Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Tenryugawa Wooden Boat Symposium

I am back in Japan, albeit briefly, to give the keynote talk at Japan's first Wooden Boat Symposium, organized by the Tenryugawa Kudari, a white water tour boat company. I blogged about them before here. They build a new wooden tour boat most winters and I came a bit early to spend some time working with the boatbuilders.
One thing I've seen river boat builders do in Japan is hold their boats on the building stocks with weights. Normally most boatbuilders use props braced to the overhead beams of their shops. Here the backbone of the boat has been weighted with large concrete blocks.

And here I am doing what I do best: record all the things that are unrecorded. Here I am tracing the boatbuilder's patterns, this one is for the bow transom (visible in the previous photo). Like all river boat builders I have met, the builder here does not use drawings. He relies on patterns and memorized dimensions.

The first day I was there Yazawa san, the chief boatbuilder, performed a keel-laying ceremony and offered prayers to the builder's safety. A visiting elementary school class looks on as he pours sake on the bow.

With the garboard on we scribed the next strake by wrapping it around the hull and tracing the top edge of the garboard. Here the first plank - garboard in English - is called the motogi, a term I have never heard before.

A look at the stern transom, made of two pieces peaked in the middle. This shape is not uncommon in Japanese river boats.

Next to us are stored some of the company's fleet of 38-foot tour boats. The outsides are fiberglassed, and the company has been doing that for forty years.

Tagiri san, Yazawa san's master, stopped by today. He is 75 and he told me he built about 200 of these boats. He watched us for a long time and then, seeing the two apprentices struggling, he jumped in and began to lead them.

A view of the stern with the two strakes wrapped around for scribing.

A view from the other end after they had been fastened.

The shop was swamped by the media today. Here five reporters interview Yazawa san.

A view of the planking. You can see the mortises for the edge-nailing (these boats have no frames) and the dogs used to clamp the planks together. The construction is very reminiscent (though not exactly the same) as the cormorant fishing boat I helped build in 2017 in Gifu. That was on the Nagara River, about two hours from here, but everyone here says the boatbuilding traditions originated in Gifu. I started blogging about that project here.

I am also working on a project with The Apprenticeshop of Rockland, Maine to create an exchange program in Japan for their students. The Tenryugawa Kudari has agreed to work with us and I hope in the future we can have the Apprenticeshop's students working alongside the Japanese boatbuilders.

Finally this tool, a simple device that is expandable and used for measuring inside dimensions. The name is bakabou, which means literally "stupid pole." The "stupid" part is a reference to its use as a jig, obviating the need to think or calculate. I met a boatbuilder in Japan last fall who referred to all his patterns as baka.

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