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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.

There are several theories as to the origin or meaning of the term. Some suggest that sabani simply take their name from sabune, a Japanese word for a certain type of small boat. Others say 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]

Though historically made as dugout canoes, from a single log, in the Meiji period sabani began to be made from multiple planks of wood, joined together.[2]

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.[3] 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. Gallery labels, Okinawa Prefectural Museum.[1]
  3. Yamagata, 42.
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