A typical "bonrama" display, as he calls them, features miniature trees and a model train car arranged in a bonsai-like display on a 30-centimeter plate.
Nine years after the artist introduced his first bonrama, his works are beginning to be recognized--and sought after--as an art form.
The 47-year-old was born in Kita-Kyushu. He became fascinated with "the dynamism and functional beauty" of a steam locomotive he saw at Wakamatsu Station on the Chikuho Line, which was then operated by the Japanese National Railways, when his father took him there. Kawakami was 2 years old.
Later, he studied at an Osaka cooking school before landing a job as manager of a cafe in Nagasaki.
But he couldn't let go of his yearning for trains. In 1999, Kawakami opened model-train shop Tetsudo Shonen Sha (House for train-loving boys) in his hometown.
Simply selling model trains, however, was not enough for him, so he got into the hobby of making railway dioramas.
But Kawakami didn't quite click with the hardcore enthusiasts making painstaking efforts to scale down real trains and faithfully reproduce the originals.
"What I seek is not a 'reproduction,' " Kawakami said. "It is an 'expression' that I can freely enjoy without being bound by shapes and specifications."
Looking for hints to realize his wish, Kawakami turned to bonsai.