Learning About Japan Through Its Kites: Teaching the Yoshimi Sode-Dako

Level: Primary (K-2)
Grade from: K
Grade to: 3
Length: 2-6 sessions, including student readings, kite making, and kite flying. Sessions can be taught in a different order, with some combined or omitted. The kite alone can be constructed in 30 minutes (minimal decoration and no flying time).
Cultural Studies Integration:


These activities introduce simple Japanese vocabulary and concepts about Japanese culture for very young students through a reading about one of the country’s signature kites and about its most popular holiday. They establish a cultural context for the easy-to-make, easy-to-fly sode kite, which is available in a kit. These readings can be supplemented with a general reading about flying a kite.

Curriculum Integration: 

Science: understands simple properties of common natural objects; understands how to ask a question about objects, organisms, and events in the environment.

Mathematics: understands meaning of addition and subtraction (cutting and taping tail pieces; more or fewer depending on wind conditions); understands attributes to describe and compare objects; understands concept of symmetry; estimates length using non-standard units.

Social Studies: uses maps and globes to locate places; identifies the ways cultural traditions are expressed through artistic creations and use of the environment.

Visual Arts: identifies line direction, geometric shapes, and textures; uses art tools and materials safely and appropriately; applies a creative process in the arts; identifies personal aesthetic choices.

Language Arts: uses context to predict and confirm meaning of unknown words; uses new vocabulary from informative/expository test; identifies important parts of informative / expository text; understands simple organizational structure of 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: Kites and Their Shapes (PDF file)


Student Reading: Japanese Kites at the New Year (PDF file)


Student Reading: Flying a Kite (PDF file)

Extension Activities: Flying a Kite: Writing & Discussing (PDF file)

Purchase Kite Kits: Yoshimi Sode Kite Kit (with paper pattern, spars, flying line & winder), per student

Materials You Supply: Scissors; Scotch tape; markers, pens, crayons, and/or watercolors, per student

Session One: Student Reading (30-45 minutes)

The reading Kites and Their Shapes provides the cultural context for an authentic Japanese kite design that is simple enough for very young students to make. Discuss with students that each region of Japan has its own special kite. Comparisons are also made with Japanese kites of a similar shape. Discuss with older students the concept that a culturally characteristic design can be adapted by artists from other cultures.

Optional Session Two: Student Reading (30-45 minutes)

Use the reading Japanese Kites at the New Year to introduce traditional holiday observances and the role that kites play. Discuss with older students how traditional gifts can maintain a sense of cultural cohesion and continuity.

Optional Session Three: Student Reading/Activities (30-45 minutes)

Use the reading Flying a Kite to introduce basic concerns and techniques in flying a kite, including being safe and partnering with the wind. Extension activities (wind vocabulary and experiences, kite-eating tree; proverb) provided.

Sessions Four - Six: Decorating, Constructing, and Flying the Yoshimi Sode (60-90 minutes)

These activities could be grouped into one or two longer sessions: cutting out and decorating the sail; constructing the kite; flying the kite.

Follow assembly instructions from the kite kit.

Cutting and taping the tails will take the most time for young students. Teachers/ adult helpers can speed this process with a paper cutter. Tails can also be decorated.

Decorating the kite sail can be integrated with more sustained visual arts instruction in: geometric shape; primary and secondary colors; symmetry in design.

Take extra tails and spars, plus tape, to the flying field for repairs or additions in heavy winds.

Additional Resources: 

Allen Say’s Tree of Cranes (1991), with beautiful illustrations, is a good read-aloud for primary-level students. A young boy (“not yet old enough to wear long pants”) first thinks his mother is preparing for a traditional Japanese New Year. But instead she is preparing for their first Christmas: she explains to her son the traditions with which he grew up in California. For a present he receives the samurai kite he requests, and runs out into the snow. The book can reinforce discussion of traditional gifts (among which are kites) given to Japanese children on New Year and Children’s Day. (Thanks to Mary Hammond Bernson of East Asia Resource Center, University of Washington, for this suggestion.)

For samples of Japanese mon with which to decorate the sode kite sail, consult Traditional Japanese Crest Designs by Clarence Hornung (500 designs; 48 pp., from Dover Publications). Dover also publishes more extensive resources on the subject: Japanese Emblems & Designs by Walter Amstutz (800 crests; 160 pp.) and Japanese Design Motifs by Matsuya Company (4260 heraldic crests; 213 pp.).

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 regional styles and shapes. For more examples of Japanese prints that feature kites, 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.