Japanese Traditional Boatbuilding Apprenticeship

Japan House is excited to offer ARTJ 391: Independent Study in Japanese Aesthetics with a special opportunity to delve into a Japanese Traditional Boatbuilding Apprenticeship for Spring 2022 featuring artist-in-residence Douglas Brooks who specializes in Japanese traditional boatbuilding. Independent study allows for students to explore an area of interest within Japanese aesthetics under the guidance of an instructor to develop a research or creative project. This once in a lifetime opportunity focuses on the direction of a creative project through a Japanese traditional boatbuilding apprenticeship. This is a hands-on, experiential course, which will immerse students in a traditional Japanese apprenticeship setting on the University of Illinois campus at Japan House and the Siebel Center for Design. It is developed in a hybrid manner in which students will prepare through online course materials prior to Douglas Brooks’ arrival on campus as an artist-in-residence for the hands-on woodworking component of the course.

This artist residency is funded courtesy of the Arts Midwest GIG (Grow, Invest, Gather) Fund. The university course for students is a unique hybrid style which will be held from January 30 to April 3. For others who are interested in learning more and unable to join the university course, Brooks will offer public evening lectures per University of Illinois COVID safety guidelines. Information for public events will be announced via Japan House's social media and registration will be via EventBrite. Any questions can be directed to japanhouse@illinois.edu.

Applications are closed. Thank you for your interest! Applicants will be notified of a final decision by January 26.

What You’ll do

Students will be working through seven weekly online lessons during the semester with a variety of assignments that will challenge their understanding of Japanese woodworking and apprenticeship culture and document their reflections throughout the course. The final eighth week will be in-person primarily at Siebel Center for Design where students will be working hands-on with Douglas Brooks to build a Japanese boat using traditional woodworking techniques. This in-person component will be taught in silence, with an emphasis on learning woodworking techniques through observation and practice.

What You’ll Learn

The main focus of this course is the exploration of different cultural ways of learning. Through hands-on exploration of woodworking techniques in traditional Japanese boatbuilding, students will learn about the style of teaching and learning in Japanese apprenticeships. Combined with readings and videos on apprenticeship practices in Japan, it is hoped that students will acquire a better understanding of Japanese culture, traditional arts and aesthetics, and also come to see their own culture in a new perspective.


No requirements. Woodworking experience is not required! Any and all students may apply to this 2 credit hour course. Students will be notified of their selection by Wednesday, January 26 and given further instructions on registration. If selected, students are also required to follow the campus COVID-19 protocols.

Class Schedule

Selected students will be working through 7 weekly asynchronous online lessons during the semester from January 30 - March 26 with a variety of readings, videos, and assignments in preparation for the in-person apprenticeship.

The final 8th week (March 27 - April 3) will be in-person primarily at Siebel Center for Design (1208 S 4th St, Champaign, IL 61820) where students will be working with Brooks to build the boat using traditional woodworking techniques. Each section will have 3 working days from 9AM - 12PM.

  • Section A (9 AM-12 PM): Monday, March 28; Wednesday, March 30; Friday, April 1
  • Section B (9 AM-12 PM): Sunday, March 27; Tuesday, March 29; Thursday, March 31

In addition, all students must attend the boat launching on Saturday, April 2 for Spring Open House from 3-5pm at Japan House and Sunday, April 3 Final Presentation and Closing Remarks from 12-1pm at Japan House.

About Douglas Brooks

Douglas Brooks from his 2014 residency at Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, IL.

Douglas Brooks is a boat builder, author, and researcher who builds traditional Japanese boats for museums and private collections. Brooks is the only non-Japanese national listed in the 2003 Nippon Foundation survey of craftsman capable of building traditional Japanese boats. In 2014, Brooks received the Rare Craft Fellowship Award from the American Craft Council. In 2015, he was named an Arts in Action-Japan Fellow by the Asian Cultural Council. Brooks regularly publishes articles about his research and has published four books, including his most recent title: Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding. Brooks has been researching traditional Japanese boatbuilding since 1990, completing five different apprenticeships with various boatbuilders in Japan, focusing on the techniques and design secrets of the art and craftsmanship as well as the Japanese apprenticeship tradition of teaching boatbuilding. For more information about him, please visit his website: http://www.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com/