The sky above the Berkeley Marina was awash with modern marvels of kite-making this weekend during the 27th annual Berkeley Kite Festival.
Easily lost in the fray was an unassuming rectangular kite that took teams of four or five people to keep from getting away, despite the fact that it appeared to just float in the air.
The kite, a five foot by seven foot combination of rice paper and bamboo, is a tradition of Hamamatsu, Japan, and kites just like it have been fixtures at the festival for the past seven years.
Hamamatsu kites go back much further than seven years — the kite festival in the city has taken place annually for more than 400 years — and Berkeley Kite Festival Event Chair Tom McAlister said he had always wanted to bring their tradition to Berkeley.
“(The Japanese) have a rich history of kite flying dating back 2,000 years, and we’ve only been flying kites here for a few hundred years,” McAlister said.
McAlister said it would have cost too much to fly natives of Hamamatsu in for the festival because it is a non-profit event, but the interest he expressed sparked a group of Hamamatsu natives living in the Bay Area to bring the traditional kites from their hometown to the United States.
Their group, the International Association of Tako Age, found corporate sponsors like Japan Airlines, Toyota and Union Bank in order to bring kite making experts from Hamamatsu to the states to teach the association’s members how to make the kites.
Now, the tradition is being passed down to the children of the association’s members, with several of the children putting gloves on and taking hold of the ropes that tether the kites.
Fifteen-year-old San Francisco resident Waki Gojo said the kites have helped her bond with her father, Kazuya, who grew up in Hamamatsu, and the other members of the association.
“It’s a different feeling from flying other kites. I feel like I might fly away because it’s so strong,” she said. “You need a lot of people, and you need teamwork to fly them, so it’s a nice bonding experience.”
As part of the Hamamatsu tradition, the ceremonial kite made for the Berkeley festival was paraded through Cesar Chavez Park Saturday afternoon for festival-goers to see. San Jose State University student Gianina Canindin got caught up in the procession and followed along with the chanting, trumpeting and drumming at the park.
“One of the ladies said we should join them and have fun,” Canindin said. “Now that I see their kite and how excited they are, I really want to see it go up.”
And up it went, at least 60 feet away from the group of three people holding the line. The character painted on it, kizuna, means “bond.”
In addition to coming to the marina for the Berkeley Kite Festival, the association visits the marina on the third Wednesday of every month to practice flying their kites and to teach anyone interested about them how to fly the kites.
“They teach people about the joy and the craft and the art and the history of kiting, and it’s just magic, fun stuff,” McAlister said.
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