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Atakebune

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  • Japanese: 安宅船 (atakebune)

Atakebune were a prominent form of warship in the Sengoku period.

Ranging in size from 50 tons (500 koku) to 200 tons (2000 koku), they were propelled by tens or even nearly 200 oarsmen, and sometimes had hulls reinforced with double-planking, and coated with lacquer for extra waterproofing. Atakebune often had squared-off bows and sterns, which were then reinforced with iron, and sometimes armed with three or four cannon. The ships also carried up to a hundred or more warriors, armed with teppô (arquebuses) and bows.

Oda Nobunaga is said to have sailed one on Lake Biwa, near his castle at Azuchi, in 1573; he later used a fleet of atakebune to attempt to blockade the Ishiyama Honganji, but was eventually driven off by the superior navy of the Môri clan. Following this embarrassment, he ordered Kuki Yoshitaka to design and construct larger atakebune specially designed to resist the flaming arrows, bombs, and other weapons & tactics employed by the Môri. According to the Shinchôkô-ki, the resulting ships had iron-reinforced hulls which could not be penetrated by musket fire, and could themselves fire flaming arrows and arquebuses in all directions, destroying entire ships in a single volley. William Wayne Farris has expressed skepticism, however, as to whether any of Nobunaga's or Hideyoshi's ships, or for that matter the famous Korean "turtle ships," were ever indeed iron-plated.[1] In any case, with the aid of these new ships, Nobunaga eventually subdued the Ishiyama Honganji in 1580, after a roughly ten-year-long siege.

Hideyoshi used a fleet of similar ships in his invasions of Korea in the 1590s.

The Tokugawa shogunate then banned the daimyô of western Japan from possessing atakebune in 1609, in order to curb their ability to lend aid to Toyotomi Hideyori in Osaka. Atakebune rapidly became rare oddities, which the shoguns enjoyed as amusing curiosities. One such ship, known as the Atake-maru, built by Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu in 1633, is particularly famous. The last atakebune, it was dismantled in 1682 by Tokugawa Tsunayoshi on account of the shogunate's financial difficulties.[2]

References

  • William Wayne Farris, "Shipbuilding and Nautical Technology in Japanese Maritime History: Origins to 1600," The Mariner's Mirror 95:3 (2009), 276-277, 283n76.
  1. Farris, 283n76.
  2. Arai Hakuseki, Joyce Ackroyd (trans.), Told Round a Brushwood Fire, University of Tokyo Press (1979), 290n56.
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