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Joe’s Blog: Kite Flying Styles, The American Science and the Japanese Artistic

Insect Kite from Museum of New MexicoMost of us think of Benjamin Franklin when we think of the first kites. His famous experiment in 1752 “discovered” electricity by capturing negative charges from static electricity passing overhead while he flew a kite with a metal key attached. Mr. Franklin was one of our country’s greatest minds, creating everything from the first public library and volunteer fire department, to drafting the original constitution of the United States. But like many Western minds, his proficiency was foremost in the sciences, so when he thought kite, he thought scientific experiment.

The Japanese, however, thought art and beauty as well when they thought kites, and the current exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art Museum here in Santa Fe  traces the exquisite history of kite making in Japan. The Inn on the Alameda is delighted to offer a special 3-night package in partnership with the Museum in honor of this exhibit.

It is believed that the kite was originally introduced to Japan by Chinese Buddhist Monks in the 7th and 8th Century AD. These kites were used in celebrations of giving thanks and other spiritual expressions. One can imagine the excitement among the early Japanese who saw for the first time elaborately colored creations that soared seemingly effortlessly in the wind.

Tsugaru Style Kite from Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe 2In the 10th Century AD, the characters for “Kami Tobi” first appear in written Japanese history, and these translate into paper hawk – which leads us to speculate that either the first kites looked like or certainly sailed through the air like birds of prey.  While primarily a decorative and visual experience, kites soon were adapted in Japan as construction tools, used to raise loads of roof tiles high aloft to the workers at the many beautiful shrines and temples. It is recorded that one of the largest kites had a wingspan of 75 feet.

By the 12th century, reports emerge of kites carrying people, one such incident resulting in the violent death at the hands of the authorities of a thief who used a large kite to steal the golden scales of an ornamental dolphin high atop the Castle of Nagoya. Another story tells of an exiled Warrior named Minamotot-no-Tametomo  who constructed a large kite to use the winds to carry him and his son back to the mainland.

However, the greatest period of advancement in the design and decoration of Japanese kites occurred in the Edon period from 1603 until 1867, a time when Japan closed its doors to all outside influences. This isolation created an opportunity for Japan to perfect its own interpretation of the kite, when there were created over 130 different regional styles, representing various colorful folkloric, mythological and spiritual themes. The kites were made with light-weight bamboo or cypress woods and covered in hand made papers brightly colored with natural dies and figures defined by black ink.

Today, many festivals celebrate the kite in Japan. On the 5th day of the 5th month,  ( Boy’s Day ), kites are flown throughout the country , as well as for various festivals, the New Year and public holidays. Some kites have the face of the devil to ward off evil spirits. The kite festival known as Hamamatsu, where kite teams do battle in the skies, is viewed by as many as 2,000,000 spectators. Kites are also flown at times of birth, with various good luck symbols purporting good wishes and desired traits to the newborn in a family. These include the carp, the crane and the tortoise.

Tsugaru Style Kite from Museum of New Mexico in Santa FeTherefore, it would seem impossible to not sail over to Museum Hill here in Santa Fe to experience this unique and special exhibit of Japanese kites currently on display at the Museum of International Folk Art. This unique and stunning show lasts through July 2014 and is not to be missed. In addition to our special Tako Kichi package offering, the Inn on the Alameda provides a courtesy shuttle service to the Folk Art Museum for our guests.  We are the closest hotel to both Canyon Road and Museum Hill where the following incredible museums are to be found just up the road: Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian; Museum of Indian Arts and Culture; Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, Museum of International Folk Art. Also, if time allows, be sure and visit the new Santa Fe Botanical Garden, also located at Museum Hill.

In closing I wanted to share some of my own memories of kite flying as a kid on blustery spring days in North Texas, watching my simple store bought wood and paper kite ascending with roll after roll of twine into the warm and windy skies of Dallas.  I certainly never envisioned for a second the images of Chinese Buddhists or Japanese artisans raising high the kites of the Far East; however, I believe I shared that same mysterious magic moment when the tiny spec of my kite disappeared into the clouds following a break of the twine when I could imagine my kite ascending all the way to the heavens like a hawk set free.

From all of us at the Inn on the Alameda, “Go fly a kite!”

-Joe

Joe Schepps

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