Hozugawa kudari bune, Japanese Downriver Boat


Hozugawa Kudari Bune

Kudari boats are boats primarily designed to carry goods or people downriver, usually from mountain villages and towns, to larger cities. To return upriver, the boats were traditionally hauled using long ropes by the boatmen. The boatmen would hike along the riverbank, with the boat in tow. This tradition continued until the availability of trucks and roads took its place in the mid-20th century.

A fascinating old video clip on Youtube shows a glimpse of how these boats operated, as late as the early 1900s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ge28XrdIt68&list=LL4mBmNiZgR97ATyREEHCnbw

The boat is operated by one boatman who steers the boat using a long oar at the rear on the port side. A boatman at the bow, equipped with a sao, or pole, provides propulsion and keeps the boat off the rocks when coming down the rapids. One or two boatmen operate oars that are mounted near the middle of the boat on the starboard side.

When traveling upriver, three boatmen wearing harnesses haul the boat using long ropes. Another boatman uses a heavy pole to push the boat clear of the rocks. Along the river, grooves can be seen cut into some of the rocks by ropes over centuries of wear.

Today, the Hozugawa kudari boats are all made of fiberglass and carry visitors down the scenic river on sightseeing tours. The kudari boat company, which has operated on the river for 400 years, commissioned a wooden replica boat, which was completed in 2009 and was the first wooden kudari boat built in 40 years. That wooden boat, still exists today, though it no longer operates on the river.

Photos of that boat can be seen on a blog of a non-profit group dedicated to saving the Hozu river (Japanese language):  http://hozugawa.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/2009/11/post-9f96.html

There is also some amazing info and photos on the same blog of the process of hauling the boat back up river, called Hikifune (Japanese language): http://hozugawa.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/2009/01/60-9b7c.html

The Model

My Hozugawa kudari bune is a small desktop model built in 1/40 scale from Japanese cedar, or hinoki. It is based on the drawings that were provide to the builder of the Hozugawa kudari boat replica in 2009. They were given to my by boatbuilder Douglas Brooks, who has spent many years studying and building traditional Japanese watercraft in traditional fashion.

An interesting aspect of this boat is the unusual arrangement of relatively short, narrow planks that make up the hull. This was apparently done to make damaged planks easier to replace. I decided to try to stick to the illustrated layout of the planks, though it made construction of the model much more complicated.

Interestingly enough, I don’t see this kind of layout on the actual reproduction boat. Even old black and white photos I’ve found of older wooden boats, where planking is visible, looks different from these drawings. Still, these are the only drawings I’ve ever seen of one of these wooden kudari boats.

I have noted the features of the wooden kudari boat as it looks today, and there are some things that appear to be more modern additions made to the boat to adapt it for large scale tour group rides. I’ve tried to limit these newer features, but was only partly successful. So, my model includes some details that the kudari boats didn’t have originally.

Still, I’m very happy with the results of this project. At some point, I may make the paddles and pole, and I’m in the process of getting the dimensions for those items.

This type of boat was used to transport people and goods down the Hozu river, which runs down from the mountains to the old capital city of Kyōtō.

This model is a 1/40-scale desktop model based on drawings provided by boatbuilder Douglas Brooks. The model measures roughly 11-1/2” long, and is made from Japanese cedar, or hinoki.