Tako Ryokan: A Week with Mikio Toki
"Toki Camp"
Chiba, Japan
February 2-12, 2007


Mikio Toki is one of the finest contemporary kite makers and painters in Japan and has showcased his talent in exhibitions and demonstrations thoughout the world. Having studied graphic design in school, Toki learned about Edo kites from traditional kite maker Katsuhisa Ota and has worked over 30 years to keep the traditional Edo kite form alive.

Toki and I first met in Seattle briefly in the spring of 2003. A few months later we were reunited to teach a workshop along with Canadian kite maker Robert Trepanier at the Univeristy of Missouri and Stephens College. The experience was amazing and increased my kite making awareness and skills tremendously.

Thanks to a grant by the Drachen Foundation, I found myself once again reunitied with Mikio Toki. This time I spent 5 full days with the master kite maker, learning the art of building traditional Japanese Edo kites and experiencing a glimpse of Japanese culture.

My Arrival

click on images for larger view

After a 10 hour flight from Seattle, I arrived at Narita Airport around 4 pm on February 2. Toki was there to greet me. From there we headed west to his home in a rural area of Chiba, about 1 ½ hours away. I had the honor of being the first international guest to stay at Toki’s new home.

The guest room I slept in shared a wall with Toki’s Kite Museum. The wall is movable to expand the museum when there are no guests.

Sukiyaki dinner was served my first night with Mr. and Mrs. Toki.

The first morning in Chiba, I awoke around 6am and took a 5 minute car ride to Hitotsumatsu Beach to view the sunrise, check out some of Toki’s favorite kite flying locations and watch a few surfers.

The Kite Studio

The kite studio is located in a separate building.The kite studio consists of one large room with a tall pitched ceiling, brightly lit from sunlight entering through large sliding glass doors and windows. Another building, covered in blue tarp stores bamboo and other materials.

Work Begins; Preparing the Silk and Washi for the Edo Kite

We started the morning by trimming the washi and preparing the silk by tacking it to a board, wetting it with water, then brushing out all the air bubbles and wrinkles.

Preparing the nori paste (a type of rice glue) was the next step. Three brushes were used in the laminating process. One for spreading water (mizubake), another (noribake) for spreading the nori paste and a coarser wallpaper brush for getting out the wrinkles and air bubbles

Transferring the washi onto silk; pick up the end by pressing a bamboo meter stick on edge of washi, rocking back and forth, then lifting and setting on top of silk. Brush out air bubbles and let dry for a day.

Painting with Sumi ink and colored dyes.


Madake is the bamboo species predominantly used by Toki for making kites. He harvest the bamboo from late September to November when it is least likely to be infested with bugs. Bamboo can be split dry or green, but must be allowed to dry at least 6 months before kite making (a year or longer is even better).It is easiest to split bamboo into halves each time until obtaining the desired widths.

Use a froe for splitting. Apply pressure left or right to guide the split. Heat treating was done by placing the bamboo over charcoal for 5–10 minutes, then rubbing the oils off with a rag.

Bamboo is cut to length with a bamboo saw, the symmetry is checked by bending, fine tuning is done with a block plane, and tapering the bow spars will improve performance

Brass Fittings

Brass fittings made from tubing are shaped with a hammer and disc sander to conform to the oval profile of the bamboo. One side is secured with brass rivets. The fittings are a modern adaptation to allow for the kite to be disassembled.


Top and bottom spars are attached first. The sides are reinforced by folding and glueing the paper over string. The middle horizontal spars are added next. Leather is used to reinforce bridle points. The hummer is made from an un-split section of bamboo. A plastic strip is tied over the end and pulled tight to create a bow. The hummer is attached to the top of the kite with rubber bands and produces a low pitch hum in the wind.


Bridle harnesses are made with a rope making tool. The harnesses are used to join the individual lines into rows, then a column and finally into a single tow point. Bridle lengths are 20-25 times the height of the kite. This is not only for beauty of an Edo kite, but serves the purpose of adding drag to the kite to help stabilize it in place of a tail. The individual bridle lines are fed through a leather bridle plate to keep track of and help prevent tangling. A bamboo stick placed near the tow point is used to prevent twisting.

Adjusting for Flight

Tokyo Visit

A few site seeing highlights in Tokyo; Masaaki Modegi’s Tokyo Kite Museum, Shibuya, knives and chisels at Tokyu Hands Department Store, lecture on karakuri dolls and the Asakusa district.


Kyoto Visit
While in Japan, I managed to spend a few days in Kyoto to explore the city and spend some time with another mentor; Nobuhiko Yoshizumi.

Yoshizumi testing out tops at the Toy Museum in Himeji and Tori Arch at Fushimi Shrine

© Greg Kono 2000-2007 All Rights Reserved.