Sanjo 1 - 3 June
The Sanjo Rokkaku kite is probably the most common Japanes kite in Western
countries. There are several reasons for this: It flies very well and is
easy to roll up for transportation. "Rokkaku" means hexagon, but the Sanjo
Rokkaku is not an equilateral hexagon; the height is slighly extended. The
kite has a 4 point bridle and in Sanjo there is a fifth slack bridle string
attached to the middle of the kite. Some teams have a wooden hook attached
to the main line. I olden days there was also a knife in this hook, but it
has been considered too dangerous.
Sanjo is a small city in the Niigata prefecture in west Honshu. The city is famous for it's high quality hardware such as knives. The battle with Rokkaku kites is a 350 year old tradition. There are 24 teams (with any number of members), divided into two sides: red and white. The battle takes place on the brink of river Tajima. Along the river there is an open space, Tajimabashi, some 20 meters wide and a couple of hundred meters long. The area is divided into three parts: red side and white side and between them a neutral, judges zone. The battle is between teams on the red side versus teams on the white side. The battle goes on for two days, the second day the sides shift place. Whithin each side a winner is proclaimed depending on received number of points: 1 point for bringing another kite down, 3 points for cutting a line and 5 points for a clear cut, high in the sky.
A clear cut is very rare, normally several kites tangle up and there is a tug of war between the teams, where usually the bridle lines break first, then the bamboo frame of the kite.
The first day started hot and sunny. I visited one team who turned out to the reigning champions and they served me breakfast: 2 beers and a large saké.
When the battle started at 10.00 there was a good western wind along the field, so the two sides had to bridle the kites a bit different: the downwind side harder to make the kite fly higher and vice versa. For an outsider it was difficult to follow the different phases of the battles: For a long time nothing seemed to happen then suddenly 4 or 5 kites were in a tangle, teams running around with the line trying to untangle. One team member had the line in as basket around his waist. The kites in the tangle came down little by little as the teams pulled in the line, bridles snapped, bamboo broke, washi trashed and finally a line was cut.
After an hours lunch break the battle continued all afternoon. Just before the battle was to finish for the day the man who had explained the rules to me asked if I was interested in hardware. There is only one answer to such a question, so he, his wife an I set off in his four wheel driver. "By the way", he said,"I am the Mayor of the city. Before I run some hard ware factories". It turned out that there was a two day workshop at the factory where skilled blacksmiths teached how to make a knife. They explained that it is difficult and time consuming to sharpen a Japanese knife because the steel is so hard. (I was given a knife as a gift.) This factory makes own designed hairdressers scissors that are in high demand in Europe.
Leaving the factory the Mayor invited me to a dinner party later on, with other kite fliers. At this party, in a house on top of a mountain, the highlight was cut up of a day fresh tuna. And this was the second near orgiastic palate experience. I will never bother to eat tuna from a tin anymore!
Some old type opaque saké was also served.
The next day was also sunny and hot and the sides changed place. The teams were fighting hard, and along the river I smelled something like meadowsweet.
After lunch giant rokkakus were to fly, but the wind was to strong for most of them. I was quite dangerous as these suddenly crashed to the ground.
Now the voices started to become hoarse and the lines worn out, there were more and more cuts.
At 16.00 hrs the battle ended and within one hour all teams had disassembled their kites, disassembled their tents and cleaned the field. With great efficiency every one helped out, very impressive. The winners were declared, and the all girl team, led by two veterans, did not do bad at all.
Mitsuke 4 June
Mitsuke (pronounced "mitske") is only 10 minutes southwards train ride from Sanjo. Here
there was scheduled a three day giant kite festival, and I intended to see
the final day. I arrived there early in the morning and two nice ladies
showed me what bus to take to get to the kite field. This was along the
Kariyatagawa river bank, an area between two bridges which was specially
prepared for the kite battle festival. At each bridge abutment, on both
sides of the river, there was spectator stands and huge mosaics in shape of
The river banks were empty when I arrived. The wind was strong across the river and I flew my Uptions. At 9.00 school children started to arrive to fly their own made Rokkakus.
A member of the Mitsuke kite club told me that the battle of giant Rokkakus would start at 13.00, and he gave me a pin and a beer. A school boy later helped me to bring down the Uptions in the hard wind.
After a short siesta (instead of lunch) I went to the Nakanoshima side and was invited to the first team on the bank. They served me som seafood pipes and something called Kon Jak (which is not brandy but a paste made of potato flour) and of course saké. They also explained some differences:
In Mitsuke the battle is different from Sanjo: There are teams on both sides of the river, 6 on the Nakanoshima side and 5 on the Imamachi side. The Rokkaku kite is also somewhat different: slightly longer, and the fifth bridling point is in level with the top cross spar, and here the strong flying line is attached with a slack. The idea of the battle is to cross lines with a kite from the other side and then start a tug of war. Usually both kites end up in the river.
Now the wind had shifted and softened, so it was difficult to fly the huge Rokkakus, and also the teams seemd to be a bit worn out after 2 days of battling.
I continued along the bank and was invited to another team and before I sat down I had a can of beer in my hand. They served me a delicious baked salmon.
After a similar visit to a third team (now Imamachi side) my idea of what was going on seemed to fade out.
At the end of the day an Imamachi team member drove me to the railway station, giving me a highly appreciated bottle of lemon soda on the way.
To quickly change subject: Finding an Internet connection was sometimes a bit difficult in Japan. This was a bit surprising, since it had been quite easy in China. Maybe one would have thought the opposite. In Sanjo I could use the Internet connection at the city library for half an hour a day, but there I had problems with my e-mail account. During my stay in Yokaichi, when I could not reach the Internet for nearly a week, I lost one week's mail, and this now seemed to repeat itself. I asked my ISP, and they said they had changed server (hardware), which probably was the reason. What was worse was that several user files, such as guest books and data base files had become write protected. When I started getting mails that things not longer worked it caused me some puzzle before I could sort out the problem. It's good that all Windows machines have a Telnet client so you can reach any server you want, wherever you are!
Before leaving Qingdao in April I had asked the interpretor, ms. Xue, to book a sleeper on the train to Beijing the 12th June, when I was to return to China. Now I e-mailed her and confirmed my return.