Hata making- with Mr. Kuwata

After our initial amazement at all his kites and the work he has done in such a short time, we began with our lesson. Mr. Kuwata carefully went through the steps in making a hata kite, which we video taped. Hatas are made in set sizes based on an old Chinese coin. We began by making a size 16 hata.

Mr. Kuwata carefully selected three pieces of paper that had been cut to make a tricolor skin for the hata, in one of the traditional designs. He started by gluing the three pieces together using a glue that is 10% wood glue and 90% shoji paper paste. This formula he learned from Mr. Ogawa and is used as it doesn’t cause the colored paper to discolor. Once the skin was made, we moved to the frame. He pre-made the spine and the cross spar. One thing we noted was that hata makers do not draw the bamboo along the knife the way other kite makers do. They push the knife along the bamboo on a wood bench type block. The bamboo node is usually at the center of the cross spar and they cut toward the node. The spine has a special notch made to hold the cross spar, and there is a kerf at the bottom for the string that surrounds the kite.

You start by tying the cross spar to the spine so it is tight and won’t move. The cross spar is mounted so the skin side of the bamboo faces the tail of the kite. This is most unusual. Then using a special board that has pegs for the different size hatas, you tie hemp line on one end of the cross spar. Holding the spine along the pegboard, you then set the length of the line that pulls the cross spar to the correct tension. The line is tied to the spine by locking it into the tiny kerf and then looped around to go up to the second end of the cross spar.
Mr. Ogawa testing a kite spar.
Again the frame is set on the pegboard and lined up so the tension is set on the cross spar to a set amount, and the line tied off, but the end left on the line. It is then wrapped 3 times around the cross spar and set in about an inch and a half, where it continues to the top of the spine. It is wrapped around and then the line continues to the initial side of the spine. Here it is wrapped 5 times and tied so it is again about 1.5 inches in from the tip of the cross spar.
Mr. Kuwata checked to make sure the frame had equal tension. The top was made equal by simply centering the spine between the two lines. The bottom was off by a bit as measured with a set measuring stick for the #16 kite. He adjusted it by tying another loop on the spine to shorten the long side. Once it was OK, the frame is completed and the skin can be attached.
The frame is laid on the paper by first smearing the glue/paste mix onto the skin surface of the spine. The spine is pressed carefully onto the paper. Lines are made with a bamboo tool about 1.5 cm from the outside of the hemp line surrounding the frame.
The paper is then cut to this outline. Notches are made at the top and bottom of the spine and at the two sides of the cross spar so the paper fits perfectly once glued around the string. Next a crease is made with the bamboo edging tool for folding the paper after the glue is applied. The top cut out is folded back at the tip of the spine so no glue gets on it. Glue is applied to the first edge from the tip of the spine to the first cross spar end. The paper is carefully wrapped around the spar where it joins the line and is tucked around. The glue is applied to the line and cross spar where the paper overlaps it.

The paper is pressed firmly along the line with the same bamboo tool that was used to make the creases. The cutout on the bottom of the spine is folded back same as for the top of the spine. Next glue is applied along the edge from the cross spar to the bottom of the spine, and again making sure it covers the line. The paper is folded over the line and pressed down as before. The paper is firmly pressed again using the bamboo tool to make sure the paper is tight against the line.
The process is repeated for the other two sides.
Jennifer made a Frog Paw Hata, our first Dancing Frog hata kite
The kite is set aside to dry before bridling and flying.
We inquired about the length of the bridles; for a number 20 kite, the length of the bridle was about 8-8.5 times the length of the spine. It is a very long bridle. Hemp line is used. The adjustment for the tow point on such a long bridle is set in an interesting way. The bridles are attached at the cross spar and the bottom of the kite. A point is marked on the bridle line from the top point at the cross spars to the bottom of the kite on the upper part of the bridle. On the other end of the bridle a point is measured from the bottom attachment at the bottom of the kite to a point that is above the cross spars, 1/3 of the distance between the cross spar and the top of the kite. Holding the two marks together, the lines are held together to the end. The tow point is tied here by a loop.
For flying the kites, hemp line is used that is heavier than the manjha used with Indian fighting kites. The hemp line is treated with persimmon juice which stiffens it and colors it dark purple. The line is waxed for smoothness. Fighting line is simply gathered into a basked. Wicker baskets lined with molded paper is the traditional way to hold the line. Plastic baskets with or without paper are often used. Two strings on the basked are used to tie it around the waist, so the basket hangs out in front of the kite flyer. This is the same line and basket arrangement used in the tehara fighting kites. The persimmon juice used on the lines, is the same idea as Mikio Toki indicated for the bridle lines of Edo kites. Since Toki now uses a combination of 70% water and 30% wood glue, I imagine this too can be used on the fighting line.
In true hata fighting glass line is used for the cutting line. Unlike the glass manjha of India, the glass line in Japan is coarse and thick. You would not be able to use your hands on this line at all, so the Japanese only have the glass line on part of the flying line, and handle the part that does not have glass on it.
A demonstration of hata flying skill was performed at the festival. In one event, pairs of helium balloons were released and the hata fighters had to catch them on their line. Special bamboo catches were tied into the line to catch the balloon pairs. Skill is based on the ability to catch the balloon pairs before they got away.

Hata Designs

Hata kites made by Mr. Kuwata to show the different designs