KWHS club learns ancient art of making Japanese kites (PHOTOS)

Students send their newly-made Japanese kites into the wind during a kite making workshop recently at KWHS in Casper. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. – Most Americans think of kites as whimsical toys making the best out of breezy summer days.

In Japan, kites are thought of a bit more seriously.

“It’s for ceremonies in Japan,” said master kite maker Mikio Toki, explaining that when couples named a new baby boy they’d make a kite and see if it flew.

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“Up means good luck,” said Toki. “Down, no good.”

Japanese kite maker Mikio Toki and KWHS Japanese teacher Kaora Slotsve hang examples of dyed paper used for kites during a workshop recently. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

Toki was in Casper last week teaching a group of Kelly Walsh High School students a Japanese craft that has been passed down for hundreds of years.

Toki can take up to three months on larger kites, or as little as a day making small ones. He uses only traditional materials, making his own rice paper, splitting bamboo for the kite’s skeleton and using traditional methods for painting and decoration.

“When I was young I met an old kite maker, and I learned from him,” said Toki, who is now 68. His kites are considered works of art and are collected world wide.

“I want to give the next generation our culture,” said Toki.

(Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

Claudine Locascio, executive director of the Japan America Society of Colorado, was instrumental in bringing Toki to Casper.

“We all work to connect our region of the country with Japan for business, education and culture,” said Locascio. There are over 30 branches around the country.

For the past six years Locascio has been flying Toki to Denver from his home in Tokyo to teach kite making and display his art.

This year she was asked to reach out to a neighboring state, so she eventually got in touch with KWHS Japanese teacher Kaora Slotsve.

The group gathered after school were members of various clubs, including the Japanese Club, the Robotics Club, and purely by coincidence the newly-formed Kite Club.

“This is probably the first Japanese kite making workshop in the state,” said Slotsve.

Toki brought prepared materials to the workshop, so instruction focused on assembly and decorations made by folding the rice paper and dyeing the corners to produce patterns.

Afterword the students and master kite maker went outside and, with a few pointers from Toki, the Wyoming wind did the rest.