2 On The Road Blog

After 12 years of full-time rving, we've sold our truck and trailer but we're still traveling. Email us at wowpegasus@hotmail.com if you would like to contact us.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

World Kite Museum

As the largest kite museum in the Western Hemisphere, the World Kite Museum is dedicated to the over 2,000 year history of kites and showing you their thrill, joy, art and science. The museum's collection includes over 1,700 kites from 27 different countries.
I have organized this so that you read about the kite then look at the following photo or photos to see it. Much of the commentary is copied directly from brochures at the Kite Museum.

There was also a section that showed photos of San Francisco after it burned in the fire of 1906.

These photos were huge!
There was a model of the camera but we didn't get a photo of it.

Almost everyone agrees that the kite came to Japan from China around the 7th Century. In the beginning, it was flown as part of the religious ceremony, maybe to scare the devil or evil spirits, or to call the gods down on the flying line. As they spread throughout Japan they became associated with festivals, holidays and other special occasions.

In the spring kites were flown as invocations for a rich harvest. Some priests claimed the kite's flight could predict success or failure of the coming year. In the fall festival kites were flown as thanksgiving offerings for a plentiful harvest.

Other kites were congratulatory kites, these were given to the parents and grandparents of the first born son by friends or town officials, depending on one's status. These kites bore symbolic forms which would protect and guide a newborn son to a good and prosperous adulthood. A crane and long-tailed tortoise represented a long life, pine and bamboo signified endurance and resilience, a carp signified strength and success.

Other Japanese festivals evolved into another kind of activity, kite fighting. This involves trying to bring another kite down out of the sky by skillful maneuvering. Nagasaki flyers are the most notable participants in this type of flying as individuals. However, teams of flyers participate in kite fighting in an informal way in Shirone and in a highly organized performance in Hammamatsu.
Large and small are fascinating to the Japanese kitemaker. Nearly every kitemaker offers tiny flying replicas of his regular kites. Large kites are recorded to have lifted tiles to the roof of a temple. Other stories of man lifting kites exist. Usually these were to steal something or to escape from imprisonment.
The largest kite in the world until about 1978 is still built every year at Showa. It is thirty-six feet wide, forty-eight feet high - almost as large as a tennis court. Weighing nearly a ton, it takes fifty men to fly.
Officially and unofficially the Japanese hold the world's record for the number of kites flown on one line. The 1991 Guiness Book of Records lists 2,233 kites flown by Kinji Tfuda in the Chiba Prefecture. Unofficially, over 4,000 kites were flown by a young Japanese gentleman last summer.
Two of Japan's unique assets, bamboo and washi paper, are used almost exclusively for kite making. Bamboo is suitable for kites because it is strong, flexible, easily available and inexpensive. Favored times for cutting the bamboo and differing opinions about aging and processing it exists amoung kitemakers. The bamboo, which is called the bones of a kite, is carefully chosen and cut and shaved depending on the structure and size of the kite, and the peculiarities of the winds where it is flown.
The washi paper, often referred to as rice paper, is made from the kozo tree, a type of mulberry. It is noted for its strength. Always handmade, the paper is often produced by farmers during the winter months to supplement their incomes.
Besides paper and 'bones', all Japanese kites have a third commonality. This is their decoration. "A kite without a picture is ominous to a Japanese! An unpainted white surface reminds us of a funeral", explained Kato, a Japanese kitemaker. Kitemakers use powdered pigments mixed with water. Since the dyes bleed, the picture is first outlined in summi ink ( a charcoal product), or paraffin that restricts the paint to certain areas.
Characters painted on the kites are familiar members of Japanese literature and mythology. Kintaro (the red and pink skinned boy) is a famous children's hero who befriends the animals. The fierce warrior wearing the gold helmet with protruding horns is Minaoto known for his feats of bravery and military prowness. Other famous famous warriors and popular Kauki actors are also frequent characters painted on the kites.


The shape of a Japanese kite is determined by the wind conditions in the area in which it is made and flown. Consequently, you will find different shaped Japanese kites synonymous with a prefecture or area of the country. Another reason for kites shapes becoming localized occurred during the end of the 16th century when the Tokugawa Shogun controlled Japan. Not only were ports closed to foreigners but the Japanese people were not allowed to travel or migrate from one place to another. Consequently kites stayed locally.

Double click on this photo to read the article and see the photo.

Double click on the photo to read the meaning of each signal kite.

Love this flying frog!

China - The Birthplace of the Kite! Scholars relate numerous theories of this important event. Several stories exist suggesting the earliest kite was a Chinese farmer's hat on the end of a string. A fourth century B.C. text records the invention of a wooden bird by engineer Kungshu Phan that flew for three days on a tethered line. Another documented account tells of Gong Shuban, the founder of carpentry, making a kite which imitated sparrow hawks circling in the sky.
War stories predominate early tales of kites in China. In one of the oldest kite legends, general Han Hsin in 169 B.C. used a kite to gauge the distance betwen his troops and the inside of the enemies' palace walls. His men then dug a tunnel of the correct length to secretly enter the fortress and overcome the enemy.
One historian tells of a general who, in a last ditch effort used kites to frighten his enemy away. Fitted with Arolian harp strings, the kites were flown over the enemy camp in the dead of night. When the enemy heard these moans and wails, they interpreted the sounds to be a warning of impending danger, and they fled in terror.
Another story of kites used in the military was probably the beginning of the leaflet dropping. Paper kites were sent up with writings on them. When they were beyond the enemy, the strings were cut and their allies were warned. Signaling the kites occurred similar to semaphonres. Also a lighted red lantern on a kite line meant "Help!" During the Ming Dynasty, kites are recorded to have carried explosives to drop on the enemy.
Driving Away the Devil: To celebrate the seventh birthday of the first born son, an important kite event took place. The father made a kite of woven straw and gathered as much string as possible. On his son's birthday he sent the kite soaring as high as possible. This was to send away any bad luck the boy would have.
Festival of Ascending on High: This festival commemorates the legend of a farmer who spared his own life and that of his family because of their love of kite flying. The farmer dreamed that a terrible disaster would befall his home on the ninth day of the ninth month. On that day he took his family on a picnic in the hills and flew kites until dark. When they returned home, their house had collapsed destroying all their possessions, but his family was saved. As the word spread of this good fortune, hundreds of thousands of Chinese flooded the sky with kites on September 9th.
Lantern Day: During this festival, kites are used to send the God of Wealth back to heaven. Everyone from the richest to the poorest went out at midday to fly kites. When night came, the kites continued to fly on tethered strings. At midnight everyone came out to tie lanterns to their kite strings to help the god see his way. In the morning the kites would have disappeared, leaving only a bit of string behind. The kites had escorted the God of Wealth home and taken trouble and disaster with them.
An everyday kite flying superstition involes your kite string breaking and your kite landing on someones house. This is such a bad omen the kite must be destroyed. If the kite only falls into someones elses yard, the owner must poke two holes in it to release the bad luck.

The idea of good and bad luck is so interwoven with kites in China that the kites' frame and decoration all have special meanings. All of them weave threads of good luck.
The Chinese feel that, though making and flying kites requires care and skill, it is a folk art everyone can enjoy. Certain rules of aerodynamics must be followed so that the kite will fly, but people may choose designs that express themselves. The pictures on the kites have significant meanings. The bat conveys happiness and richness; a dragon means honor, fish represent future fortune; two swallows or ducks tell of harmony and love; the cicada heralds good weather for harvest; the deer represents riches; the crane symbolizes longevity. All the symbols represent auspiciousness - none with bad luck.
OK - this is a break from the story.... read about the Dragon Centipede in this photo. This kite was strung along the rafters throughout the entire Chinese kite section. Pictures below will show you the head and some of the body then the tail.

Ok, back to the story... After the designs are painted on the silk, the fabric is glued to the bamboo frame. The frames, too, require careful work. The bamboo is cut and shaved to the right length, width and weight. Then it is shaped with heat. Some kite makers soak the bamboo and then shape it around a heated metal frame. Others use a flame to make the bamboo supple and then bend and secure it into shape.
An ingenious use of easily available materials allows wings and tails to be removed and bent for storage. Joints for folding pivot on wire but are heald firm by tiny metal bands during flight. Wings, tails and fins become removable through use of the natural hollowness of bamboo as an insert for carefully shaved sticks.

Other unique characteristics of Chinese kites is their accessories. Nearly all butterflies, other insects and dragons have bulging eyes that spin and blink. Some of them also have spirallers twirling on their tails.

The "Hurrier" which looks like a butterfly was created to send things up and down the kiteline. These are used to carry messages and food to various spirits. They can carry lanterns at night, too.
Sounds also emit from some kites. Gongs and drums controlled by miniature windmills produce wind rhythms. Whistles made from gourds, reed pipes and bamboo play wind songs changing with velocity. Bells sized in proportion to the kite are housed in special openings, sounds ranges from a tinkling to loud gongs. Hummers made by stretching strings of silk tied to the ends of a bowed piece of bamboo on the back of a kite are used also but these can be found on kites in other Eastern Cultures.

After the Eastern section, we heade downstairs to learn of more recent uses for kites.

We are thinking about going to the Washington State International Kite Festival between August 17th and 23rd this year just for a chance to see a string of kites flown like this. There are also kites of amazing shapes that are flown during the Festival. We looked through racks of photos of past Festivals.

Yes some large ships have kites to help them travel cheaper!

The following license plates show the commitment of some of the kiters that attend the Kite Festival.

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