Tub boat

Coracles and skin boats are not thought to have been used in China or Japan. There is evidence of the use of tub boats however, until the late twentieth century. These boats are of similar style and construction to a barrel - wooden planks bound with iron hoops. They were typically 7-8 feet long, 4 and a half feet wide and 2 feet deep, propelled using two short paddles over the sides of the vessel.

We are grateful to Douglas Brooks for the following information on tub boats and their usage in Japan

Taraibune (tub boats) were once found along the Echigo coast of the Sea of Japan and on Sado Island. Now they are used only in six small fishing villages on Sado Island. They have survived to the present because of their low cost and durability. In 1996 I apprenticed with Mr. Koichi Fujii, the last man still building these boats. He had originally worked as a cooper building and maintaining giant miso tubs. Only later did he begin building tub boats and I was his only apprentice. After his death in 1999 I began working with the Kodo Cultural Foundation on a project to document the results of my research and to train a future craftsman. In 2002 I built two taraibune with Mr. Taka Higuchi, a carpenter from Sado Island. In 2003 Kodo published my book The Tub Boats of Sado Island; A Japanese Craftsman's Methods in English and Japanese.

Today there is increased interest on Sado to keep the craft of building taraibune alive. In 2007, the Japanese Ministry of Culture (Bunkacho) declaring this craft to be "an important intangible folk cultural asset" and currently the Board of Education on Sado has formed a tub boat preservation society. This has resulted in a new craftsman actively building these boats.

Tub boats are made of local sugi (Japanese cedar) and madake (timber bamboo). The construction is the same as Japanese coopering, except that the bottom of the tub boat is slightly concave and the boats are oval. The planking is doweled together with bamboo nails but the braided bamboo hoops are what really hold these boats together. The woodwork in a tub boat is not at all beyond the skills of an experienced carpenter, but the braiding of the hoops is now an extremely rare skill. Each hoop is comprised of four 45-foot long strips of bamboo. The hoops are pounded onto the hull and each must fit precisely since the hull is slightly tapered. Mr. Fujii could cut, split and weave three hoops for a boat in less than four hours. He also relied on an obscure zodiac called hassen which governed when he could cut bamboo.

Taraibune were traditionally used by women on Sado Island. Fishermen use a wooden box with a glass bottom so they can see underwater. Fishermen spear a valuable shellfish called sazae and also gather wakame (seaweed), and abalone using tub boats. Tub boats are propelled facing forward with a paddle, though in one village the men use outboard motors to reach more remote fishing grounds.


Some content provided from: "Coracles of the World" by kind permission of Sir Peter Badge; Douglas Brooks - boatbuilder, writer, and researcher. Douglas has been researching traditional Japanese boatbuilding since 1990, working alongside boatbuilders in order to document their design secrets and techniques. He has apprenticed with nine boatbuilders across Japan since 1996, all men in their seventies and eighties. He is the sole apprentice for seven of his nine teachers. Douglas has published numerous articles, two book chapters, and five books on his research - more information is available on his website
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