A Kite Junket Through Southeast Asia Begins in Japan, which is the featured Asian kite collection this year. A video of the Shironi Festival helps you realize the passion behind the Japanese kite culture.

Other countries on the kite tour include China, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Each country’s kites are made of different materials, have different decorations and are used and flown for different reasons.

Kites from Thailand: Dating from the 13th Century, kites were flown in this Buddhist country as a blessing by priests. Often they had reeds stretched across the back making a humming sound. Today kites are flown in tournaments at the beginning of the monsoon. It is a match between a large kite called a chula and several smaller kites named pakapaos. The two different kites try to pull the other to his side of the field. The game makes exciting sport for fliers and spectators.

Many Malaysian kites have upper wings like the chula of Thailand. Their kites differ however, because of the intricate jewel like decorations on them and the elaborate trailing tails. Many tales and legends about kite escapades are passed orally through generations. A more prosaic kite of Malaysia, made by young and old, is the layang-layang. It doesn’t need directions to make. Any square piece of paper and some supple sticks can turn into a kite.

Japanese Kites: When kites came to Japan from China in the 7th century, they were flown as part of religious ceremonies to scare the devil or evil spirits or to call the gods down the flying line. They also became associated with celebrations and holidays such as invocations for a rich harvest, congratulations for a first-born son.

The kite culture of Japan is vast and varied.

Chinese Kites: The first written accounts of kite flying in China were stories about using them in battle to measure distances and to frighten the enemy at night with noisemakers from the sky. Because of the availability of bamboo, paper and silk, the Han Dynasty allowed kites to become a universal folk art and made it possible for all people to enjoy kite flying. Today China is famous for six main kite regions. Each region uses a unique kite style, with over three hundred types of kites.

Indonesian Kites: Indonesia is another place where kites began very early in time. Their first kites were made from leaves. Leaf kites were used to get their fishing line farther out to sea. Kites were also used to catch large fruit bats.

Because of the strong winds around the Indonesian islands, very large kites were created out of the indigenous bamboo, cotton fabric and later nylon taffeta. Indonesian kites are mostly shaped like birds and animals.

The Korean Kite Story Exhibit “The Korean Kite Story”, a new exhibit at the Museum, includes replicas of the unique signal kites used by Admiral Yi Sun-sin in the 1590s war with Japan. The kite decoration is a code to direct the Army and Navy. Visitors can decode messages and send messages in kite code.

Other kites in the exhibit are decorated with both the folk and fine arts of Korea. The popular game of kite fighting and its amazing use of a spinning line winder is a third Korean category. A short video of the flying technique plays regularly.