Taco'pe | Hadano city, Kanagawa


Taco'pe is one of a few traditional kite makers that still produce traditional kites designed with ancient qi principals to bring good luck to their owners.

History

 

Flying high in skies around the world, kites have connected humans with the celestial dome since ancient times. Throughout history, they’ve served many purposes: as military tools, as instruments that revealed the electrical property of lightning, and as prototypes for the very first aircraft. Today, they’re still flown in many corners of the world as a past time.

 

Sacred Tool for Rituals - From ancient times to the early 1600s -

 

Like Confucianism and Buddhism, kites – both in design and usage in rituals – are believed be brought to Japan from its supposed origin, China. As their usage spread across the country, they were adapted to the local culture of each region, and were used to pray for prosperity or to celebrate a great harvest of the year. Over the centuries, the shapes and designs of kites diverged to fit their purpose and region: for example, cocoon-shaped kites were used in areas with a strong sericulture, and amounted to over 4,000 designs to date (although most of these unique designs are now lost).

 

Regardless of the region, however, kites were regarded as highly sacred tools, connecting humans and the gods in the sky. In some villages, only chief priests were allowed to touch the kites; in others, only highly-regarded adult men were.

 

As the kites were sacred, so were the people who made them. Each kite was designed with colors and angles precisely selected for the purpose – whether to pray for more rain or less of it – based on the classic principles of “qi”, the study of energy flow that is prevalent in traditional Chinese culture. In order to design a proper kite according to its usage, the kite maker required a deep and wide knowledge of the principles of qi, limiting the position to only the highly educated and experienced; a respectable figure in the community.

 

Household Protection - Late 1500s to early 1900s -

 

As the country experienced turmoil in the late 1500s when powerful warlords unsettled the country with endless wars to unify Japan, the general population could do nothing but to hope for peace. Desperate for security, the people turned to kites – a handy ornament with versatile blessings – and hung them inside their houses for protection. The practice became so popular that in barely a century, almost every household had a protective kite. At the same time, they remained sacred in highly religious rituals around the country.

 

Children’s Toy – Early 1900s to present –

 

By the 20thcentury when the country was quickly heading towards the world wars, kites were used as propaganda to encourage youths to fight for their country. Kites designed with military motifs were showcased at kite competitions around Japan, shifting the market from ritualistic use to children’s recreation. Today, while a few festivals where kites are flown ritualistically are still held and some households still use them for protection, kites are regarded as children’s toys for a majority of the population. Taco’pe is one of a few traditional kite makers that still produce traditional kites designed with ancient qi principals to bring good luck to their owners.  

 

Kite Making

 

“It’s an intense process that takes over a week in total,” says Takara Asami, kite maker at Taco’pe, “from the preparation of the materials to the finished product.” However, the process itself may sound simple – cut out thin bamboo sticks and tie them together to make a frame, glue on the paper, draw the design and color it, then tie on a string – the whole process is done by Mr. Asami alone. As many of his kites are custom-made to each customer’s wish, coming up with the proper design alone takes a few days; each angle, color and delicate details are adjusted to maximize the luck brought to the customer. As with any handmade work, each process requires extensive care as well; one small mistake ruins the whole piece altogether. At the same time, Mr. Asami also puts a tremendous amount of his energy, or qi, into each process, from shaving off bamboo splinters to coloring the kite with each brush stroke. “It’s excruciatingly exhausting,” he admits, “but when my customers tell me that my kites brought them good luck, I feel relieved and it was all worth it.”

 

Materials

Bamboo

 

Mr. Asami grows his own bamboos in a patch of land near his workshop. The preparation of bamboo sticks is technically the most time-consuming process of kite-making, as the bamboo – cut down by Mr. Asami himself – needs to be dried for 3 years to prevent the kite from warping, thus selecting good bamboo that could survive the 3-year drying is essential (weak bamboos tend to split open or bend after 3 years).

 

A small, sharp knife is then used for carving out long and thin bamboo sticks that are extremely flexible yet sturdy. Imagining which section of the kite the stick is going to be used for, Mr. Asami manually adjusts the thickness of its different sections – a process that makes the product better than others, and achievable only by experienced craftsmen who care for their craft, like Mr. Asami.

 

Paper

 

Mr. Asami stocks over 50 different types of paper made by traditional methods. After testing hundreds of papers from around the world, he is now working with a washi (traditional Japanese paper) maker in Mino city in central Japan. “There are many great papers out there in terms of the quality required for kites – light and durable,” says Mr. Asami, “but Mino’s paper makers were the only ones who could work out my particular requests. They are truly exceptional.”

 

Paint

 

Mr. Asami uses dye ink made from the ones used for kimono, which are especially adjusted for his kites. Although it is much easier to use pigment ink which does not smudge as easily as dye ink, traditional kites are designed to look beautiful when they are up in the sky, and pigment ink blocks the light too much for the people on the ground to enjoy the art. Painting the colors without smudging it requires lots of experience to reveal the beautiful transparent nature of dye ink. The colors of the design are chosen according to the traditional qi principle, with some parts also painted with melted wax to make it look transparent and glowing in the sun.

 

Kite Maker

 

Mr. Takara Asami, a humble man in his mid-30s with a lean physique, is a 2ndgeneration kite maker in Hatano, a small town surrounded by mountains just outside Tokyo, and south of the famous hot spring resort of Hakone. Kite-making in the family began when his father, an ordinary businessman, decided to make a kite for his first-born son – an activity that turned into a small obsession before becoming a full-blown profession after he discovered the expansive world of traditional kites.

 

Since he was a child, Mr. Takara has been helping his father work around the house, and at department stores selling the kites until by teenage years, though it never really occurred to him that he would take over the business one day. His father never forced him into it either. “When I look back, the only time my father every mentioned about my career was when he told me to go to a university if I ever wanted to take over the family business, so that I could understand how the society worked and thus learn the needs of the customers better.”

 

With his father retired at the age of 60 (and dedicated his time studying the principles of qi), Mr. Asami is busier than ever, making kites for half of the year and selling them at department stores (which often turns into counseling sessions for the customers) for the other half. Once every so often, he needs to stop making kites when he is not feeling well, either physically or mentally, because “it always shows on the kites.” Kite-making is not just a technical process. There is a reason for his customers to come back to him year after year for his kites.

 
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