.

Here's a hobikisen pulled out for repairs.  It was built right about the time I first met Tagami san.

Sawn frames of keyaki (left and right) and a floor timber (center). He lines the edges with copper plate.

Copper plate on deck covering a seam and a crack in the wood.

He carves this simple diamond mark on the forward beam of his boats as a signature.

He is a third generation boatbuilder and he showed me his father's and great uncle's notes.