MBK Dowel Sode
MBK Dowel Sode
The form of one of these kites looks similar to a Japanese kimono,
stretched out flat. Traditionally, this kite was built and flown to
ensure the health and happiness of a newborn boy.
As far as I know, plenty of traditional Sodes still fly in Japan,
along with a number of Western versions that are now available in
Like Chinese kites, most Japanese kites are works of art where a
lot of effort is put into the decoration of the sail.
Centuries ago, it was common for a string 'hummer' to be strung
tightly across near the leading edge of the kite. When in the
air, the string would make a humming noise in the breeze. This idea was
borrowed from even earlier Chinese kites.
The Sode kite is a good light wind flier, but often needs a tail to
cope with stronger winds. Interestingly, many Japanese believe that a
kite that needs a tail is poorly designed or built. It's true that most
traditional Japanese kites fly without tails.
Although the Kimono kite design isn't exactly popular in the
West, a few notable kite makers have made them. In large sizes, and with
the latest materials and modern decor, these kites do make a good
impression on spectators!
Some Western versions also stay true to an artistic ideal, with long hours of intricate sail work undertaken by the kite maker. The results are usually very different to the Japanese designs though! For example, look at that patchwork design further down, by Dr. Kai Griebenow.
When the weather's good and you have the time, it's great to get out with a kite or 3. But what about on bad weather days? Then it's time to pull out...
"Kites Up!" - my downloadable kite-flying board game! Apart from towing indoor kites, doing a spot of imaginary flying is the next best thing :-)
The frame of a Sode kite looks pretty much the same regardless of the overall size. The thickness and strength of the spars are just scaled up or down depending on how big the kite is. Although the Japanese are known for flying very large kites, I haven't heard of any huge Sodes being flown. However, some makers do go the other way, and make some very tiny Sode kites! These and other variations are listed and discussed a bit further, below...
- overall size of both traditional and modern Western Sode-inspired kites varies a lot
- the basic outline hardly varies at all, and if it's quite different, is it really a Sode?
- traditional construction materials hardly vary at all from kite to
kite, which contrasts with the variety of modern kite-making materials
- an accurately made Kimono kite can fly without a tail in light winds, and a tail lets it fly in stronger winds
- traditional Kimono kites are decorated with many different designs
and the few shop-bought versions are also available in colorful designs
- the number of bridle points varies according to the size of the kite
- traditionally, the sail was hand-made paper but these days nylon, mylar or polyester is commonly used
Here's a few comments on each of the above points.
Size. I've seen plans and write-ups for Sode kites around
1.5 meters (5 feet) tall. There's even a commercially available design
by the famous kite maker Reza Ragheb which measures 3.8 meters (9.5
feet) in length. However, the traditional variety which are still flown
in Japan are generally much smaller than this. At the other end of the
scale, a Japanese kite maker managed to take out the Worlds Smallest Kite Competition
in 1998 with a tiny Sode design. His name was Hiko Yoshizumi, and his
delicate little creation measured just 10 mm by 8mm (4/10 inch by 3/10
inch)! To qualify, it had to fly at a better than 10 degree line angle.
Shape. Sode kites all look pretty much the same in
outline, although the triangular tip at the nose end can vary in shape
and size. Also, the left and right edges of the top and/or bottom
regions of the sail are not always perfectly straight up and down as in
the traditional design. These variations are just for artistic reasons.
For example, the Nosey kite by Charlie Charlton has some curves and
tapering in its sail outline.
Construction. The Japanese like to refer to the kite frame
as the 'bones', and the sail material as the 'skin'. Straight slivers
of bamboo are used for the single longeron, 2 upper spars and shorter
lower spar. The lower spar can be bent in the middle or bowed a little.
This gives some side area toward the rear of the kite and helps with
directional stability. In other words, the kite will fly without a tail
in a wider range of wind speeds. Some modern Sodes have pockets in the
sail, into which the ends of the spars are inserted. Hence they are
collapsible for easy transport, just like many modern Diamonds or other
Tails. I suspect that typical tails for these kites are
fairly simple, since most of the time the idea is to not use one at all.
Not being an expert on Japanese kites, I'm not sure what traditional
Japanese kite tails are like. Long streamers of tissue would work. Come
to think of it, I have seen illustrations where some rectangular Japanese kites have 2 simple streamer tails.
Decoration. Firstly, some modern methods... Strips of different colored material can be joined together before the outline is cut. The appliqué
technique involves sticking light but colorful cut-out patterns onto
the sail material. Printed sail material can be used. I've even come
across a guy who prints out sails for his Sode kites on an ink-jet
printer! Hand painting or airbrushing can be applied after the kite is
constructed. There's a bunch of different ways to decorate a kite.
Nearly all traditional Japanese kites were brush painted with bright
colored natural dyes and black ink. This would have included the Sode or
Kimono kites as well.
Bridle. When it comes to bridles, they do vary quite a bit
on Sode kites. The smallest kites just require 2 bridle points, where
the upper cross spars join to the longeron. My MBK Skewer Sode is
like this. The largest kites fly well on 6 bridle points, where there is
a bridle point on either side of both central bridle points. That is, 3
points on each of the 2 main cross spars. For medium sized kites, just
the 4 outer bridle points are sometimes used. Finally, for strong wind
flying, an extra bridle point where the bottom spar crosses the longeron
is sometimes required, to prevent the longeron bending under the
Sail. Traditionally, Sodes used washi paper, which
was hand-made. These days, rip-stop or spinnaker nylon is a common
choice for the larger kites. Smaller kites made in workshops might still
use plastic or tissue paper.
Like to see a video clip? Just scroll down to near the end...
Sode Kites In Action
You'll have a much harder time spotting a Sode kite than seeing, say, a Diamond or a Delta in the air. There are
some examples of this type of kite in the shops, but mostly, it seems
they are made by kite makers looking for something different.
Out In The Field
Sode kite stories of my real-life flying experiences are worth checking out!
Illustrated with photos and videos, of course.
2 big rectangular areas of sail, these kites are perfect for doing something really artistic!
Some very well-known kite makers have chosen this style of kite
to exhibit their talent for creating flying works of art. For example,
Janneke Groen from the Netherlands and the late Reza Ragheb.
When designing for
looks, the bigger the kite, the bigger the impression on spectators!
That might explain why some of these designer kites are so large.
Some Sode Kite History
At this point, I haven't yet waded through any big books on Japanese
kite history, so I haven't got anything specifically on the Sode kite.
However, there are some general points which would apply to the Sode
Most artistic Japanese kites were developed in the Edo period
from 1603 to 1867. At this time, Japan was closed to foreigners.
Different designs originated from different regions of the country,
including, presumably, the Sode Dako.
The early Sode kites would have
been decorated with scenes from Japanese folklore or mythology. Bright
geometric patterns were sometimes used too, which makes you wonder
whether some of those early designs would look out of place today,
hanging in the local kite shop.
The video shows our own home-made Dowel Sode in flight.
As mentioned earlier, there's another alternative to towing indoor kites if it's just not possible to fly outdoors...
"Kites Up!" is my downloadable board game. It's a PDF file which has all the documentation for the game plus images for all the components. Tokens, cards, the board itself and so on. Anyway, just click that link to see more info :-)