JAPANESE KITE HISTORY 2

 
 The Edo kite is one of the best-known Japanese kites and takes it name from Edo - the old name for Tokyo. Its design is rectangular and multi bridled with elaborate and detailed paintings of famous warriors, Kabuki actors, priests and geisha girls. The majority are painted in the Ukiyo-e style - a reference to the very popular woodblock pictures of the mid 18th century.
 Tiezo Hashimoto was one of the most famous and last professional kitemakers in Tokyo. He was made a living National Treasure for his work in the traditional arts. Like most Japanese artists he always left the painting of the pupils of the eyes until last. The picture is not considered to have life until they are added. His wife was responsible for wrapping a thin piece of paper around the bamboo spars in order that the paper sail (the skin) would stick firmly to the frame (the skeleton). This is the sign of a well made kite.

 

 In 1976 I had the pleasure of visiting them in their workshop and was very honoured to be able to see them making their beautiful Edo kites. Sadly he died in 1991 aged 87 and his kites are now highly prized by collectors.

Like most Japanese kites, Edo kites are flown without tails. A commonly held belief in Japan is that if a kite requires a tail in order to fly it is not well designed - although in strong winds tails are added.

 
 Very big kites have always held a fascination for the Japanese and there are still a couple of very popular kite festivals in Japan where giant kites are flown. During the 2nd week of June two teams from the city of Shirone battle against each other from opposite banks of the river with kites measuring 7 metres x 5 metres. When they crash or are dragged into the water the paper covering becomes very wet and along with the bright paint pigments dissolves, making the water a wonderful colour, leaving only a skeleton bamboo frame.
 One of Japan's largest kites was the Wan Wan kite with an overall width of 24 metres. One kite made in 1914 weighed 2.8 tons and required 150 - 200 men to fly it. The tails were 500 feet long and like the flying line were made from the anchor ropes of ships. Sometimes the winds were too strong to pull them in and had to be left anchored until the wind subsided allowing the kite to come down of its own accord. Sadly the large WanWans are no longer made.

 
   The largest kites flown today are in Hoshubana on Boys Day - May 5th. Approximately 200 years ago the local Buddhist Priest told the local farmers that if they flew kites in the sky (where the rain, wind and lightening came from) this would please the Gods and have a calming influence on the weather and would make it kinder for their production of silkworms. The farmers made small kites at first and as their yields grew bigger year by year making them more prosperous the kites grew too. They now make large kites over 15 metres high and 11 metres wide weighing over 800 kilos. These kites take 1500 sheets of paper to cover and need over a hundred people to carry and fly them. This kite is called (because of its size) the "100 Mat Kite" (the Tami Mat is the standard size floor mat used in every Japanese home.
 Besides making some of the largest kites in the world the Japanese also have a fascination for miniature kites and for hundreds of years have been making small kites some of which are only a few mm high. Retired Samuri Warriors used to make very small kites from straw and tissue paper and fly them over the rising air from hot cooking stoves.

 
 Sadly kite flying is on the decline in most parts of Japan due to so many high buildings and overhead power cables. You would now have to drive out of Tokyo for over 2 hours to find a suitable place to fly a kite. The old Kite Masters are dying and their sons and daughters are not prepared to work the long hours with poor pay. The want to become engineers or work in the city.


 Kite apprentices had to train for approximately 4 to 5 years without pay. It took 2 to 3 years just to learn how to draw a straight line and circles with a brush correctly. It is mainly the hobbyists who make and fly the traditional kites nowadays.

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