Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding


Douglas Brooks

With Japan’s unprecedented modernization in the last century, the demand for traditional boats (wasen) faded, leaving the last generation of boatbuilders with no one to teach. This is the story of the author’s apprenticeships with Japanese masters to build five unique and endangered traditional boats. It is part ethnography, part instruction, and part the personal story of a wooden boatbuilder fueled by a passion to preserve a craft tradition on the brink of extinction.

Over the course of 17 trips to Japan Douglas Brooks traveled over 30,000 miles to seek out and interview Japan’s elderly master boatbuilders; he built boats with five men, all in their seventies and eighties, between 1996 and 2010, from Tohoku in the far north to the southernmost islands of Okinawa. He was the sole apprentice for each, and worked under a timehonored system in which apprentices first swept floors and sharpened tools, learning chiefly by observation with only limited direct instruction. Eventually Brooks managed to win the trust of these extraordinary craftsmen, who realized that sharing their secrets and techniques with this eager American would mean their heritage might be saved.

Here Brooks tells the story of those apprenticeships, and the techniques and secrets they revealed. Part I introduces significant aspects of traditional Japanese boatbuilding: design, workshop and tools, wood and materials, joinery and fastenings, propulsion, ceremonies, and the apprenticeship system. Part II details each of his five apprenticeships, concluding with a poignant chapter on Japan’s sole remaining traditional shipwright. This fascinating book fills a large and long-standing gap in the literature on Japanese crafts, and will be of interest to boatbuilders, woodworkers, and all those impressed with the marvels of Japanese design and workmanship.

"This is a magnificent study. Its minuteness and clarity of detail will fascinate not only wooden boat builders, but anyone interested in the craftsmanship and culture of an earlier Japan. "
— James F. English, Jr., Director Emeritus of Trinity College and Mystic Seaport Museum

"This entrancing book reveals a world of sleek, practical forms perfected over centuries, of dedicated craftsmanship practiced today by just a few. Douglas Brooks's precious record of that world is dense with information, beautifully designed, and highly readable."
— Louise Cort, Curator, Smithsonian Institution

"You have produced a bible of the small wooden boat evolution."
—Dick Wagner, Founder, Center for Wooden Boats

"An insightful and enchanting window into the remarkable microcosm of Japan and its boatbuilding traditions."
— Tom Morse, Ocean Navigator

"An invaluable record of vanishing watercraft and the ways in which they are made, and a compelling record of a personal journey of discovery. Lavishly illustrated and lovingly wrought, it belongs on the shelf of anyone with more than a passing interest in the craft of wooden boat building. "
— John Summers, WoodenBoat magazine

Douglas Brooks is a boatbuilder, writer, and researcher specializing in the construction of traditional wooden boats for museums and private clients. Since 1990 he has been researching traditional Japanese boatbuilding, focusing on the techniques and design secrets of the craft. The boats he and his teachers built have been exhibited at the Urayasu Folk History Museum, the Niigata Prefectural Museum of History, the Michinoku Traditional Wooden Boat Museum, the Museum of Maritime Science, and elsewhere. Brooks is the sole non-Japanese listed in a 2003 Nippon Foundation survey of craftsmen capable of building traditional Japanese boats. In 2014, Brooks received the Rare Craft Fellowship Award from the American Craft Council. He lives with his wife Catherine in Vergennes, Vermont. To learn more about his research, visit: www.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com

296 pp, 8.5 x 11, Soft
378 color photos, 36 drawings
Map, Notes, Bibliography, Glossary-Index
Boatbuilding / Woodworking / Japanese Crafts
ISBN: 978-1-953225-00-9