[From September Issue 2010]
KAWAI Yukio and KAWAI Tomoko
For the last 30 years KAWAI Yukio has been running the small factory that he took over from his father. In addition, he and his wife Tomoko also manage Mini Chuubouan, a small atelier housed in a rebuilt part of the factory. At this atelier, they produce and sell miniature kitchen utensils for dollhouses. Yukio is in charge of producing machined ironware while his wife is responsible for hand-making fake food and other small articles out of clay. Their customers come from all over Japan.
It was because of Tomoko’s hobby that they turned part of the small factory into an atelier. “I’d been attending a dollhouse-making class, and I always wanted miniature pots made of copper, just like real ones,” recalls Tomoko. “When I asked my husband to make them, he agreed to, saying that we can try by making use of our traditional skills.” “Incorporating all of her requests, I made sample pieces one after another, and it took me a few months to produce exactly what she wanted,” Yukio remembers.
The finished products were made of real copper or stainless steel, and their designs resembled those of real pots. Those miniatures were so well received by Tomoko’s fellow students, that they were soon flooded with orders. “Due to the recession, the amount of work at the factory had been declining, but we got busy with the dollhouse thing as if it was our main business,” Yukio says with a laugh.
Most of their pieces are no bigger than a 10 yen coin, and Yukio makes them while wearing special magnifying glasses. He pays attention to every little detail by making patterns, smoothing out the surface and attaching the handles, but the machines he uses are mostly outdated ones that he inherited from his father. Yukio believes that his method adds more warmth to them, compared to the ones created with modern computerized equipment.
Now even their daughter Asami, a fine art college graduate, is involved in their business. “In the beginning, she was just helping us out, but I guess she found it interesting,” says Yukio. “Now the three of us talk about things together when we are working or attending events.” Just like her mother, Asami also makes food and small articles by hand out of clay, and enjoys joining her parents at various organized events.
Dollhouse artists and collectors can be found all over the world. This past April, Mini Chuubouan participated for the first time in an event held in Chicago, and came away inspired by dollhouse miniaturists from other countries. “We would like to keep creating items that can be highly praised not only in Japan but in other countries as well,” says Yukio.
Tomoko says that the good problem they are now facing is that they are so busy that they don’t have enough time to create new items. She adds that their website receives an average of about 2,000 hits daily, and on weekends, when many people visit their shop or they participate in events, they just get too busy to do anything else. Despite this inconvenience, Yukio says that they don’t intend to hire additional help because they only want to produce pieces that they are completely satisfied with. “As a family, we understand each other and that makes the creative process work. But the most important thing is to make pieces that will please our customers.”