Looking younger than his 26 years, Kozo Komatsubara aka Kozo Kaos – holds three stainless steel curved blade knives that match the colour of his shirt and stares sharply at the camera.

A juggling stunt performer who grew up in Devonport, he's old enough to remember the days before YouTube instructional videos could teach juggling to a youngster who wanted to run away with the circus.

Instead, Kozo learned from his younger sister, Lisa, after a visit to a Weber Brothers Circus show left the then 9 and 5-year-old siblings determined to become circus performers.

Now 17 years on, they've lived that dream.


Lisa is regarded as one of New Zealand's best jugglers – in 2013 she became our first female juggler to perform at the World Juggling Entertainment Showcase in Las Vegas – while Kozo flies the flag for local talent at this year's Auckland International Buskers Festival.

He's the only New Zealand act on a programme that includes a Dutch hula-hooper, an all-female Canadian acrobatic troupe and an Australian fire artist (for more, see sidebar). Yes, Kozo is excited to perform in front of a home crowd alongside international artists he's getting to know – and learning from – on a global buskers' festival circuit.

"I don't tend to get nervous because I've been doing it for so long," Kozo says, "but then I see a celebrity or someone I know in the crowd, so when I have friends watching, there's a little nervousness."

None more so than when he glanced up during a show and saw Jimmy Urine, from the US electropunk band Mindless Self Indulgence, standing in the crowd.

"Man, I couldn't believe it! I had loved that band for years and there he was watching my show."

It's a show that has grown from Kozo's teen years when, aged 16, he went to his first juggling festival and found a community of people like him, who are now his close friends and colleagues.

They helped him get started, beginning with juggling and gradually adding interactive comedy, ladder balancing, stunts and "a touch of rock 'n' roll" to an act performed first at community and local events, then for corporates and at private gigs.

His stage name came when he was performing alongside a friend who insisted he couldn't be introduced as Kozo Komatsubara.

"He called me the night before and said he would introduce me as Kozo Kaos; I liked it so I kept it and, you know, my show is a little bit chaotic."

Why juggling?

"I fell in love with it when I saw it and I thought that compared to other circus acts – like the flying trapeze – that juggling was the most accessible because you can carry your equipment with you and do it pretty much anywhere."

But at first, it wasn't as easy to learn as Kozo thought. He watched younger sister Lisa, who made it look easy, and figured if she could do it, so could he but it took weeks – rather than days – for him to approach anywhere near basic proficiency let alone expertise.

"She made it look easy but it certainly wasn't."

The former Takapuna Grammar student says he toyed with the idea of becoming a graphic designer but by the time he left school he was already making money from performing and saw it as a way that could take him around the world.

"And I don't have strict Asian parents who wanted me to do something else," says Kozo. "They kind of knew I was going to do this and they're now my biggest fans."

Work with Circus Aotearoa and Loritz Circus followed and today Kozo is travelling to Australia more often to perform and plans a trip to the United Kingdom.

"It's a lifestyle and I love what I do; at this stage, I can't imagine doing anything else so I'm just going to go with it for as long as I can," he says.

The performers entertaining crowds at this year's Auckland International Buskers Festival are:

The Atari Show – An Argentinian comedian and skilful street artist whose skits, unsynchronised dance moves and upbeat improvisation amuse audiences around the world.

Chris Blaze – As the name suggests, epic fire shows which draw mega crowds are this Aussie's speciality.

Hero-san – A world renowned Japanese street acrobat and breakdancer who performs seemingly impossible tricks in a beautiful and hilarious style, tickling the crowd with his outrageous humour and chopstick skills.

Opus Furore – A tribute to the roaring 20s, the German duo bring crowds to tears of laughter with their silliness, acrobatics and juggling.

Reuben DotDotDot – Swagger and strength go hand-in-hand for the Australian street performer who specialises in gymnastic feats.

Satya Hoops – This Dutch performer has captivated audiences in more than 42 countries with her hula-hooping spectacles.

Silver Starlets – The all-female Canadian aerial acrobatics show promises glitz, glam and glitter.

Surprise Effect – This dynamic French hip-hop and breakdancing group fuse acrobatics and theatricality to spread a positive message.

Mighty Mike – Award-winning Canadian strongman dons his 1920s-style swimsuit then juggles bowling balls and sledgehammers and bends horseshoes.

Kozo Kaos – The North Shore local blends comedy and unbelievable stunts to keep audiences on their toes and laughing.

What: Auckland International Buskers Festival 2019
Where & when: Auckland's Viaduct Harbour, Waterfront and CBD; On now.