Every year in August students from all over Japan and the world gather at Tokyo Big Sight for an event organized by Design Festa called GAKUTEN. This event is for elementary, middle, high school, college, and self taught students of all ages and nationalities to gather, display their art, and meet other artists.
One of the many in attendance at last year’s GAKUTEN was Kana, a university student from Tokyo who loves music, art, and Hello Kitty. But more than anything, she loves creating miniatures.
Doll house miniatures have been around for at least four hundred years, but only recently has focus switched from the dolls to the worlds they inhabit. Artists and enthusiasts have begun to see the value in the tiny worlds themselves, and the exceptional skill it takes to craft them is even more fascinating. Kana is one such artisan who, under the name “Story in my Hands,” has been creating miniatures since elementary school. She was able to chat with us about her role as a forger of the mini.
Q. Where did you get your pseudonym, Story in my Hands? What does it mean?
It comes from how the things I make are meant to be stories created by my hands. Through things like doll houses and other arrangements, I try to create complete miniature stories in which people can be absorbed. I don’t have a large body of work yet, but I am pursuing the goal of creating stories with my hands and using it as a guideline for what I create in the future.
Q. When did you first start creating miniatures?
I first started making them at 11 years old. I’d always known about doll houses and miniatures in general, but it wasn’t until I came across a How-to book at a bookstore that I thought about making them myself. I’ve been fascinated ever since.
Q. Most people would read that book and think “that’s neat” and leave it at that. What was it about that book that inspired you to try making miniatures?
I think because it was aimed at beginners and the explanations were particularly easy to understand. Even before I got into miniatures I already enjoyed drawing and making things out of clay. I remember wanting to start on the projects described in the book as soon as I could.
Q. How have your miniature making skills progressed over time?
I made a much larger quantity of things back when I first got started, because I didn’t really pay much attention to how large or realistic they were. From there I gradually began to focus more on detail. It took a lot more time than it used to, but I think that the quality of the resulting products has been improving.
Q. The attention to detail in your work is incredible. What drives this?
I’ve always liked small things, so creating them delights me, and those feelings of happiness serve as my motivation. Because my head is always so full of thoughts and ideas about making miniatures, when I go to a cafe and see the different dishes on display or go to a store and find a cute accessory, all I want to do is see it in miniature–and then I have to make it happen!
Q. The idea of miniature foods, homes, and worlds is found elsewhere in Japan. Is this a uniquely Japanese concept?
The entire doll house culture is originally European and thus not a wholly Japanese concept. But thanks to companies like Sylvanian Families, Re-Ment and anime figurine designers, miniatures are now very common in Japan. The word “kawaii” is commonly expressed in Japan, and I believe a love of small things is included in that general love of cute things.
Q. Why do you think humans make miniatures of things that already exist? What is our fascination with the small?
That is a very difficult question…I wonder why, too. Personally, when I can touch and place something in the palm of my hand, it sends my heart fluttering, and I fall in love with it.
Q. Do you make up stories to go along with the miniature worlds you create?
I do! When I make a doll house, I’m trying to convey the entire background of a character that exists only in my head. I want people who look at what I make to feel that too.
The Mini Method
Q. What is involved in making an item from start to finish?
I use mainly clay, wood, and paper, often crafting with the aid of toothpicks and dress pins. I have to be constantly aware of size and realism as I work. I try to make everything at 1/12th scale, but since I make objects of varying sizes, being too accurate to that scale can result in a strange collection when a variety of my work is displayed together. So I try to just imagine the real object–and if it’s something like an apple, hold it in my hand–and estimate the size I want as I work.
As for realism, people have to be able to recognize the object at a glance and, if it’s a food, it needs to look good enough to eat, so I plan out my designs and paint with all of that in mind.
Q. What is the biggest challenge in making miniatures?
Molding and coloring really forces me to focus, since everything gets so small.
Q. What kind of music do you listen to while working?
I love rock music, so I listen to it all the time. You probably wouldn’t think so though, considering the nature of my work! Right now my favorite artist is Fall Out Boy.
Q. What is your favorite kind of miniature to make?
Definitely food. While looking at food miniatures, you might think “that’s so cute!”, but at the same time you might also imagine how it tastes. I love that.
Q. Your food miniatures look so delicious! What do you do to create the texture, sheen, and color to make your little foods look so tasty?
I do coloring while looking at reference photographs of the food I’m recreating. I apply different kinds of varnish so that things vary in glossiness according to what type of food it is.
Q. Do you ever make miniatures with moving parts?
I’m not sure if this counts as “moving”, but whenever I make something like a chest of drawers or a window I make sure that they can open and close properly.
Showing the Minis
Q. Who are the people that consume your work and what do they love about it?
At last year’s GAKUTEN I met a lot of people who were also interested in miniatures, and many who had never seen handmade miniatures before. Men were just as interested in my work as women, and a lot of people expressed surprise at just how small they are.
Q. What is the project you’re most proud of?
I don’t really have anything that I can confidently say I am most proud of yet. No matter how many times I make something, there will always be a part that I struggle with. My work is better now than it was before, and I’m always striving to make my next project better than the last.
Q. Who has had the most influence on your work?
A Japanese doll house artist named Takao Kojima has been a huge inspiration for my work. I want to one day be able to make a lot of doll houses, just like he does.
Small Steps Forward
Q. What are you going to do next?
I am going to participate at the International Art Event Design Festa vol.41 at Tokyo Big Sight on May 16th and 17th, and I will participate at GAKUTEN again on August 9th. I’m currently working on a miniature bakery for those exhibitions.
I don’t have a whole lot of time to work on my miniatures since I’m a student, but I would love to be able to make a wide variety of different work and create a portfolio for myself. Since my work is so small and delicate, it’s difficult to carry the pieces around. But if I had a book of my work, people worldwide would be able to see what I make. Nothing would make me happier than knowing there are people all over the world who have a book of my work.
Q. Where do you want miniature making to take you, ultimately?
I’d like to continue making miniatures like I’m doing now, but I don’t know if, in the future, I’ll want a job that’s related to them. I was contemplating whether or not to attend a fine arts university, but I have a feeling that the kinds of worlds I create aren’t going to be granted their own category in any university’s curriculum any time soon, so I decided against it. I’m thinking I want to find a job career will allow me to keep creating something art-related.
Q. What advice do you have for people who want to try making miniatures?
Since you’re recreating actual objects it is important to focus on realism, of course, but you should simply enjoy the act of creating it at first! If you’re able to make something and really enjoy it, whatever it is, it will be great.
To see more of Kana’s work, visit her booth at Design Festa vol.41 on May 16th and 17th or at GAKUTEN on August 9th.
For more info on GAKUTEN and Design Festa visit: