Reference Books

Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding, by Douglas Brooks

Published in 2015, this book described the craft of Japanese traditional boatbuilding from the learner’s viewpoint. The author, Douglas Brooks, an American boatbuilder by trade, visited Japan in the 1990s and began a discovery of this old and rapidly disappearing craft. Making great efforts to help preserve the skills and knowledge, he went through apprenticeships with five of Japan’s aging master boatbuilders. The knowledge and his experiences are documented in his book. You can find this book through the usual booksellers, but if you order direct from the author, you can get a personally inscribed copy and the proceeds go to support additional research.



The Tub Boats of Sado Island, by Douglas Brooks

This is the first book written by Douglas Brooks on the subject of Japanese wooden boatbuilding. Specifically, this is about the Taraibune or “tub boats” of Sado Island. This is actually a Japanese book written in both Japanese and English, and is published by the Kodo Cultural Foundation. Anyone who knows about Japanese taiko drumming can probably tell you all about the Sado Island based taiko group, Kodo. This book is available through Japanese book sellers like Kinokuniya, but it’s much easier, and cheaper to purchase your copy direct from the author, plus you can have it personally inscribed by the author. Simply send an email using  the Contact Info on his website.


Souvenirs de Marine, by Admiral Paris

The original 3-volume set of book was published in the 1880s and contains plan drawings of ships from around the world. This happens to include a few traditional Japanese watercraft. The text is in French and all the hard-bound sets are very expensive. However, a ship modeler has taken the drawings from a public domain copy, and published them in a book of selected drawings. It is a very inexpensive softcover book. However, I recommend contacting the San Francisco Maritime Research Center. They will scan and email you pages of the book. And, last time I checked, there was no charge for this service.


“Marukobune” the traditional sailing boats in the Lake Biwa region, Japan, by Kumi Makino, edited by Douglas Brooks

This is one of the few books on a Japanese boat type that’s been translated into english. The 240-page, small format, softcover book features the Marukobune boat type, which is a cargo boat that is specific to Lake Biwa. It doesn’t go into much construction detail, though there are some drawings of this and other boat types of the region. Unfortunately, the drawings are very small. The book is written in an academic style, and focuses more on the region, the lake, how people lived, and how the various boat types were used. The $50 book is available on, but buy it from the Japanese Amazon site that the above title links you to. The American sellers jack the price up by 50% to 400%. Shipping from Japan isn’t bad if you are a Prime member.


Japanese Books

There are actually many other reference books available, but they’re all written in Japanese, so I haven’t been listing them here. However, if you read Japanese or can have text translated, these are the most useful books on the subject for those interested in larger boats, or a greater variety of boats. These are some of the books I’ve collected over recent years.


図説和船史話 – 石井謙治

Illustrated History of Japanese Boats, by Kenji Ishii, published in 1983. Professor Ishii is considered the “father” of traditional Japanese boats, having made a great study of them. This 394 page book covers the whole history of Japanese boats up through the end of the 19th century, with about 50 pages focusing on the large coastal transports known as bezaisen or sengokubune, and includes higaki kaisen and kitamaebune. The book goes back to the large dugout-style boats, up through the  more western-style sailing ships.

There are a few diagrams that are useable for model making purpose, but most of them lack the details necessary for building a model without guesswork. There is, however, a lot of information here that is important and useful, and this is considered to be “the bible” of traditional Japanese boats.


和船1和船2- 石井謙治

Wasen I and Wasen II, by Kenji Ishii, published in 1995. Two of a three book series on boats and ships. These two are specifically on the subject of traditional Japanese boats. These two books together appear to be a replacement for the 1983 publication listed above.

The two books together cover about 700 pages, the bulk of which is on the subject of larger ships and their technology, including navigation, sails, etc. Of course, bezaisen or sengokubune take up much of the focus, but there is also some comparison of features with the warship types, the atakebune and sekibune, and some mention of the red seal ships, as well as later period influence of western technology.

Like the earlier book, there is a lot of information and some details diagrammed, but again, few drawings that one can easily build a model from without other information.



Building the Nagara River Ubune with Boatbuilder Nasu Seiichi, edited and published by the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage, Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in 2020. This 70-page book is written by Douglas Brooks, with a lot of additional ancillary material, including detailed diagrams and photos of the tools used, and additional writings on the the river boat culture, by Mr. Masashi Kutsuwa, and on materials used, by Mr. Hideki Kawajiri.

The book includes a couple decent diagrams of the boat, from which there is probably enough to make a model. But, information will need to be gleaned from the text to get the details correct.

This book is actually available as a free pdf download. An english language book on building the Ubune, or Ukaibune, is expected to be published some time in 2021.


Building Sabani, Okinawan Fishing Boat – サバニを作る

by Douglas Brooks, translated and edited by Koji Matano.
This book chronicles the author’s apprenticeship in 2009 with one of the last builders of sabani, the traditional fishing boat of Okinawa. The last twenty years have seen a revival of these boats for racing, but Brooks was able to document the design and construction from one of the last builders.
This 12-page book doesn’t contain any diagrams or drawings, and is more general reading about a very interesting type of traditional fishing boat. For more construction details, I recommend the first book on this page, Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding, also by Douglas Brooks, which includes more details about the actual construction of Sabani.