NARA – Chappy Okamoto, 46, claims to be the only artist in the world who can make what he calls “kaburimono” — a mask or headdress.
The item is made of a single sheet of paper or urethane and instantly becomes a mask or headdress once it is placed on the head.
The artist, whose real name is Yoshihiko Okamoto, said his stage name Chappy is an English combination of “change” and “happy.”
“If you put this on, it will make you smile,” Okamoto said recently. “I want you to change, find a new self and get happy.”
Okamoto, who lives in Nara, has designed and made around 1,000 kaburimono items, including a deer sun visor with antlers and the Suzakumon Gate of Nara’s Heijokyu Palace, where deer wander freely.
In July, Okamoto held an event at the Nara Prefectural Library and Information Center and displayed paper headdresses designed on local specialties and popular tourist spots in all 47 prefectures, along with furniture made from cardboard.
Okamoto, who studied sculpture and design at Kyoto City University of Arts, worked as a graphic and packaging designer for about a decade until his employer went bankrupt in 2001.
A turning point came when he organized a performance for a wedding party.
Elderly guests who looked bored started smiling at the sight of Okamoto and his friends walking around in huge red sea bream-shaped headdresses as their own heads protruded from the mouth of the fish.
“Kaburimono is a kind of a package that makes people around you laugh and cheers you up, too,” Okamoto said.
“When I was working as a company employee, my dream was that one day I would design something that would leave a long-lasting impression on people,” he said.
His signature kaburimono is the black and yellow tiger-print headdress he designed for fans of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team, based in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.
His Usamimi bunny visor, which he created in the year of the rabbit, became popular after Princess Aiko, the daughter of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, wore it when riding a horse in 2007.
Okamoto holds more than 100 events a year across the nation to teach people how to make kaburimono.
It helps that he grew up in Osaka, which is home to many comedians.
“You are nothing unless you can entertain people,” Okamoto said. “People laughing is a source of my energy.”