Japanese river boats — Middlebury College

isobune launching

In 2015 I taught my second Winter Term course at Middlebury College, my inaugural class entitled "Building the Japanese Boat." In this course I led fifteen students in the construction of two river boats: a 22-foot boat from the Kesen River in Iwate Prefecture and a 16-foot ayubune from the Hozu River near Kyoto. This course introduces students to the tenets and principles of apprentice learning through readings, lectures, and discussions, by building a traditional Japanese boat. The course meets four days a week for one month. I do not require students to have any prior woodworking experience. Students keep a journal which I periodically review and write a final paper for the class. I grade them on their comportment as apprentices in the workshop and the quality of their final papers.

I have chosen to build river boats because these designs are more straightforward and therefore more practical given the short time frame and the students lack of woodworking experience. Most of my students have never done any woodworking whatsoever, but by the end of the class they know how to sharpen hand tools, adjust and tune planes and chisels, and have mastered using specific Japanese boatbuilding tools like the tsubanomi and boatbuilding saws.

The course ends with a Shinto launching in the College swimming pool. Outdoor temperatures are typically well below freezing.


I blogged about the project here: http://blog.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com/2015/02/building-japanese-boats-at-middlebury.html

       
       
       
       

Fitting planks

A student using the chona, or Japanese adze, to shape the joint in the bottom of the Kessengawa boat.

The class meets James Fecteau of Huntington, Vermont, the blacksmith who made our boat nails.

Our Japanese-style boat nails, made of flat steel.

A student prays in the traditional Shinto keel-laying ceremony, called a dianose or shikizue. The tool in front of him represents his request for good workmanship from the spirits.

Students fitting planks using handsaws. This technique is called suriawase and is central to Japanese boatbuilding.

Students pound the plank edges, a technique called kigoroshi, just prior to edge-nailing. The mortises for the nails are clearly visible.

Planks bent to the sides of the ayubune.

The Kessen River boat is very straightforward. There were over one hundred of these boats but all but six were destroyed in the 2011 tsunami.

Propping and clamping the side planking of the ayubune into place.

The beams of the ayubune are half-lap dovetails set into the side planks.

Cutting off the chigiri which fasten together the bottom planks of the Kessengawa boat.

Students stand with the Hozugawa ayubune. These boats were used on the Hozu River to fish for ayu, a popular sweetfish.

A student pours sake (rice wine) on the bow of the boat as part of our launching ceremony (photo by Trent Campbell).

The ayubune in the pool (photo by Trent Campbell).

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