Master Japanese Kitemaker Remembered

Masaaki Modegi
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Hashimoto was born in Hikifune, Mukojima, Tokyo, in l904. When he was four years old, his family moved to an area behind the Shimotani Shrine in Ueno. Having been born into a family of kitemakers, Teizo began to help with the family business while still in elementary school. While he learned the tricks of the trade from his father Tomekichi and his stepgrandfather Fusakichi as he grew older, it was through his own concerted efforts that he secured his place as the third generation of this traditional Edo kitemaking family. Though Edo became Tokyo, there was no change in the status of kiteflying: kites were flown in the older downtown district as well as in the newer, highbrow uptown Yamanote area. At this time, many kitemakers were still left.

When he was younger, Hashimoto’s father worked for Hasegawa Shoten, a maker of seasonal goods whose business was located on the banks of Yanagihara in the Kanda district. There he made carp banners for Boys’ Day on May 5, fans for the hot summer months leading up the Festival of the Dead, and kites. The resident artist was Yoshitoyo Utagawa, whose son Umemitsu was exercising his expertise on kites. He also had a friend, Sakamoto Fusakichi, a dyer by trade, who applied to paper the stenciling techniques originally used on cloth. Whereas India ink prints had heretofore been colored by hand, this innovation allowed for the efficient mass production of multicolored kites.

Soon after the war, in l956, Teizo Hashimoto married Kiyo, two years his senior. She worked so hard alongside her husband that she soon developed calluses on her left hand, and yet all the while she managed to handle both the business and household affairs for this consummate craftsman. The entire first floor of their home, a two-story wooden structure build in the old-fashioned syle, was a dedicated workshop, complete with a gap in the wall through which to sweep out the dirt. Not only was this convenient for cleaning, it also improved the ventilation in the summer and could be closed with a small door during the cold winters. This gap was also used as an entrance by the cats, which the Hashimotos, who had no children, treated lovingly as members of the family. I witnessed numerous occasions when the cats would paw at a ball of kite string or walk over the kites—all without a word of rebuke. On the workshop floor were scattered old paintbrushes, cans full of painting equipment, cutting boards, and Japanese paper, and overhead, above the bamboo, completed kites were visible. Realizing that among these items were some that had been used by all three generations of this family of kitemakers, one could not help but feel the weight of history.

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