It is believed that Chinese Buddhist monks took the first kites to Japan, but it was in the Edo period that the tako (kite in Japanese language) became popular among the Japanese, remaining so to present day.
In Japan, the art of building and flying kites is an ancient tradition and contains a variety of meanings for their culture. In religion, kites represent a bond between the Earth and heaven, and helps in keeping away the bad spirits.
There’s an old story of a woman who asked a famous artist to paint on a kite the figure of a Kintaro, hero of Japanse folklore, so she could take her prayers directly to the gods for her son to grow up strong and healthy. It was so good that the painter got hundreds of similar requests, with which the tradition of nambu kites started. Likewise, other traditions appeared, with kites painted with images invoking long life, strength, prosperity and good luck, among others.
It was in painting, however, that the Japanese kites stood out, representing an important component of arts and culture in Japan. One of the factors that most contributed for that to happen, was the existence of suitable material, such as washi (Japanese paper), bambu and hemp string. All that, on top of the artistic ability of the Japanese people, resulted in a vast repertoire of images and forms of traditional tako.