Kaleidoscope: beautiful images projected by light, here seen through a tiny lens. The ingredients like little glass beads turn to magic in the eye of the beholder.

Kaleidoscope: Mysterious Worlds of Light

Kaleidoscope! Clear green and blue shapes projected by light; different images instantaneously appear one after another through reflecting mirrors… You can easily plunge yourself into its multi-faceted, multi-coloured magnificence. To get to see more of these beautiful visuals, PingMag visited the Kaleidoscope Mukashi-Kan shop in Tokyo, which is unique in Japan. Shop staff Ms. Ishihara showed us around and, equally important, told us a bit about how to make kaleidoscopes.

Written by Ryoko
Translated by Junko

Though casually placed on a desktop, it is a really expensive one. And look at that spacy shape!
What a fascinating three-dimensional image! Amazing!

The origins

The history of the kaleidoscope goes back about 200 years. In 1816, Scottish physicist David Brewster invented an incredibly beautiful image by using mirror reflections when experimenting on polarised light. He put the image into a cylinder and called it “kaleidoscope” for Greek ‘kalos,’ meaning ‘beautiful,’ with “eidos”, meaning ‘shape,’ and “skopeo” for ‘look.’ Quickly the so-called kaleidoscope made its way all over the world, as a kind of a “Philosophical toy.”

Flowery patterns!

And colourful motifs!

The magic inside

Holding a small kaleidoscope in the hand makes people wonder about the mechanism inside. Often the essential ingredients to create beautiful images are beads or glass. However, Ms. Ishihara says, “We use many kinds of objects here: feathers, shells, plastic, stones, …anything is possible. There is no rule on how to make a kaleidoscope, so an artist chooses the objects considering colour, shape, and size based on his or her idea of what to express. Then, he or she decides which mirror system to use.

The mirror system inside a kaleidoscope is a structure of mirrors assembled into a triangle or a quadrangle inside a cylinder. Though there is a variety of systems, usually a “two-mirror system” or a “three-mirror system” is used.

This is how a “two-mirror system” works: unfolded picture of mirrors (left), side figure (center), and an image seen through a small hole called the “eye hole.”
Construction plan of a “three-mirror system.”

Image created by a “two-mirror system” kaleidoscope: this type always creates a circular image.

Three-mirror system: this image is called “Alice in Wonderland.”

With the “two-mirror system”, you assemble mirrors into a ‘V’ shape with reflecting sides facing each other. When light is passing through them, the two mirrors repeatedly reflect each other and project a circlular image. When the angle of the ‘V’ shape changes, so does the line of the circle. On the other hand, mirrors are assembled to a triangle in the “three-mirror system” which creates infinite identical patterns with honeycomb-like shapes.

This is a “three-mirror system” with an isosceles triangle shape. The projected image depends on the angle and shape of the mirrors.
With this “two-mirror system” kaleidoscope called “Feather & Leather,” some feathers are being used as ingredients.


The most important thing about making a kaleidoscope is light and not colour, as colours don’t come out clearly without light. Moreover, it is sunlight that makes colours look most beautiful,” Ms. Ishihara says.

A “two-mirror system” kaleidoscope with shells inside. Looks like a pictures from National Geographic. Stunning!

Beautiful images produced by a combination of object, mirror system, and light, fascinate people. How far does that go? “A kaleidoscope is not just something that lets you enjoy beautiful colourful visuals, but something that can stimulate your imagination. It is a tool that leads you to a different world you can indulge in,“ says Ms. Ishihara.

A “Parasol” with two eye holes.
The image seen through the “Parasol”. Indeed, it looks like an umbrella as its name says. Images of a kaleidoscope generally look symmetrical, but the artist who made this only creates asymmetric ones.
“Eye of the Soul” by kaleidoscope artist Mark Tickle.

Some powerful eyes seen in the “Eye of the Soul,” indeed.

Wow, what an awesome three-dimensional image!

This one is called “Seven Seas.”

“Alice in Wonderland”
Amazing image! It is supposed to depict a peacock unfolding its wings.
For his “Egg’s Uberant,” Frank Casciani used an ostrich’s egg for the shape.

Even a Rubick’s Cube can be part of a kaleidoscope! Discotheque!

Shining like a polished jewel!
Koransha, known for their glass and ceramic products, made this one as decor. Cute!
What beautiful rays!

A tiny kaleidoscope used as an accessory.

The sun as seen through this one.

Kaleidoscope art

At the end of our tour Ms. Ishihara, a quite passionate kaleidoscope admirer, gave me a message for every creator:

We create and sell kaleidoscopes with an artistic view, and always hope to stimulate people. The image you generate in the kaleidoscope reflects your taste, experiences, or even a facet of your life. Therefore, kaleidoscopes can serve as a means to express ourselves. If someone makes the best use of his or her skills, his or her kaleidoscope stops being just a toy, and becomes a work of art.

The Christmas kaleidoscope creating a warm, golden atmosphere.

How did you like our little kaleidoscope story? Stop by the Kaleidoscope Mukashi-Kan shop in Tokyo – and try making one for yourself!

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  • bronco

    Fascinating!! Really love the perfectly repeated picture pattern.

    May I ask where I can get the tiny kaleidoscope (the accessory)?

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  • al

    just wondering, but where do they sell that tiny kaleidoscope?

  • GK

    Terrific! Being a child I had a Kaleidoscope, but not so sophisticated as shown in the article (nevertheless it was great).

  • http://www.mirella.prv.pl vonchrupek

    Wonderful, however I have some problems with reading the site.
    Kaleidoscopes are wonderful. I myslef craft my own kaleidoscopes however they are not so advanced as these.
    have a look at http://www.amomirella.com

  • http://scarletlark.buzznet.com/user/?id=1198905 Kristine

    Gorgeous! I’m reminded of a kaleidescope shop I visited several years ago in Cambria – it quickly became my favorite store in town. I actually just came back from a mini-vacation in Morro Bay, and we stopped by in Cambria today – but I didn’t find it!! I hope this was only because of my own flawed sense of observation; it would be an awful shame to loose it.

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  • Myles Platt

    I think these kaleidoscopes are SOOOOO amazing!!

  • carrie

    does anyone know where they sell the tiny kaleidoscope?

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  • Anonymous

    I like the tiny one, so I think it will be that some one can tell us where we can buy one or how to make it.

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  • graham

    hi, can you pls tell me the address for the Mikashi-kan shop? tks

  • http://www.pingmag.jp/ PingMag


    Kaleidoscope Mukashi-Kan
    2-13-8 Azabujuban, Minato-ku, Tokyo