The Japan Foundation brings to you an exciting exhibition of Japanese Kites and Tops. This exhibition will introduce more than 80 kites and 50 tops of various kinds, from different regions of Japan.
Date : 4th – 29th Nov., 2013
(closed on Sundays and Holidays)
Time : 11:00 ~ 19:00
Venue : The Japan Foundation, New Delhi
About Japanese Kites
Kites were first invented about 2, 000 years ago, in China. They first appeared in Japan during the Heian period (794—1185), when they were known as “paper hawks,” the same name they were known by in China. Thus, many believe that the kite was imported into Japan directly from China.
In the Heian period, kites were often used for the communicating of messages. It is even said that they were used to carry secret messages across moats and into castle keeps. In their 1,000-year history in Japan, Idtes underwent a wonderful development. The main reasons for this were that Japan already had excellent paper, bamboo, and hemp thread for use in kite flying. Kite making became popular, and people invented different kinds of kites all over Japan. But kites really entered their golden age during the Edo period (1603—1868).
Until that time, the cost of paper was so high that only the nobility could afford to play with kites, but they gradually spread among the common people. With the development of the art of woodblock printmaking and the use of many colors in the art of ukiyo-e prints, those techniques began to be applied to kites, which resulted in the production of kites with beautifully colored pictures.
So popular did kites become that the common folk would often fly them over the estates of the samurai, so that they could if only vicariously look down upon their masters. In fact, so popular did this pastime become that the shogunal authorities once forbade it.
Today, there are probably more types of kites in Japan than in any other country in the world. They are flown at present mostly on festive occasions, since it is said to be an auspicious omen if one’s kite flies very high. One example of this custom takes place every year on May 5 (which used to be celebrated as the Boys’ Festival). When a newborn son was celebrating his first Boys’ Festival, the parents would write his name on a kite decorated with the picture of a legendary warrior or of a hero from a children’s tale, in the hope that the child would grow up to be healthy and strong. Also popular were depictions of tortoises and cranes, symbols of long life.
Kites were also flown in order to ward off evil. They were often decorated with demon’s faces in order to pray for the safety of the family, and to insure its protection from sickness and disaster. Some kites have faces with long tongues sticking out, since that gesture is thought to frighten away evil spirits. In another vein, there are also games in which one’s kite tries to win by cutting the strings of the other kites.
Now, because of urbanization, the number of places where one can indulge in kite flying is gradually growing smaller and smaller. There are very few places except in large parks or along the banks of large rivers. And today’s children are so absorbed in building plastic models and in playing computer games that they have no time left for kite making or kite flying, and they seem to have forgotten this traditional pastime.
But recently, some grade schools have started teaching their students handicrafts during periods set aside for free actìvities, and one of the arts they are teaching is kite making.
In addition, hobbyists all over the country are taking an interest in the making and flying of the traditional kites of their hometown areas. Thus, the art of kite making is far from dying out; in fact, it is enjoying a small renaissance, and many new and original kite designs, based on those of long ago, are being created each year.
About Japanese Tops
Tops were introduced into Japan from China and Korea about 1,200 years ago. Like many other imports, they were enjoyed first by aristocrats, spreading to the common people later. Around the turn of the eighteenth century, clever performing tops manipulated by entertainers were very popular. So-called “quarrelling tops” were also popular, and they were used in gambling, with some people betting their entire houses and fortunes on their favorite top.
At present there are about 1, 000 kinds of tops in Japan. They range in form from simple spinning tops to elaboíate performing ones used by entertainers and in size from a minute O. 5 mm for the smallest to about 90 cm for the largest. Depending on how they are spun, tops can be basically divided into these four categories: twisted tops, rubbed tops, string tops, and thrown tops. There are many interesting tops such as humming tops which hum when they are spun and mischievous tops which look like they could not be spun at all.
A good top should both spin well and be beautiful to look at. To create a top that spins well, the most important point’ is the placement of the center of gravity. Tops are made from woods such as maple and dogwood, but even when well dried, wood from the north side of the tree can have a different weight than that from the south side, which make it difficult to place the center of gravity in exactly the right spot.
It is extremely difficult to understand the physical laws concerning spinning tops, but we can think of the planet Earth itself as a kind of top, spinning endlessly around its axis. And it seems very interesting that the people who live on the Earth spin smaller tops. It is regrettable that the number of master craftsmen who fashion traditional tops in Japan is decreasing yearly. We should try to encourage this ancient, traditional art.