Originated in Japan, Karakuri is an art of making paper toys that move using simple mechanisms such as gears, cranks, cams and levers. ‘Karakuri’ also known as ‘Automata’, means some mechanism, machinery or trick without the use of computers. The key point here is some kind of mechanical trickery. It involves some creative thought based on an understanding of how mechanisms convert one kind of movement to another.
The term ‘Karakuri’ goes back to the 17th century where it referred to any device that was used to trick or surprise a person. This element of surprise was assimilated in the puppets that was proficient of achieving complex movements to astonish people for entertainment. These mechanical dolls are often referred to as ‘Karakuri ningyo’ in Japan. Though the origin of the dolls dates back to over 1500 years ago, they have been more popular in the last couple of centuries. It has turned out to be a craft that raised feelings and emotions through subtle movements of the puppets. These dolls and devices capable of achieving motion and action have been seen to be the predecessor to robots.
The term Karakuri in Japan is often referred to as ingenuity, as it is a reminder of creative dolls and offers a positive overtone. While the term karakuri is Japanese, the idea itself is not unique to Japan. The Western world also has many such dolls that can play music, draw, or write. Many towns in Europe have a mechanical puppet gadgetry. Also, before electric motors and computers, similar mechanical gadgetry was also used in manufacturing to (mechanically) automate and improve the processes. Robots, one of the pinnacles of scientific development today, are made up of a combination of various karakuri-like mechanisms. There is no course on mechanical engineering in schools, but Karakuri paper craft is a perfect tool to teach students about the basics of various mechanisms, force momentum, and force transmission or conversion.
COMMON KARAKURI MECHANISM
Karakuri toys create a sense of curiosity in our minds and we wonder how it really works. There is an element of surprise and we keep guessing how can there be a movement in the toy when we are simply rotating a handle? There is no magic and Karakuri toys simply work on the basic principles of engineering and some of the simplest mechanisms. We can call our Karakuri toy a small machine generating some kind of movement, when a small force is applied over its handle.
Most elements of a machine are made of simple or basic mechanisms such as lever, cams, linkages, springs, gears and cranks. Even with the advancing electronic technology, simple and basic mechanisms continue to play a vital role in converting and transmitting force from source to the machine. The source can be either human power or some other external force. Karakuri revolves around using imagination to build on these simple mechanisms to make operations more convenient and comfortable.
He was born in Toyama, Japan in 1965 and currently lives and works in Tokyo. He graduated from Kobe university with a degree in literature. After studying visual design at Kuwasawa Design School, he worked for several design offices and became a freelance graphic designer in 1994. He got interested in paper-craft about that time. At first, his attention was engaged by 3D illustration and pop-up. While living in Denmark from 1997-2000, he was fascinated by European automata and started creating mechanical toys from paper. Then he found that assembling kits is more fun and suitable for him. Now he makes a variety of motives from paper for publications, web contents, magazine inserts, etc. They are characterized by clear color, simple form and plain instructions, making them easier to assemble even for children and adults. Saka puts the most effort into KARAKURI (automata) models, which are popular for its bright, sometimes dark humor. A series of his workshops were broadcasted through a national TV education program in Japan. As a graphic designer, he has taken charge of art direction and editorial design for a Japanese textbook for elementary and junior high school since 2004.
He is the Founder / Director of 'Alphabet Education' based in Pune, India. With an educational background of B.E. (E&Tc) and MBA (Marketing), he has worked for different organizations and in International Business Development. He is an Educationist as well as an Artist and took his hobbies to a professional level. Being passionate about the art of paper crafting and modeling, and ‘Origami’ - the art of paper folding, helped him discover Karakuri - Japanese art of making paper toys that move. He found it so fascinating and unique that he spent many days and hours making such toys in the lockdown period in India. The toys were appreciated and loved by everyone who saw them through social media and his personal connections. Every toy carried an element of surprise and viewers wondered how exactly the toy worked and if they can make such a paper model? Unfortunately, Karakuri is still unknown and undiscovered art in India. This led him to search for the original toy maker Mr. Keisuke Saka and this book was born to make Karakuri more popular in India among adults and young generations. Rupesh is also an expert Calligrapher, and has published books on Speed writing, handwriting improvement, and Calligraphy with a vision to reignite losing importance and interest for handwriting among students and adults.