Warrior paintings on kites captivate foreigners

Warrior paintings on kites captivate foreigners
Kites from all over the world cover the walls and ceiling of the museum.

Fifty years ago, Shingo Modegi surprised and delighted French people by flying a hexagonal kite in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

The founder of the Taimeiken restaurant in Tokyo's Nihonbashi area, Modegi was so obsessed with kites that he opened a museum dedicated to them on the restaurant's fifth floor in 1977.

Notes containing messages from Modegi are displayed at the museum's entrance. According to one, he "felt awfully sad" when children showed no interest in a yakko-dako - a traditional Japanese kite - that he was carrying around town.

"I want children to know how fun it is to play with kites," he said. Modegi died a year after the museum opened, but his passion for kites infuses the facility.

I felt overwhelmed by the many kites on display as I entered the museum. The walls and ceiling were covered with about 300 models that Modegi collected while traveling throughout Japan and abroad. It was exhilarating just to imagine these butterfly and dragon-shaped kites flying in the air.

Chinese-made kites were originally modeled after the shape of a swallow and are typically made of silk. According to 57-year-old museum guide Masami Fukuoka, silk kites were reportedly used in pre-Christian China to gauge the distance to an enemy's castle.

One of the kites on the ceiling was a bat-like model measuring 60 centimeters high and one meter wide. It is based on the designs of US flight pioneer Samuel Franklin Cody, who gained fame in Britain for engineering a kite that could transport people around 1900.

Cody's invention was dozens of times larger than the miniature on display at the museum. Amazingly, the real one had a basket hanging from the body to carry passengers.

Foreigners account for about 60 to 70 per cent of the museum's visitors. One of the most popular attractions is a section exhibiting more than 10 Edo-dako kites by Teizo Hashimoto, who made superlative kites from the Taisho era (1912-1926) to the Showa era (1926-1989). He died in 1991.

"There's something very Japanese in the patterns of his paintings," said a 20-year-old Chinese student living in Komae, Tokyo. The powerful warrior painted on the kites is a reminder of the golden era of kite culture in the Edo period (1603-1867).

When I was a child, I wish I could know that there were so many different kinds of kites - I was tempted to run along a nearby riverbed with a kite fluttering in the wind.

Kite Museum

In addition to Modegi's collection, the Kite Museum displays models donated from abroad. There is also a re-creation of Teizo Hashimoto's studio, where visitors can experience the atmosphere of his heyday, and materials to make kites with are on sale. Masaaki Modegi, the 75-year-old eldest son of Shingo Modegi and chairman of the Japan Kite Association, is the current director of the Kite Museum.

Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on Sundays and national holidays.

Admission is ¥200 for people of high-school age and older, ¥100 for primary and middle school students, and free for children younger than primary schoolers.

For more information, call (03) 3275-2704.

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