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  • Japanese: サバニ (sabani)

Sabani are a traditional style of Okinawan fishing canoe, paddled with wooden oars and/or sailed with a junk-style folding sail. Though fishermen today almost exclusively use more modern boats to make a living, sabani are still built in the traditional manner and used recreationally, for fishing, paddling, sailing, and racing, especially in Itoman, a city in the southern portion of Okinawa Island.

Sabani take their name from saba[fuka], referring to the oils taken from the gall bladders or other innards of sharks and used as a sealant in constructing the boats, and funi, the Okinawan word for "boat." This shark-derived sealant protects against the rotting of the wood, and turns black when it oxidizes, producing the typical black color of sabani hulls.[1]

The sails were traditionally made in a manner closely related to that used in China. Thin slats of bamboo were interwoven to form a six-sided lattice, a pattern or method known in Japanese as mutsume ami (六つ目編み). Branches, leaves, or grasses were then interwoven into the lattice to form a relatively solid sheet which could catch the wind.[2] As in traditional Chinese "junks," the sails of a sabani are held up not just by one or two static standing crossbars (as in European sailing ships), but rather by a series of numerous bamboo cross-bars which are raised and lowered as part of the sail.


  1. Yamagata Kinya 山形欣哉, “Ushinawareta Ryûkyû-sen no mokei seisaku” 失われた琉球船の模型製作, Kaiyô Kokka Satsuma: Ushinawareta Ryûkyû-sen fukugen 海洋国家薩摩-失われた琉球船復元, Kagoshima: Shôkoshûseikan (2005), 27, 40.
  2. Yamagata, 42.
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