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
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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”
Even a Rubick’s Cube can be part of a kaleidoscope! Discotheque!
Shining like a polished jewel!
A tiny kaleidoscope used as an accessory.
The sun as seen through this one.
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.“
How did you like our little kaleidoscope story? Stop by the Kaleidoscope Mukashi-Kan shop in Tokyo – and try making one for yourself!