Since 1990, I have been researching traditional Japanese boatbuilding, documenting the techniques and design secrets of the craft.
In my view this work is crucial, as Japan’s last generation of boatbuilders is quickly disappearing and almost none have taught apprentices. The craft, which was nurtured by the master-apprentice relationship is in crisis as Japan’s rapid economic ascent has resulted in a near complete loss of apprentices. I have apprenticed with nine boatbuilders from throughout Japan, all craftspeople in their seventies and eighties at the time I worked with them, and I am the sole apprentice for seven of my teachers. I am the only researcher engaged in this type of work in Japan, building boats with craftspeople in order to document their work.
As a result of my research I have published five books, two book chapters, and numerous articles on Japanese boatbuilding. I have also built traditional Japanese boats as exhibitions at two American museums as well as for seven institutions in Japan. I also teach university courses as well as a one-week boatbuilding workshop where we built a traditional 21-foot river boat.
– Douglas Brooks
Boatbuilder, Writer, Researcher, Teacher