For more than a thousand years, the Japanese have built and flown a surprising variety of kites, from the miniature to the mammoth. Traditional kites are made of bamboo and washi (handmade mulberry paper), and many are vividly painted with cultural motifs such as kabuki actors. As a result of Japan’s feudal past, each region or locale has its own specific kite, influenced by local materials, weather, and wind.

Flown first for religious and seasonal observances, kites became an increasingly popular pastime in Japan in the 1700s, during the peaceful Tokugawa era. A kite frenzy ensued: shopkeepers ignored customers, property was damaged, people injured by bigger and bigger kites. This led to government limits on size and extravagant decoration, just as the government also tried to censor woodblock prints and political activity of actors. Kites are depicted in numerous ukiyo-e of the 1800s, indicating their popularity and sophistication.

Kite associations and cities with long-standing kite traditions are preserving the traditional craft of kite making, but it remains dependent upon artists and craftsmen as well as modern enthusiasts.