Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

July 23, 2011

Kite Museum, Tokyo (Museums)

The Kite Museum in Tokyo is a small, quirky, but surprisingly interesting museum.

The former owner of the Taimeikan restaurant in Nihonbashi, the late Mr. Modegi Shingo, was a kite enthusiast who founded this museum on the 5th floor of the restaurant building. The rather confined space is literally crammed with kites of all sorts and descriptions, resulting in a riot of color. The total collection comprises 3,000 pieces. Rather than only children's toys, kites in Japan were often flown by young men in religious festivals and can be appreciated as an interesting folk craft. Japanese kites (tako) are made from paper painted in bold motifs and attached to a bamboo frame and come in all imaginable sizes.

The kite was invented in China and may originally have had a military purpose. In Japan, too, kites may have been used as military signals, but an added function was a religious one, as kites also served as prayers or offerings to Shinto deities. It was in the Edo-period that kite flying became a popular form of amusement. We often find kite flying festivals (and even kite battles) depicted in ukiyo-e prints, of which the museum has several on view. The most typical traditional kite, 'Nishiki-E Dako,' has something of an ukiyo-e in its brilliant colors, bold lines and characteristic motifs.

The same style and motifs have been continued without much change in modern kites. There are for example: warriors, as Minamoto no Yoshitsune, or legendary heroes as Kintaro or Oniwakamaru; folk images as Daruma dolls, the Seven Deities of Good Fortune and comic Okame masks; birds and insects, such as the centipede kites, formed of joint sections; and Chinese characters, as the giant kanji for Ryu, dragon. Besides Japanese kites, the museum also owns kites from other Asian countries, especially China; an example is a whole case full of kites in insect shapes. Besides the large kites, there is also a case filled with miniature ones. In a corner of the room, the workshop of Edo's last kite maker, Hashimoto Teizo, has been reproduced.

The cultural lesson of this museum: in Japan, kites were not toys for kids, but in the first place they had a ritual and military function. Even now, large kites during the kite festivals are flown by grown-ups.
Address: Taimeiken restaurant 5F, 1-12-10 Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 103-0027. Tel. 03-3271-2465

Access: 3-min on foot from the C5 exit of Nihonbashi St on the Ginza and Hanzomon subway lines, on the 5th floor of the Taimeikan Bldg.

Hours: 11:00-17:00. CL Sun, NH.