The Cormorant Fishing Boat

A Japanese Craftsman’s Methods

Douglas Brooks

To preserve an ancient craft tradition in danger of disappearing, Douglas Brooks traveled the length and breadth of Japan to seek out and interview its elderly master boatbuilders. Between 1996 and 2010 he built boats with five of them, from Tohoku in the far north to southernmost islands of Okinawa, and his research and experiences were documented in his landmark 2015 publication, Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding. Over the intervening years Brooks has had opportunity to build several more Japanese wooden boats, most recently a cormorant fishing boat with Mr. Seichi Nasu of Gifu, Japan, the subject of the present book.

Using trained cormorants to fish has a 1,300 year history in Gifu, and is done at night from special river craft called ubune, literally “cormorant boat.” The boat features an extended bow with a swinging boom, from which is hung an iron fire basket to light up the water and attract fish, which are then retrieved by the enthusiastic birds. Together with Mr. Nasu, then 85, Brooks worked with several volunteers over a two-month period to build the forty-two foot craft, a design largely unchanged for centuries.

As in his previous publications, Brooks introduces readers to significant aspects of traditional Japanese boatbuilding, including design and measurements, workshop and tools, wood and materials, joinery and fastenings, and above all, secrets of the craft. His work 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.

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 many Japanese maritime and history museums. Brooks is the sole non-Japanese listed in a 2003 Nippon Foundation survey of craftsmen capable of building traditional Japanese boats. In 2014 he received the Rare Craft Fellowship Award from the American Craft Council. To learn more about his research,visit:

84 pp, 8.5 x 11, Soft
120 color photo, maps, drawings
Wooden boatbuilding / Japanese crafts
ISBN: 978-1-891640-01-8