Photo by Connie Sceaphierde

A Visit to The Tokyo Kite Museum

The small loft housing more than 3,000 kites in central Tokyo

Tako no Hakubutsukan is a museum just east of Tokyo station dedicated to Kites. The museum is the world's oldest kite museum and revolves around an immense collection of kites, masks, and designs from all over the world.

A large variety of kites are housed at the museum, with 300 kites being displayed at any one time, from tiny postage stamp-sized kites to large overscale kites used for kiteboarding.

Modegi Shingo, a kite enthusiast from Tokyo founded the Japan Kite Association in 1969, and shortly afterward, he opened the Tako no Hakubutsukan in a small room above the restaurant he ran in central Tokyo.

Shingo, who was fond of kites and kite flying ever since his childhood, was sad to find out how local children were unaware of traditional Japanese Yakko-dako kites, and so to share his passion and to keep the traditions alive he opened the Tako no Hakubutsukan in 1977.

Shingo became a well-known figure in the kite world and is credited with always carrying a kite with him when he traveled both domestically and internationally. According to the museum, he once amazed a group of Parisians in 1965 by skilfully flying his kites in during a trip to Paris.

In addition to the collection of kites displayed, the museum also houses a number of kite flying trophies and medals in his name.

Throughout his lifetime, Shingo’s passion led him to collect over 3,000 kites from around the world, leading to the unique collection which is now housed at the Tako no Hakubutsukan.

Nowadays the Japan Kite Association, the kite museum, and the Taimeiken restaurant are all ran and headed by Shingo’s son, Masaaki, who has been keeping a tight grip on the strings passed onto him by his father many years ago.

Inside the museum, visitors will immediately be overwhelmed by the range of kites stacked from floor to ceiling. Glass units overflow with books, pin badges, and all sorts of displays dedicated to kite designs. In addition to the kites, there is also a corner reconstructed as the workshop of the last master Edo Kite maker, Teizo Hashimoto.

After enjoying the kite collection, visitors can check out the shop near the entrance where the museum sells pin badges, traditional Japanese kites, and DIY kite-making kits.

Stepping into the museum, visitors will be amazed at the kites that are stacked from floor to ceiling. | Photo by Connie Sceaphierde

A brief history of Kites

Kites are believed to have been first invented in China about 2000 years ago. Although nowadays we see kite flying as a leisure activity, kites were previously used in warfare and for scientific studies. The oldest written account of a kite is from the Han dynasty when a Chinese general successfully used a kite to measure how far his army would need to dig a tunnel under the opposition's defense lines.

Over time, Kite flying spread throughout Asia and eventually reached India via the trade routes. Each country that took on the new activity had its own style and reasons for flying them.

In Korea, Kites were used in warfare, with generals using kites to scare their enemies. One famous account states how a Korean general won a battle by using kites with writing on them to communicate commands to his large garrison.

In India, there is a famous love story written about how a common man skillfully used a kite to drop love letters to a princess who was hidden from him and the rest of the world.

Kites were introduced to Japan by monks from China. Originally they were used to keep evil spirits at bay, but by the Edo period (1603-1868) kite flying had become a common pastime for the general public of Edo.

Kites were brought to Europe by sailors in the 16th century, at first, they were seen as just an Asian curiosity, but eventually, they were used as a leisure pastime and also began to be used for scientific studies.

Benjamin Franklin famously proved that lightning was electricity through an experiment with a kite, and the Wright brothers used kites in their experiments that would eventually lead to the development of the airplane.

Glass cabinets overflow with kite designs, kite styled postage stamps, pin badges and other trinkets relating to Japanese kites. | Photo by Connie Sceaphierde

Kites in Japan

Japanese Kites, known as Hako in Japan are traditionally made of a bamboo frame and a washi paper body. The kites are well known for the intricate designs that are painted onto the paper body of the kites by skilled craftsmen, often depicting popular characters from Japanese legends and folktales.

Throughout the country, there are several kite festivals held each year, perhaps the most famous of which is the Sagami Giant Kite Festival held in Sagamihara city, just west of Tokyo on the 5th of May. Some kites in the competition are over 10 meters in length and require a team of skilled people to get them airborne.

A total of 300 kites are displayed in the museum at any one time. | Photo by Connie Sceaphierde

How to get to Tako no Hakubutsukan

Getting to Tako no Hakubutsukan is a little bit tricky, but not impossible.

Take the Ginza subway to Nihombashi station and exit at C5. Coming out of the subway exit make an immediate left turn and the entrance to the Kite museum can be seen signposted on a metal sign next to the Taimeiken restaurant.

There is an elevator inside the same building as the Taimeiken Restaurant, take a ride to the 5th floor, and you will arrive at Tako no Hakubutsukan.

At the entrance, visitors will need to pay a small 220 yen entrance fee, which helps keep the museum and Kite Association running.

A traditional Yakko-dako kite made from bamboo and washi paper. | Photo by Connie Sceaphierde

By - Connie Sceaphierde.