Japanese craft kites are the most spectacular in the world, appreciated both for their aesthetic value, and for their value as traditional toys. They have many different styles and types of kites, and each region of Japan has its own distinctive shape.
In Aichi, and more specifically in Nagoya, there is a variety of kites called Nagoya Koryu (名古屋 古流凧). There are three types of Nagoya Koryu: the moth (虻 Abu), the cicada (蝉 Semi) and the bee (蜂 Hachi). The length of these types of kite usually does not exceed 60 cm, and their stability in strong winds is excellent (wind speeds between 8-15 m/s). The techniques used for the construction of these type of kites are quite difficult since they require excellent technique and experience.
A brief history about the japanese kite
It is believed that kites were first introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks who came from China during the Nara period (710-794 AD). The Japanese absorbed the knowledge about China’s kites, and developed their own distinctive designs and traditions. Originally the Japanese kites were used for practical purposes, such as in the construction of temples to raise tiles and other materials for the workers who were on the rooftops. It is also said that a Japanese thief used a giant kite to reach the top of Nagoya Castle. There, under the cover of darkness he stole the scales of a pair of golden dolphins (金鯱 Kinshachi).
During the Edo period (1603-1867), when Japan closed to the outside world, the kite reached its greatest splendor. New styles and designs were created, which generally represent characters from Japanese folk tradition, mythology or had religious or symbolic significance. In Nagoya, the art of kites was introduced in the second half of the Edo period (1750-1850). The great abundance of bamboo and the good quality of the paper made Nagoya the largest kite producing area in the whole country.
Today, more than a toy, the kite is a decorative item, or a collector’s item for kite fans.
Visit the Japanese kite craft shop: Takomo Honten
Very few people know, including the local people, about the existence of the traditional Takomo Honten kite shop.
Mr. Yamada (山田 直樹) and his son Tamio (山田 民雄) are the fifth and sixth generation of artisans and kindly opened their doors to tell us about their trade and about Takomo Honten.
Located in the Nishi district of Nagoya (Japan), Takomo Honten started his business at the end of the Edo Period, more than 170 years ago. And it has managed to protect and preserve the traditional elaboration of kites for 5 generations (the sixth generation is currently in the process of learning).
Takomo Honten has an extensive catalog of kites with more than 150 types, with original illustrations, characterized by the vividness of its colors thanks to the use of natural pigments.
The basic materials for the manufacture of the kite that they originally used used to come from the Aichi region. The bamboo of the city of Komaki and the good quality of the papel of the city of Mino. But the producers have decreased in number and currently these materials come from other regions outside the Aichi region.
The most elaborated kites are of the “Kakudako” type or 4 corners. These kites are characterized by having a rectangular design and being decorated with paintings of famous warriors, Kabuki actors, priests and geisha (Edo Kaku). They also make six-corner kites, or hexagonal kite (Rokkaku dako in Japanese 六角凧), which are the most popular and well-known kites.
Another type of comets that they also make for the new year are the so-called Eto (干支), which represent the twelve signs of the Japanese zodiac. Each year has its own zodiac symbol: the mouse (Nezumi), the cow (Ushi), the tiger (Tora), the rabbit (Usagi), the dragon (Tatsu), the snake (Hebi), the horse (Uma) , the goat (Hitsuji), the monkey (Saru), the bird (Tori), the dog (Inu) and the wild boar (Inoshishi).
One of the most important requirements in Takomo Honten is that all kites, whether as decoration or not, have to be made so that they can fly.
Takomo Honten sells mainly wholesale. Its main wholesalers are toy stores and gift and decoration shops in different cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. If you travel through any of these cities you may find the kites of Takomo Honten. The most surprising is the price. Despite being an artisanal article, kites have a very affordable price. They are around 1,000 yen for the smallest kites and 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000 yen the largest.
During the interview with Tamio, his father, Mr. Yamada, told us a few secrets about the process of making the kite.
The development of kites is divided into several processes:
1.Illustration and coloring 絵付け
The illustration and coloring is done in a separate workshop. First, the outline of the illustration is painted with black ink. Then one by one, the colors are included in the drawing. This is a manual process, which closely resembles the technique of textile screen printing.
2.Paper cutting 紙裁ち
Once the coloring is finished, it is needed to dry for several days and is sent to the Takomo Honten for the paper cutting process. In this process the role of kites is cut to the established extent. At once about 25 leaves are cut. When cutting the paper, the measurements have to be precise, otherwise when the stick assembly process is reached they will not add up well.
The bamboo sticks (called also bones) assembly process is done in Takomo Honten.
The glue used for assembly is made in the traditional way with natural products. This is a special rain resistant glue.
This process is also done manually with extreme care, since if the orientation of the assembly is not correct, this will have an impact on the kite’s flight form.
Once the assembly is finished, it’s left to dry. The time it takes for the glue to drie depends on the season of the year. Drying time is faster in summer, but in winter or in the rainy season (Tsuyu 梅雨) it takes longer.
4.Bending and fixing the thread 曲げ・糸付け
Once the glue is dried, the process continues with the insertion of the thread, bending the bones to get a good fixation of the thread. The process depends on the type of kite.
However, it is not easy to preserve traditional techniques. In the past, Nagoya had more than 20 kite shops, but currently there are only 2 left, commented Mr. Yamada.
The reason is that the handmade elaboration of the kite is a process that requires a lot of time: a week to paint Japanese paper, 3 days for the subsequent fixation of the bones, flexion of the edge and fixation of the thread. Without a doubt, this is not a simple job and you need to have a good experience to be precise.
Workshops to build your own kite in Aichi
The Japanese Kite Association of the Tokai region (日本凧の会東海支部) organizes workshops at Morikoro Park (Nagakute) every month to learn how to build a kite. Both adults and children can experience and enjoy how the kite is making.
Giant kite festivals in Aichi
One of the most popular kite festivals in the Aichi region is the Kota Festival (こうた凧揚げまつり). This festival is celebrated on the second Sunday of January in the town of Kota (幸田町). Approximately 25,000 people participate, and about 140 kites of different sizes and designs compete in this traditional winter event. Here you can also see the giant kites called Odako (大凧).
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From the Nagoya station bus terminal, take the Meieki 12 Nagoya Station – Kamiida (名駅13名古屋駅 ～ 上飯田) bus and get off at Yoshiharachō (葭原町). From there 3 minutes walk.
Or you can take the Meieki 12 Nagoya Station – Kurokawa (名駅15名古屋駅 ～ 黒川) bus and get off at Oshikirichō (押切町). From there 4 min walk.
From Nagoya station, about 25 minutes walk.
2-2-10 Oshikiri, Nishi Ward, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture
From 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Closed on Sundays and holidays.