japan-wood craft-goenne-artisan

Nobuo Kai  Aso, Kumamoto

"Kai enjoys hand-crafting things more than having 3 meals a day", as described by a local article. 

For 50 years, Kai works as a Dai-ku sanand 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 mill ends from construction, working late into the night.  He also works with forestry professionals to find ways to utilized the quality cedar left from forest-thinning. 

”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

Special thanks to Noriko Masuda in co-authoring stories on Aso forestry. 

Photo by Noriko Masuda


THINNING is an important practice in the forestry industry to maintain the well-being of forests.  (read more about Aso forestry)


There are two types of thinning:

First, trees with no market value or weak genetic properties are cut.

In other case, young healthy trees are also selected to be cut; to promote growth of other good healthy trees , and to maintain balance and diversity of species.  If thinned trees are left in the mountains, they all go to waste, or could potentially become dangerous driftwoods in flood seasons.  As experts in wood, Carpenter Kai and Forest Master Yamabe would select only high-quality thinned timber for re-purposing.


Kai has since been breathing new lives to thinned woods.    

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 an assistive 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. 

TAKETOMBO the "bamboo dragonfly"

Kai's woodshop is surrounded by rice paddies in an agricultural community.  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.  

Bamboo is a fast-growing, renewable resource that the locals are battling with, "bamboo grows so fast and we cannot keep up with them! I hope we can find more ways to utilize them" 

Through Kai's hands, they become a variety of nostalgic craft toys.  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 it will not be able to spin well. 


​竹とんぼ 竹蜻蛉

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

Taketombo (translates 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 the fanatics hold tournaments competing to achieve the highest flight. 

Get your own taketombo 

Hand-Made by Kai 

“The kindness and warmth of the trees soothes my heart. I want to continue engraving my thoughts on them.”
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