Learning About Japan Through Its Kites: Teaching the Yoshizumi Fish Kite

Level: Intermediate (3-5/6)
Grade from: 3
Grade to: 5
Length: 2-5 sessions, including one to three optional student readings (20-40 minutes each) and two kite making sessions (45-60 minutes each; can be combined).
Cultural Studies Integration:


These readings and activities introduce Japan (related cultural traditions, festivals, folklore, history, environment, craft materials) through readings for students about the country’s kites and about a noted kite maker, Nobuhiko Yoshizumi, designer of the Yoshizumi Fish Kite. This easy-to-make, easy-to-fly kite is available in a kit, which includes traditional Japanese craft materials, bamboo (spars) and washi (paper).

Curriculum Integration: 

Social Studies: locating places and human spatial patterns using a map; analyzing how the environment affects people; locating particular facts in social studies documents and identifying the main idea; identifying the ways cultural traditions are expressed through artistic creations and use of the environment; identifying and analyzing relationships between historical events

Visual arts: designing in two dimensions; using line to create details; recognizing that art works reflect culture; knowing about arts careers and the role arts skills play in the world of work

Language arts: reading to learn new information; analyzing, interpreting and synthesizing information and ideas in informational text; reading to perform a task

Cultural Integration: Asia


Student reading: Why are kites important in Japan? (PDF file)


Student reading: Why are there so many different kinds of kites in Japan? (PDF file)


Student reading: Meet the Kite Maker: Nobuhiko Yoshizumi (PDF file)

Purchase Kite Kits: Yoshizumi Fish Kite Kit (with washi pattern, spars, flying line & winder, per student)

Materials You Supply: Scissors; markers, pens, crayons, watercolors, and/or dyes; white glue; glue cup; 2 cotton swabs; large plastic carrier bag (optional, for carrying kite home)—per student

Optional Sessions One-Three: Kites and the Kite Maker (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. From these readings students should learn the following information about Japan:

Why are kites important in Japan?
- Kites have been part of cultural traditions for centuries.
- Kites still play a part in ongoing traditions.
- During periods in history (Edo; post-World War II), specific factors or situations reinforced the importance of kites as cultural artifacts in Japan.

Why are there so many different kinds of kites in Japan?
- Japan is a large country with different regions and microclimates, each requiring a different type of kite.
- Even kites of the same shape can come in different sizes.
- Although there are many different kinds of kites in Japan, most are made of the same materials, bamboo and washi.
- The Feudal history of Japan encouraged an exchange of ideas by craftsmen, artists, and merchants who, with their local governors, made annual pilgrimages to Tokyo to pay taxes and homage to the central government.

Meet the Kite Maker: Nobuhiko Yoshizumi
- A Japanese kite maker can make kites of different sizes, decorated with different images, and can adapt traditional designs to contemporary settings.
- Kite making is a skill that can transcend language barriers.
- Kite making can be a vocation as well as an avocation.

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

Sessions Four & Five: Making the Yoshizumi Fish Kite (45-60 minutes each; can be combined)

It is recommended that students spend the first session decorating the Yoshizumi Fish Kite sail. Decorate on the UNPRINTED side of the washi, THEN cut out the fins and reinforcement squares, to reduce loss of these smaller pieces.

Print out this image (PDF file) of the finished kite and preview the parts of the kite (body or sail; fins; tail). Encourage each student to think about what kind of creature s/he wants to make and what style of illustration s/he wants to use.

To use traditional images, consult: picture books of Japanese tales; Traditional Japanese Crest Designs in the Dover Design Library; Japanese Designs CD-Rom & Book from Dover. This image was printed with a traditional Japanese woodblock:

Some students may be inspired by Japanese anime or manga, as was kite maker Greg Kono, who created this fish kite:

To find images from anime or manga for intermediate-level students, the National Clearinghouse for U.S.-Japan Studies at Indiana University publishes “Manga & Anime: Focus on Youth Audiences” by Stephen Merkel-Hess (August 2005; online at http://www.indiana.edu/~japan/biblio/manga-anime.htm - thanks to Kristin Chaney of East Asia Resource Center, University of Washington, for this suggestion). Gilles Poitras, author of The Anime Companion and The Anime Companion 2, also maintains a comprehensive website, www.koyagi.com. It includes both a Librarian’s Guide to Anime and Manga and a Teachers Companion.

Third- and fourth-grade students who piloted this project used the following methods for decorating sails (see below):
- drawing directly on the sail with markers (gold markers the favorites of Nancy Weeks’ students at Valley View Elementary, SeaTac, WA)
- drawing a design with pencil, then outlining the design with fine-tip permanent marker, and filling in with watercolor (Donna Ryan’s students at Lockwood Elementary, Bothell, WA)
- gluing designs traced on tissue to the sail (Lisa Veinpel’s students at Lockwood Elementary, Bothell, WA)
- using a crayon resist and sponge printing for a seasonal theme of cherry blossoms, with a background wash (Judy Chambers’ students at Lockwood Elementary, Bothell, WA)
- using FAS water soluble dyes (a product from New Zealand, available in the US from Literacy Learning, at http://www.literacy.co.nz/art.shtml), to create a design, then outlining with black marker (recommended by teacher Lisa Veinpel)

To construct the kite, follow directions included with the Yoshizumi Fish Kite kit or in this video.

Additional Resources: 

Allen Say’s Tree of Cranes (1991) has beautiful illustrations and a story subtle enough for a shared class reading with intermediate-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 she 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.)