For the third time in four years I taught Building the Japanese Boat in Middlebury College’s one-month Winter Term. Fifteen students, most with no woodworking experience whatsoever, worked four days a week building two traditional river boats from Japan. We use only traditional hand tools and techniques. The course is an introduction to Japanese apprentice learning, and students have readings, write journals, and prepare a final paper. Each class begins with the minimum instruction and demonstration from me and then the students work in silence.
Our boats this year included an ayubune from the Hozu River near Kyoto. We built a smaller version of this boat in my first Winter Term in 2015. Our second boat was based on a design from the Agano River in Niigata. Locally this type is called an itaawase, which literally means “plank construction.” I scaled this version down to fit the length of our longest planks (16-feet) and our limited time frame. In 2016 my class built a very large version of this type, 27-feet long overall, called a sanpasen.
Most students initially acknowledge the challenge of having to learn mostly by observation, but by the end of the class they all comment on how comfortable they feel working in silence and the sense of focus this brings. In our final class session when I asked my students how the class might be improved they were unanimous is suggesting I make the class time even stricter.
I blogged about the project here: http://blog.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com/2018/01/2018-middlebury-college-winter-term.html