Empty Spaces: Nobuhiko Yoshizumi

Nobuhiko Yoshizumi (2010)Nobuhiko Yoshizumi was among the most revered of miniature kite artists in the world and an active member of the Kyoto Kite Association and the International Friends of Small Kites.  His focus was on making “frames” that allowed him to make the very smallest of kites to fly.  He is holder of the Guinness Book of World Records for the smallest kite, awarded in 2000, for his 0.6 x 0.7 cm red and black Wan Wan Kite.

Yoshizumi was also one of the key kitemakers of the famed Kunstdrachen (Art Kites) created under the direction of Dr. Paul Eubel, (c. 1950-c.2010).

Exhibitions and Workshops

Kunstdrachen Art Kites:  

Italy, Australia, Canada, Germany, Luxembourg, Brussels, Chile, Brazil

Drachen Foundation:

Internationally in Singapore, Taiwan, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Pachuca, Mexico and throughout the U.S.

Japanese Cultural Exchange: 

Africa, Italy, Taiwan, Singapore

He was credited in the Art Kites (Kunstdrachen) catalog over a dozen times; in addition to his Guinness World Record for the world’s smallest kite; he, along with Harm Van Veen and Charlie Sotich, was one of the founders of the Friends of Small Kites; and he was a mentor and friend to a worldwide following of kite makers and artists.  Nobuhiko Yoshizumi passed away peacefully in his sleep on the 5th of January, 2013, he was 73 years old.

I traveled to Japan for the first time in 1989 and had been introduced that year to the magnificent Kunstdrachen catalog by another respected kite artist, Peter Malinski.  As I scanned the pages of the catalog, Yoshizumi’s name jumped from the pages and I had to meet him.  Throughout the Japan Kite Association Convention, I searched for large, impressive kites like those in the Kunstdrachen book.  Finally I came upon the kite group from Kyoto and introduced myself and asked to meet Yoshizumi-san.  Here was a quiet master, confident in his abilities and secure in the knowledge that his kites, of any size, were some of the finest in Japan.

I quickly learned that he only made miniature kites (he told me years later, “easier to carry!”) but those miniatures were unlike any I had ever seen.  Yoshizumi-san was unafraid, even in the stiff beach winds, to launch and fly any of his creations, always successfully.  The skill required and the knowledge of the kites’ proper materials at this scale continued to amaze me through our 20+ years of friendship.  Yoshizumi-san developed ways to marry modern technology with his traditional kite arts: he found ways to carry very delicate papers through laser printers; he scanned images and manipulated them for later use; and he was ready to experiment with his trusty Apple computer in any number of ways.

Yoshizumi-san was a great advocate of Japanese kites as well.  He developed a number of kite kits that the Drachen Foundation has used for over ten years.  The kits contain the proper paper and bamboo for the kites – both personally selected by Yoshizumi-san – and detailed instructions that ensure success.  His 2-in-1 kits are a “how-to” guide for five popular kite designs, and his fish kite is the perfect introductory kite for children and adults.  (Consider ordering the 2-in-1 kite kits from the Foundation, keeping the paper patterns for your future enjoyment, and making a kite in Yoshizumi-san’s honor).

In numerous workshop situations, he would quietly observe and then offer exactly the right comment or technique to dispel any misunderstanding.  He was a wonderful source of information because he was versed in so many traditional Japanese kite designs as well as the art that became a part of them.  As we participated in more and more workshops and exhibitions together, it was exciting to see Yoshizumi-san stretch the boundaries of “traditional Japanese” kite making.  His recent work included cantilevered structure, forward and backward bridling, and frontside and backside sparring, along with his superb craftsmanship and keen aesthetic eye.

Through all of his accomplishments, it was his quiet friendship that affected us the most.  He became the “favorite uncle” of a number of children I could name here.  His bottomless bag of useful and unexpected objects – kite tools one minute, band-aids the next, and a perfect gift the next – keeps many of us laughing at the memories.  His kitty-cat-hat, made from a hachimaki (a long rectangle of cotton fabric) was iconic to all of us who knew him and who among us can wear it with such style?

JKA President Masaaki Modegi has passed this on:

The following message is a favor to ask you from his family.  Please let him sleep peacefully.  If you want to think about him, you don’t need to send us word of condolences, instead please send him your message in your heart.  That is what he would have hoped…

Yoshizumi-san and his artist wife Michiko participated in a number of two-person shows: shows in which Michiko and her weavings were the “star.” Perhaps this was one reason for Yoshizumi’s quiet grace.  We’ve lost a giant; one who quietly masqueraded among us flying his tiny wonders of paper and bamboo.

Scott Skinner