Authors: David M. Kahn
Date Submitted: July 31, 2009
Article Type: Discourse

Long ago in 1962, David Kung published a charming, limited edition book, Japanese Kites: A Vanishing Art, which drew attention to the exquisite work of elderly Japanese kite makers, some of whom had embarked upon their kite-making careers at the turn of the 19th into the 20th centuries. Scott Skinner first introduced me to this book. Kung expressed concern that the traditional craft of the Japanese kite maker might eventually die out with its then-aging practitioners.

The Japanese market for hand-painted, traditional kites made by professional kite makers has unquestionably been shrinking over the years. Relatively few professionals seem to still be in business and the prices for their work has soared. The contrast between the huge number of hand-painted kites readily available in Japanese stores selling folk arts, or mingei, as recently as the 1980s versus today is striking. These days the stock of hand-painted kites looks distressingly thin even at once-reliable outlets such as the wonderful gift shop of the Japan Rural Toy Museum in Kurashiki near Okayama.

Against this background, I was thrilled when recently given the oppor tuni ty t o purchase about three dozen hand-painted Japanese kite paintings, or tako-e, which had been acquired in Japan during the 1960s by a dealer in Japanese folk art. The 1960s were perhaps the last golden age of the Japanese kite. It is conceivable that some of the tako-e date to before the 1960s; all that I could ascertain is that the tako-e were originally purchased during the 1960s.

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