Do you remember the very first time you flew a kite?
When I was a child growing up in crowded Manila, I never had much success getting a kite up, no matter how hard and fast I ran. My kites would bump into neighboring walls, get tangled up with electric wires, or trees. And somehow, outside of typhoon season when the winds are too strong and wet, there didn’t seem to be enough wind to carry them up. It was a pretty frustrating experience.
Early this year, my children made kites at their playgroup. Since they’re just two and four years old, I essentially made it for them (but they had fun directing what colors they wanted them to be). We dipped the sturdy paper into paints and squeezed the water out. The result was pretty much like tie-dyed fabrics. We pasted the colorful sun-dried paper onto a bamboo frame and made tails out of newspaper. One bright blue-sky sort of day early this January, the winds felt perfect - not too strong but with enough oomph - and we decided to try flying our kites at the marvelously expansive field just a stone’s throw away from our house.
As I held up the kite to decide which way to face, the wind picked it up and tugged it higher and higher. We didn’t have to run. We watched the kite sail away, wide eyed and open mouthed. We laughed and squealed and I cried. What a gloriously exhilarating moment. I understood right there and then the timeless and universal appeal of kite flying. The kite embodied all the dreams I had of defying gravity. By holding on to the string, my connection to the kite, I vicariously enjoyed its flight. What could it see from way up there? How high can the kite go if I had enough string? Can it possibly touch the clouds? Or hitch a ride with an airplane? Questions that, I’m pretty sure, have cross many a kite-flyer’s mind.
Every year, Hidaka City celebrates the joy and excitement of kite flying with its annual kite festival. Already on its 28th year, the Hidaka City Handmade Kite Flying Meet (日高市手作り凧揚げ大会) is usually held on the first Saturday of February at the Kinchakuda (巾着田) grounds. Kite enthusiasts from Hidaka and neighboring cities gather to display their beautifully hand crafted kites.
Winter may not be the prettiest time of the year at Kinchakuda, when the fields and the trees are bare. But the annual kite meet brings much needed color and cheer to an otherwise dreary winter day. The Japanese character for the word kite (tako) is a made up of a radical (the outer frame) derived from kaze which means “wind” and a radical from fu which means “cloth”. At the kite meet, there were all manner of kites gracing the event, not necessarily made of cloth but all of them handmade, the one qualification to join.
There were over a hundred participant kite flyers, from toddlers to seniors. Some kites were more prominent than others in their striking creativity. A number of kites were clearly painstakingly hand painted, many of which had Japanese traditional themes like Japanese countryside scenes, samurai warriors, and daruma dolls (traditional Japanese wishing dolls also called “goal dolls”). Crowd favorites especially among the children include a Spiderman kite and an Olaf kite. My personal favorite though is a kite hand painted with a scene from the animation Totoro — this particular kite boasts of meticulous attention to detail. There were kites of all shapes — there were box-type kites (my first time to see them), double-box types, rockets, planes and bird shaped kites. It was truly a feast for the eyes.
The first event was for children up to middle school age to fly their kites. Judges looked out for the highest flying ones. The next event was for the adult kite flyers.
This was followed by the oodako or the big kites, so big I wondered if it was even possible to lift them off the ground. The biggest kites were held up by four people and the rope pulled by more than 20 people. While these big big kites didn’t stay long up in the sky, it was a spectacle just to see them take off. One of the big kites managed to fly for over ten minutes or so which was a feat in itself. Then again, there is an element of luck and a certain respect for nature when it comes to kite flying. Kite flyers have to depend on good winds to keep the kites up in the air. It is no surprise that historically, kite flying has been used for spiritual purposes such as ensuring a rich harvest or warding off evil spirits.
The last event is probably the most captivating. Called “sports kite show,” six professional kite flyers flew their kites in what looked like a synchronized dance in the air. Sometimes they look like gliding birds and at other times, they look like fighter jet planes. The crowd replied to the powerful whoosh of the kites with collective exclamations of awe. It is truly amazing how they demonstrated incredible control over and coordination with their kites and manage not get their strings tangled up.
There are many other kite festivals in Japan, a lot of them held around May 5, Children’s Day, when traditional carp-shaped koinobori “kites” (more like “wind socks”) are flown. Hidaka City’s kite festival though is one of the few festivals held in the winter, a time of the year when traditionally, kids make kites or receive gifts of kites. It is a great excuse to get the kids out of the house, enjoy the crisp air and the clear blue skies, and they can burn some energy and keep warm running with their kites.
Kite flying continues to capture our imagination and our inclination to dream skyward. Enjoy these wind dancers at the next kite festival.
Nearest train station is Koma Station on the Seibu Chichibu Line. Kinchakuda is about a 10 minute walk from the station.