project outline

Traditional boatbuilders have almost disappeared today in Japan.
This project traces back to 2003 when American boatbuilder Douglas Brooks first met Tsuda san while doing research on traditional boatbuilders.

Tsuda san is a 4th generation boatbuilder who worked his entire life on Naoshima, a small island in the Inland Sea, building tiny fishing boats to large wooden ferries. All were designed and built according to traditions passed down through his family. Because of his age (88) and physical condition, he does not build boats any more. But his work is an example of the deep cultural traditions of his home and connected to the larger culture of the Seto Nai Kai.

With this project – showcasing the construction of a traditional boat – we plan to let people know about the culture of the Seto Nai Kai, the spirit of craftsmanship, and the aesthetics of what were once everyday objects.  We will be building a Setouchi tenmasen (small boat) that has been built and used by the peoples of the Inland Sea.  The project will take place in Takamatsu Port July and August of 2013.

Tsuda san is our link to the traditions of this craft.  For instance, he tells the story of his nail supplier, Mr. Morishita, who with his wife at the helm, traveled by boat from Tono visiting all the neighboring islands, selling barrels of boat nails to the region’ s boatbuilders. In those days almost every island had its own boatbuilder.

We now inhabit a world of mass-produced objects and have forgotten there was once a time when people lived surrounded by craftsmen, using everyday objects that reflected the spirit and traditions of the people who made them. Boats too were hand-made objects and while functional, today they strike us with their grace and sculptural beauty.

Tenmasen were the iconic small workboats of the region. Like many small boat types, these boats are largely undocumented. Scholars have studied larger trading vessels and fishing boats, ignoring the small boats that nevertheless filled every port. These small boats, often operated by just one person, formed the most intimate connection between the people of Setouchi and the sea.