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Boat building in Japan

A Gull Lake Boat Works canoe in progress

Traditional boat building in Japan is a carefully preserved art form. However, there is a lack of young artisans. That is why the American, Douglas Brooks, is doing everything he can to breathe new life into the traditional craft.

A life in the water

Douglas Brooks grew up in the small town of Deep River on the Connecticut River. His father was a carpenter. And he loved fishing. The two often took a boat out onto the river. From a holiday job at the local marina to his first sail boat and his work at the maritime museum while he was studying: Water, boats and sailing have been a common theme throughout Douglas Brooks’ life.

Practice makes perfect. Today, Douglas Brooks lives on Lake Champlain to the south of Montréal in Canada and is a recognized expert and lecturer for boat building. He assists apprentices and students.

Practice makes perfect

In addition, he works on historical reconstructions, new boats and restorations on behalf of museums and private clients, specializing in traditional Japanese boats.Not an easy choice given the lack of usable records. Knowledge was almost always passed on by word of mouth. However, there is a lack of young artisans today. Knowledge and experience passed down over the centuries threatens to be lost as the last traditional bookmakers in Japan disappear. That is why in 2003 Douglas Brooks set out on his journey. 10,000 km along the Japanese coast to meet them in person: The last boat makers. During the course of his journey he spoke with more than 40 men aged between 68 and 93 and filled endless pages with notes, comments and sketches. Since then he has visited the country regularly. Currently he is collecting funds to document the work of the last remaining bookmaker in the coastal region of Tohoku. It was devastated by the tsunami in 2011. Douglas Brooks learns directly from the masters themselves.

Douglas Brooks with the Japanese on a restored boat.

Currently he is collecting funds to document the work of the last remaining bookmaker in the coastal region of Tohoku.

Knowledge for posterity

Douglas Brooks normally searches through the deepest depths of dusty archives and spends a lot of his time measuring and examining historical boats. He has now collected a true treasure trove of knowledge first-hand. This gives him completely new insights into the vast range of designs, constructions methods and techniques. Douglas Brooks also wants to pass on this knowledge and is currently writing his third book about his findings. In the future he dreams of opening a school for bookmakers in Japan. The Japanese philosophy of learning impresses him. Only one who recognizes his own weaknesses and is willing to spend a lifetime honing his craft can become a true master of his profession. The journey is the destination. Douglas Brooks has the experience to prove it.

Douglas Brooks is a recognized expert for boat building.

Douglas Brooks lives on Lake Champlain to the south of Montréal in Canada and is a recognized expert and lecturer for boat building.

Douglas Brooks is specialized in traditional Japanese boats.

He works on historical reconstructions, new boats and restorations on behalf of museums and private clients, specializing in traditional Japanese boats.

Douglas Brooks works on new boats.

Knowledge and experience passed down over the centuries threatens to be lost as the last traditional bookmakers in Japan disappear.

Douglas Brooks works on restorations.

That is why in 2003 Douglas Brooks set out on his journey to meet them in person: The last boat makers.

Douglas Brooks with the Japanese on a restored boat.

Currently he is collecting funds to document the work of the last remaining bookmaker in the coastal region of Tohoku.

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