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Ways of Learning: An Apprentice Boatbuilder in Japan

Third Thursday lecture - Sainsbury Institute

木曜日 20 6月, 2024
6:00pm BST - 7:00pm BST

Online lecture via Zoom.
50 min lecture followed by Q&A.
Free and open to all, booking essential.
To check your time zone conversion if you are joining from outside the UK, click here.

If you have limited access to the internet but would still like to view the lecture, please email sisjac@sainsbury-institute.org or call us on +44 (0) 1603 597507 to book to attend our livestream from 64 The Close. 


Douglas Brooks (boatbuilder, writer, and researcher)

About the Talk

Douglas Brooks, a Vermont-based boatbuilder has been studying traditional Japanese boatbuilding for over twenty-five years. Since 1996 he has worked with nine boatbuilders, and he is the sole apprentice for seven of his teachers. These men represent the last generation of craftspeople in Japan building wooden boats. Brooks’ research involves recording his teachers’ design secrets and techniques before they are lost. His book, Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding, is the first comprehensive study
of the craft.

In this lecture Brooks will discuss the crucial role of the apprentice system in nurturing Japanese crafts and the threat posed by the absence of a new generation of apprentices. He will describe the roles and responsibility of the apprentice faced with the unorthodox teaching styles of his masters, who in some cases is forced to steal his master’s secrets. He will describe his efforts to document and preserve this craft through articles, books and workshops, and he will discuss the future for this craft in a country at the forefront of modernization and change. His talk is a lesson in craft, learning, and boatbuilding, and includes his photographs of traditional boats from throughout Japan.

About the Speaker

Douglas Brooks is a boatbuilder, writer, and researcher specializing in the construction of traditional wooden boats for museums and private clients. His boats have been displayed at museums across the United States and Japan. Since 1990, he has been researching traditional Japanese boatbuilding, focusing on the techniques and design secrets of the craft.

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 for his work from the American Craft Council. In 2015 he was named an Arts in Action-Japan Fellow by the Asian Cultural Council of New York.

Douglas has published five books on Japanese boatbuilding, and his 2015 book, Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding, chronicles his first five apprenticeships with elderly boatbuilders from throughout Japan. He also recently advised on traditional boatbuilding for the popular Disney+ series Shōgun as the Japanese Boat Consultant for the show.

Brooks is a 1982 graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, CT with a B.A. in Philosophy, and a 2002 graduate of the Middlebury College Japanese Language School in Middlebury, Vermont. He lives with his wife Catherine in Vergennes, Vermont. To see pictures of his work and learn more about his research please see www.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com.


Image: Courtesy of KAZI publications

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The Third Thursday Lecture series is funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and Yakult UK.