Nobuo Kai  Aso, Kumamoto


Kai is a person who loves making things more than having 3 meals a day”, as described by a local article. 

For 50 years, Kai works as a Dai-ku san* and is still active as a builder.  In 2005, he started crafting small wood objects.  Every day after work, he would bury himself in his woodshop, making craft objects using leftover wood from construction, working late into the night. 


”This is as much fun as building houses”, said Kai.  He decided this would be something nice to keep doing as he ages and may not be able to continue to work on-site as often in later years.

“Daiku” in Japan refers to craftsperson specializes in construction of wood dwellings

Photo by Noriko Masuda

Photo by Noriko Masuda


As a builder, Kai are often left with abundant mill ends from construction. He started handcrafting chopsticks with these perfectly useable and high-quality wood and offering workshops.  Why chopsticks?  Kai thinks one will learn how to appreciate objects and takes better care of them when it is hand-made by one’s own effort.  It’s like building an emotional connection, especially when chopsticks is something so close to Japanese' daily life. 


A local respectable Forester, Hirofumi Yamabe, who has been thinning and up-keeping the forest in the mountains of Aso, has in possession a lot of “un-marketable" high-quality lumber.  Some are cut young, some may be arched and not suitable for construction use. He asked Kai to perhaps find ways to make use of these perfectly good wood to create new objects.  Kai has since been breathing new lives to refuse wood.    More about Aso's forestry here.

Photo by Noriko Masuda



Kai visited a nursing home and noticed some of the elderly have problem holding spoons after they recovered from strokes. The sense of independency has been greatly affected.  He decided to design a tool to address this problem.  


Kai went home and started prototyping, and after a few iterations, he developed a simple form that provides ease of use with adaptability to standard sizes metal spoons and forks. "Even for people with weak grips, they can hold the spoons naturally. It is created with empathy”, said Kai. And he uses cedar wood left in the mountain that are residual from forest-thinning. The development of this assistive product is a collective effort from the artisan’s desire to help the disabled together with the forester's ethic of “Mottainai”. (The ancient Japanese practice of “wasting nothing”, equivalent to what we call “upcycling” today.)

In 2007, Kai’s patented auxiliary ring received the Wood Design Award from the Forestry Agency of Japan government. 

Photo by Noriko Masuda

TAKETOMBO - the "bamboo dragonfly"

Kai utilizes local material in his craftwork.  Most are quality lumber from forest-thinning, as well as bamboo he harvested from his elderly neighbors' bamboo grove which he helps maintaining. The neighbors are happy to see the craft objects being made out of their bamboo.  

Kai stated that his taketombo can propel as high as 3-stories. They are all carved by hand. 

Kai makes taketombo propellers using bamboo from his neighbor's grove, and it has to be carved thinly and evenly to achieve perfect balance, if not I will not be able to stay spinning. 


Whenever I met a Japanese person and handed out TKTB's business card, I could spot a warm smile from the recipient when they see the logo of a taketombo. Taketombo is an old hand-crafted bamboo toy loaded with nostalgic sentiment with most Japanese. 

Taketombo (translate to "bamboo dragonfly") is a propeller hand-made toy, made with wood or bamboo, dated as far back to Nara or Heian period (8th century).  Nowadays, Japanese children still learn to make taketombo in primary school and fanatics hold tournaments for the highest flight. 

Special thanks to Noriko Masuda for co-authoring stories from Aso.