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The replica samurai warship Gozabune Atakemaru is named after the original Atakemaru, of which construction began in 1632. Commissioned by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the ship was built with a fusion of Western and Japanese engineering. The vessel was extremely large for its class and was considered to provide the height of luxury and comfort. However, its immense size was said to have been a burden to propulsion due to the limits of its sails. A system of oars was used to propel the vessel forward.

The influence of the West on shipbuilding in Japan perhaps originates with the legendary Miura Anjin, an English sailor who became a key advisor to Tokugawa Ieyasu. Born, William Adams in Kent, England, he is credited for bringing European naval technology to Japan and greatly contributing to the nation’s maritime development. The Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu forbade Miura Anjin from leaving Japan after he had been stranded in the country after a difficult voyage. He thereafter granted him samurai status, complete with his own fiefdom.

This background is critical in understanding the shift that took place in Japan’s seafaring culture. The country’s naval pursuits were forever changed by the contributions of Miura Anjin and this intricately connected to the development of the Gozabune Atakemaru. Tokugawa Iemitsu ordered the construction of the great ship and it is important to note that he was the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Iemitsu inherited a respect for not only shipbuilding but also an understanding that great vessels advertise the prowess of a nation and its ruler. Therefore, it should be no surprise that he spared no expense in creating an opulent atmosphere.

The atakebune class of ship had a practical purpose as well, serving as warships in battle with Korea and internal struggles within Japan itself. They were heavily gunned and armoured with iron plates.