(Boat photograph courtesy of Mr. Shinsuke Inoue)

I built this boat in 2013 as part of the summer session of the Setouchi Festivale, an international arts festival based in Takamatsu, Japan ( Setouchi refers to this part of the Inland Sea, and over 200 artists from forty-two countries created installations, mainly on seven islands off the coast from Takamatsu.

Mr. Koji Matano, a builder of Western boats and canoes in Japan, helped me put together my application for the Festivale and also gathered all the materials. I originally applied for the Festivale with the intention of working with Mr. Takashi Tsuda, an 84-year old boatbuilder from Naoshima, one of the Setouchi islands. Unfortunately he became to ill to work but the Festivale invited me to build a traditional boat in Takamatsu in a venue called Bengal Island.

Bengal Island consisted of another major art and craft center, featuring over two dozen craftspeople from Bangladesh, including two boatbuilders. I was there, working with my apprentice Mr. Takumi Suzuki ( and Koji Matano. Many visitors to our site very surprised to find that the chief boatbuilder was an American and that the apprentice was Japanese. Takumi is the second Japanese apprentice I have taught; the first I taught the craft of building tub boats on Sado Island.

The Seto Inland Sea-Folk Museum provided us with a lines drawing for an ashitenma that dated from the 1950’s. I had no construction details, but after several visits to the museum looking at similar boats, and in consultation with their chief curator, I came up with a reasonable approximation for this type of boat. Late in the project we visited Takashi Tsuda and he gave us more construction details and also told us how to properly conduct a launching ceremony.

The planking was cedar from Tokushima. The stem and beams were hinoki (cypress). Mr. Tengu Shibafuji, an enthusiastic student of Japanese boatbuilding, donated boat nails to the project ( Like most Japanese boats we built the boat right side up and worked right on the shop floor. In lieu of clamps we propped most pieces in place against the shop roof and floor. We covered the heads of our boat nails, along with the stem rabbet and other details, with copper plating.

I blogged about the construction of the ashitenma, starting here:


Mortises for the edge-nails that join the two planks that make up the plank keel (kawara) of the boat.

The bite scarf, called a kama tsugite, that fastens the stem and keel plank. Japanese boats do not have stopwaters, so we covered the joint in glue, which is something boatbuilders began to do in the last forty years.

Our shop at night. We worked in a temporary shelter put up by the Festivale in the Port of Takamatsu, Japan.

Using the tsubanomi, a special chisel for cutting nail holes.

Bending the garboard planks (kajiki) over wood fire. Japanese boatbuilders pre-bend their planks off the boat.

The first plank fastened on the boat. The two patterns used to set the plank angle came from the original drawing. Like most Japanese boats, the drawing only had two stations.

My apprentice Takumi Suzuki fitting the kajiki to the kawara using suriawase, a technique where a special saw is used to cut through the joint, progressively making a tighter fit.

The sheer plank (uwadana) being wrapped around the boat before tracing its shape. Props rather than clamps are used to hold things in place.

Clamping and propping both uwadana in place prior to fastening.

My apprentice works chiseling nail holes through the uwadana and into the edge of the kajiki.

Nail heads were set in shallow mortises that were then covered with copper plate.

The view from the stern showing how the planks run past the transom (todate). Below the waterline the nail heads were covered with putty.

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