The bezaisen was one of the largest types of merchant ships in Japan during the Edo Period (1603-1868) yet it was largely designed not for ocean sailing, but for coastal trade along water routes that tightly hugged the coast of Japan. Isolationist policies during the Edo Period forbade Japan from interacting with outside powers for over two hundred years and the bezaisen as one of the main economic instruments of this time served as an important symbol of this. One of the clearest markers of this was the bezaisen’s distinctive segmented sail. Gaps between sail cloths and a weak rudder control system made it unlikely to venture far from the safety of the coastal tides. Being close to land meant that the bezaisen was designed almost exclusively for daytime travel. The ship was built to be economically efficient and because of this, was one of the most significant symbols of domestic trade. Click to read more.
Several distinct characteristics including the flat-bottomed hull, the large stempost adorned with decoration, the gridlike railing pattern that rests on throughbeams, the two sails, and the aspects of the stern and rudder make the Sailing Ship Model identifiable as a bezaisen vessel. Popular throughout Edo period Japan (1603 – 1868), these ships were used to transport goods between the cities of Edo and Osaka. The specific construction features of these ships listed above made them an essential tool for Japanese merchants at the time. Click to read more.
Did Japanese national isolation policy during the Edo period (1603-1868) have any particular impact on its maritime culture? If so, how was that? One answer for this question can be its own way of ship construction, which was quite different from that of the west and China. Especially in terms of maritime transportation, Bezaisen, a commonly adopted type of Japanese ship construction at the time, was developed as shipbuilding style so that they could transport cargos more efficiently. In this light, Bezaisen and its characteristic features such as kawara, funabari, and goshaku altogether represent as historical evidence that illustrates the Japanese closed-door policy during the Edo period and its impact on maritime culture, especially maritime technologies. Click to learn more.
Content of this page provided by students of Anthro 1218: Shipwrecks and Seafarers, Piracy and Plundering: An Introduction to Maritime Archaeology.