Mikio Toki

Scott Skinner
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Kitefliers in Colorado have been lucky for the last two years because of the Japan America Society of Colorado and their commitment to hosting a kite fly in the Stapleton neighborhood of Denver during the annual Denver Days celebration throughout the city. With the help of Denver’s Japanese Consulate, the Society brought kitemaker Mikio Toki to the event both years. Undaunted by Toki-san’s late arrival in 2014 (where I was thrown in to do kitemaking workshops and Toki-san was only able to spend one day flying kites), this year Toki was able to lecture and demonstrate during an opening reception, lead morning and afternoon workshop sessions, and spend a full day flying kites on the old Stapleton Airport grounds. Beautiful, calm August weather conspired to keep us all grounded for a good portion of the day, but using mile-high breezes that came and went, we were all able to have some magical flying moments. Toki’s presence has ensured that George Peters, Melanie Walker, and I have been on a Colorado kite-field for two consecutive years – a new record!

Toki’s visits to Colorado have reminded me of how important he has been to the preservation of Japanese kite culture both in Japan and internationally. Like a kitemaker of 100 years ago, Toki-san is still commissioned during traditional kite seasons (Children’s Day, New Year) to make special kites for children and adults. Unlike his predecessors, kitemaking in today’s Japan cannot truly be a full-time job. Luckily for the international kite community, Toki-san travels extensively to festivals, workshops, and cultural events to share his knowledge and to supplement his income. Always willing to share his extensive knowledge of the Tokyo kite tradition, Toki-san has been a mentor to many of us who are interested in the Edo kite forms. He has the hands-on experience and the shared knowledge of his Tokyo predecessors to explain the subtleties of the Edo kite and to demonstrate their wonderful flying characteristics. Toki-san playfully described spending months on one of his first large Edo-dakos. After skillful painting, painstaking bamboo-work, and careful bridling, on the first flight the kite overflew and crashed dramatically!

Toki-san is no stranger to new ideas and techniques. He has shown us new Japanese paper that is as strong as Tyvek. The new “magic paper” has an internal grid or lattice, and painting techniques have to be experimented with, but the paper transmits light beautifully and can be sewed, glued, or stapled onto a kite frame of any material. Toki-san can also create his own stronger paper using traditional methods, laminating paper to cotton scrim or to silk. This technique provides a different painting surface that results in a more matte-looking finish.

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