Mikio Toki ✿ Edo kites keep hope afloat


22 August 2019

Mikio Toki

Our pursuit of beautiful and thoughtful objects takes us far beyond the gallery. From kite-maker Mikio Toki, we learn that art taken to the skies can be a powerful way of giving thanks.

Mikio Toki is one of Japan’s few professional kite makers. He is a regular guest at kite festivals around the world and has over 42 years of kite making experience. Inspired by ukiyo-e, Edo kites are rectangular bamboo kites with coverings made of washi paper, painted in bold, vibrant colours. Often depicting kabuki actors, legendary heroes and kanji characters, Edo kites have been popular since they were first created in the 1700s.

✿ How did you learn to make kites?

I made Edo kites myself when I was young and had the opportunity to meet master kite flyers. The Edo kites enchanted me, so I studied with a master.


✿ What is the greatest challenge in making a kite?

Making new styles while also upholding tradition.


✿ Can you describe an event where a kite is flown as an expression of thanks?

In Japan, we have a custom of flying kites for the Boy’s Day celebration on May 5th (Translator’s note: Boy’s Day is the traditional name of what is now called Children’s Day). Kites are made to give thanks for the birth of a couple’s eldest son and pray he grows up into a healthy and successful adult. [✿ We assume this is changing now to celebrate the birth of all children.]


✿ What is the Japanese name for kite-maker?

A kite-maker is called a takoshi. In Tokyo, a person who makes Edo kites is called an Edo takoshi.


✿ Do you sell your kites? Are some purchased as artworks to be hung on a wall rather than flown?

I do sell my kites. When I was young, there weren’t tall buildings even in a metropolis like Tokyo, so there were vacant land and fields where kites could be flown by both children and adults on holidays like New Year’s. But now, since there are so many skyscrapers, there is little open space, and the numbers of takoshi in Tokyo are dwindling. A generation of children who did not grow up flying kites have now become adults, so, unfortunately, the number of people who use them as decoration is greater than those who fly them. But the kites I make can certainly be used for flying. For clients who wish to fly their kites, I test fly the completed kite and give them a fine thread that anyone can use for flying. I want people to enjoy flying their kites as much as possible.


✿ What do you think is the value of a kite?

Since kites became popular in Japan during the Edo period after passing through China and the Korean Peninsula, they have been flown throughout Japan at New Year’s and events such as Boy’s Day on May 5th. Kites are an important item in Japanese culture. I continue my work making kites with the goal of passing on this culture on to the next generation.


Mikio Toki

The exhibition, Edo in the Sky: Traditional Kites of Japan, features over 30 handmade kites by master craftsman. The exhibition will run at The Japan Foundation, Sydney from July 10 to October 12 2019.

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  • Lokesh Ghai says:

    Beautiful interview, brought back memories of childhood and looking forward to see these hopeful kites someday 🙂