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Japanese Tools Australia

Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding by Douglas Brooks

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The importance of Douglas Brooks' work to both Japanese boatbuilding tradition and woodwork in general is difficult to overstate. For decades, Douglas has apprenticed with master Japanese boatbuilders. These proud craftsmen have often found themselves in the twilight of their careers, with no remaining contemporaries and as the sole repository of centuries of traditional boatbuilding knowledge, with no apprentice to pass this knowledge on to.

This is the story of Douglas' apprenticeships with Japanese masters to build five unique and endangered traditional boats. It is part ethnography, part instruction, and part his personal reflections on preserving a craft tradition on the brink of extinction. Over the course of 17 trips to Japan, he has travelled over 30,000 miles to seek out and interview Japan’s elderly master boat builders; he has built boats with five of them, all in their seventies and eighties, between 1996 and 2010. For most of them, he was their sole and last apprentice.

Part I introduces significant aspects of traditional Japanese boat building: design, workshop and tools, wood and materials, joinery and fastenings, propulsion, ceremonies, and the apprenticeship system.

Part II details each of those five apprenticeships, concluding with a poignant chapter on Japan’s sole remaining traditional shipwright. This book, the first comprehensive treatment of the subject, fills a large and long standing gap in the literature on Japanese crafts.

That these records exist in written form is incredible, and that they have been made in English is unbelievably lucky for those of us with an interest in Japanese craftsmanship, hand tooled woodworking, wooden boatbuilding or any combination of the above.