‘The art of the Japanese kite’ by Tal Streeter is a book about Japan that focuses on this little known, mind-blowing tradition.
The art produced in the tiny island of Japan has long influenced artists from all over the world. The world of ukiyo-e, the kabuki theatre and Japanese folk tales and legends have provided inspiration to the Western world ever since Japan opened its borders.
But it’s the kites that made Tal Streeter fall in love with the country, and discover a microscopic community of kite lovers in ‘The art of the Japanese kite’.
‘The art of the Japanese kite’ by Tal Streeter
This book is the work of a tako-kichi (a kite crazy person). Tal Streeter travels to Japan to document kite festivals and the work of Japanese kite makers.
The arrival of kites to Japan is frequently associated with early Buddhist missionary work in Japan in the 6th and 7th centuries (kites were thus imported either from China or Korea).
For many centuries, kites were flown in Japan as rites that would ensure benevolent weather and plentiful crops.
[Find more books about Japan in Wayfarer Books’ Japan reading itinerary // Read about the ‘School of Yokohama’ photography and a photobook by artist and collector Linda Fregni Nagler // Or the incredible feat of a ten-volume encyclopaedia with more than one million photographic prints in ‘Japan: Described and Illustrated by the Japanese’]
Centuries passed and kites were flown to celebrate different events: the Emperor’s birthday, the birth of the firstborn son, or Children’s day.
The peak of popularity for kites came at the mid 18th century, to the point where there were numerous attempts from the power to suppress or even ban kites: they considered daydreaming (induced by flying kites) distracted the people from their working duties.
Today, although much less popular, there are still a number of kite festivities all around Japan. Kite fights are the main activity, where regional teams try to bring down their opponent’s kites.
As portrayed in ‘The art of the Japanese kite’, Japanese traditional kites are made from paper, bamboo and string. They range from tiny to giant, the latter requiring a team of up to a dozen people to be flown.
There are only a restricted number of traditional kite designs and shapes, the most popular being rectangular and hexagonal.
These designs can be hundreds of years old, kite makers endlessly continuing this tradition. There most flashy kites are those shaped like insects, made around the city of Nagoya.
The kites are often decorated with images inspired by ukiyo-e paintings and prints. These images (which traditionally were handmade) depict warriors, animals and other characters commonly found in Japanese folk tales and other legends.