It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s always a pleasure when I get commissioned to shoot something that I always wanted to shoot. Case in point – Toki-sensei the master kite artisan, who I recently photographed for Iberia Airline’s inflight magazine.
If you follow my blog, you may know that one of my favorite things to do is photograph Japanese artisans, which I often spend my own time and money doing in my spare time. Toki-sensei fits squarely into that category, making kites both small and immense from his small workshop right in the middle of the countryside of Chiba.
Being a kite craftsman requires one to have feathers in many caps – one must be a proficient artist as well as being able to split bamboo into the right lengths and thicknesses for the size of kite being made. In addition there is no small amount of sewing and tying, and finally the kite has to be flown to make sure it doesn’t fall apart.
The drawings on the kites themselves are complex works that take ten steps to complete. Each one is conceived and designed by Toki-sensei himself and is based upon some part of Japanese mythology, depicting Gods or Demons, heroes or princesses.
The drawing done totally freehand, starting with the outline in a charcoal based pigment, then slowly adding layers of colors. The gradations are achieved with single deft brushstrokes, and the solid colors are painstakingly filled in with a smaller brush. Each kite is hand drawn from start to finish on tough washi, taking days to finish one batch.
It’s an amazing scene to observe, and it’s especially mind-boggling when Toki-sensei shows me a 3 meter tall kite he’s made in the past. ‘It’s not even the biggest one I’ve made’ he says with a cheeky smile. I’m not sure how old he is but like many craftsman I’ve met he seems effused with a youthfulness that seems to be rooted in sheer love of what he does.
Toki-san’s kites can be viewed at the Kite Museum in Tokyo, a very very small museum packed with literally thousands and thousands of kites from across the world. It’s one of the most interesting spaces I have ever been in, and I say that as a photographer whose job it is to find themselves in interesting spaces. Definitely worth a visit if you are in Tokyo.
Hope you enjoy the photos!