Learning About Japan Through Its Kites: Teaching the Toki Kaku Dako

Level: Intermediate (3-5/6) Middle (6-8)
Grade from: 5
Grade to: 8
Length: 1-6 sessions, including student readings (20-40 minutes each) and decorating, constructing, and flying the kite (can be combined into one or more longer sessions). The kite alone can be constructed in 45 minutes (no decoration or flying time).
Cultural Studies Integration:


These readings and activities introduce Japan and a traditional Edo kite, associated with the Tokyo area. Students will learn about the historical influences on the shape and decorative motifs of this kite. Students will also learn about the skills and role of the traditional kite maker in Japanese society. Students can make Mikio Toki’s version of this kite (requires purchase of a kite kit).

This kite is recommended for older students than those who might make the Yoshizumi Fish Kite because its construction requires a bow line and a two-point bridle.

Curriculum Integration: 

Science: analyzes how the parts of a system go together and how these parts depend on each other; analyzes how well a design or a product solves a problem.

Mathematics: understands the concept of area; understands and applies strategies to obtain reasonable estimates of length and area.

Social Studies: describes how differing environments both provide varying opportunities and set limits for human activity; analyzes the impact of technology and tools on the production of goods and services; identifies the ways cultural traditions are expressed through artistic creations and use of the environment; explains how some forms of cultural communication contribute to societal cohesion and/or division.

Visual Arts: understands and demonstrates the use of line through direction, type, and quality; identifies and uses color and form in a 3D artwork; combines art elements for expressive purposes; uses proportion to analyze size relationships in an artwork; balances forms and uses emphasis in an artwork; develops work using a creative process with instructor assistance; identifies techniques from various artists, cultures, and/or times; describes how aesthetic choices are influenced by historical context; identifies job specific skills for arts careers.

Language Arts: applies vocabulary strategies in grade-level text; understands and applies content vocabulary critical to the meaning of the text; summarizes the information in an expository text; reads to learn new information; reads to perform a task; writes for different purposes; writes in a variety of forms/genres (answers to questions).

Cultural Integration: Asia


Student Reading: What Characterizes Japanese Kites? (PDF file)


Student Reading: Japanese Kite Paintings and Kite Prints (PDF file)


Student Reading: Meet the Kite Maker: Mikio Toki (PDF file)

Purchase Kite Kits: Toki Kaku Dako Kit, per student, at DF Online Store

Materials You Supply: Scissors; markers, pens, crayons, watercolors, stamps and/or dyes for decorating the sail; white glue and glue cup; cotton swabs; large plastic carrier bag (optional, for carrying kite home)—per student

Optional Sessions One - Three: Introducing Japanese Kites (20-40 minutes each)

These optional readings are designed to establish a cultural context for the kite students will make and/or to complement an existing unit of study about Japan or Asia. From these readings students should learn the following information about Japan:

Kites have been part of Japanese seasonal and ceremonial observances for centuries. They are characterized by uniform materials, regional variety in shapes and sizes, and attention to decoration of the sail.

Many of the subjects that appear on Japanese kite sails were standardized two to four hundred years ago, and still appear on kites today. They were influenced by popular woodblock prints, popular during the same time that a kite mania swept the capital of Edo.

Kite maker Mikio Toki, known for his spectacular painted kite sails, continues traditional kite making practices, although he was not born into a kite making family.

Students will also pick up incidental cultural and historical information to integrate with any ongoing study of Japan or Asia.

Sessions Four - Six: Decorating, Constructing, and Flying the Toki Kaku Dako (45-60 minutes each; can be combined)

It is recommended that students spend the first session decorating the kite sail. Decorate the UNPRINTED side of the paper. Japanese language students at Hamilton International Middle School especially enjoyed making ji-dako (letter kites, with samples of their kanji) or tracing a design with pencil on to the translucent paper, then outlining with sumi ink.

FAS water soluble dyes (a product from New Zealand , available in the US from Literacy Learning, at http://www.literacy.co.nz/art.shtml) will create the intense colors characteristic of traditional Japanese kites.

To construct the kite, follow instructions in the kite kit or in these videos: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Additional Resources: 

Kites: Paper Wings Over Japan by Scott Skinner et.al. (1997), available at the Drachen Online Store is a short, lavishly illustrated consideration of the subject, a good source for additional images with which to decorate kite sails and fuller discussion of the Japanese kite “scene.” To learn more about the relationship between Japanese kite sails and kite prints, see Japanese Kite Prints by John Stevenson (2004), also available at the Drachen Online Store, discussion and analysis of ninety-six prints from the Scott Skinner collection. The Art of the Japanese Kite by Tal Streeter (1974; out of print but readily available through online used book sites) features several visits with traditional kite makers; it is considered the “bible” on its subject.

Issue 22 of the Drachen Foundation Kite Journal showcases an article by writer-editor Ben Ruhe about the Japanese kite collection of David Kahn. It includes several color images of kites, and concludes with a very useful section, “Understanding Japanese Kite Symbolism.” Kahn likens “reading” the visual imagery of Japanese kites to understanding the attributes of European saints from the medieval and Renaissance periods.

Teachers working with older students can find much helpful information in the SPICE unit, Japanese Art in the Edo Period by Karen Tiegel (2005, with CD of images), recommended for middle school and secondary. Particularly useful are lessons one and two, an introduction to the Edo period and a discussion of how travel during the Edo period contributed to the spread of art and artistic techniques.

For teacher background about Japan, still very useful is “Top Ten Things to Know About Japan in the Late 1990s” by Carol Gluck, published in Education About Asia, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Fall 1998), available online as a sample article.