History of Kites in Japan

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Kites, or “tako,”were originally brought to Japan from China by Buddhist missionaries in 649-794 AD.Kites were mainly used for religious events and celebrations, but the innovative Japanese also found a way to use them in the construction of shrines and temples. Large kites were used to lift building material such as tiles to workers on scaffolds and roof tops.

Kites at the Himeji Kite Festival
Kites at the Himeji Kite Festival

During the Edo Period (1603-1867) when Japan distanced itself from the outside world, kite making flourished. New styles and designs were created, usually depicting characters of Japanese folk lore or artwork with religious meaning.

There are many different styles and types of kite, with each region of Japan having a characteristic shape. The decoration often depicts characters from Japanese folklore or have some religious or symbolic meaning.

Sagami Giant Kite Flying Festival
Sagami Giant Kite Flying Festival

Kite flying is traditionally a children’s play in New Year holidays and in the Boys’ Festival in May. In some areas, there is a tradition to celebrate a new boy baby with a new kite (祝い凧). There are many kite festivals throughout Japan. The most famous one is “Yōkaichi Giant Kite Festival” in Higashiōmi, Shiga, which started in 1841.The largest kite ever built in the festival is 62 feet (19 m) wide by 67 feet (20 m) high and weighs 3,307 pounds (1,500 kg).In the Hamamatsu Kite Festival in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, more than 100 kites are flown in the sky over the Nakatajima Sand Dunes, one of the three largest sand dunes in Japan, which overlooks the Enshunada Sea.Parents who have a new baby prepare a new kite with their baby’s name and fly it in the festival.These kites are traditional ones made from bamboo and paper.

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