When you walk into Kichihei Takada’s workshop you might assume that he inherited a craft tradition that has been handed down for generations. In fact, he invented this craft himself, less than a decade ago.
Takada used to make industrial items such as cassette decks for movie cameras; his workshop was a typical high-tech, high-quality establishment in Japan’s Mittelstand, a German word borrowed to describe the small and medium-sized enterprises that form the beating heart of the Japanese industrial economy.
Takada started to have a harder and harder time keeping up with the competitive prices of similar manufacturers on the Asian continent. Finally, he reached his limit -- and made the bold decision to go low tech.
Takada’s dragonflies and butterflies are masterfully designed, and he takes great pride in them. But the more you speak with Takada about his work, the more complicated and interesting the picture gets. Handmade insects, it turns out, are just one of his pursuits. Takada’s workshop makes a wealth of scientific toys and games that are sold to schools across Japan: models of planetary movement, devices that help explain electrical energy....
Then you notice that the outline of a dragonfly wing seems to have been burnt into a piece of wood. “That? Oh, a friend did that for me with his laser cutter.” As the conversation continues, you begin to appreciate that Takada is plugged into an informal city-wide industrial network of workshop-owning buddies. He himself owns an impressive 3D printer and when another member of the network needs a 3D printer to prototype something, Takada is happy to oblige. One day the favour will be returned.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Takada attaches so much importance to bonds (kizuna). In fact, bonds are what he is hoping to strengthen with the help of his dragonflies; the emotional bonds between generations in particular.
Until 2011 Takada was selling his dragonflies in Hawaii, but then the tsunami destroyed the company on the Fukushima coast that had been representing his products outside Japan. Undaunted, Takada has since identified potential buyers on the Asian continent, and he would love to offer more people all over the world the chance to enjoy a few moments of peace and tranquillity in the company of his bond-building dragonflies.
Balancing dragonflies and butterflies, made of bamboo, wood, or white card. That might sound a little prosaic until you see these creatures in action. And action is the operative word. They will perch on almost anything -- the top of a thin stalk of bamboo, a fingertip, a laptop’s monitor -- and they don’t like falling off.
But why would you want to make such soothing, graceful, elegant creatures fall off in the first place? In fact, Takada sees them as items that can help to soothe a troubled mind, and if you have one perched near you in everyday life it's quite easy to start believing him. Far more than just a beautifully carved object, the bamboo dragonflies in particular can almost seem to be alive in their own unique way.
Woodwings, both dragonflies and butterflies, come in three basic varieties: plain bamboo, painted wood and white card. The first two arrive fully assembled, and the third is a DIY kit.
[re:new tohoku] Kobo Takada
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Great products from areas in Japan that were hit hard by the 2011 disaster were featured at Asia House in London in July, 2012. We are eager to identify buyers, designers and other partners who can help us make these products successful in markets outside Japan.