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There wasn’t much to raise spirits in the Tokyo area during the new year holiday. With record-breaking daily numbers of new COVID-19 cases and reports that a second state of emergency was likely to be implemented, many people were keen to stay indoors.

Some, however, were brave enough to head to nearby open spaces in order to fly kites, a traditional pastime at the beginning and end of each year. Popular spots such as Komazawa Park, the Edogawa river banks and Odaiba beachfront were dotted with kite fliers, and social media was full of positive posts by people enjoying their new-found hobby.

Flying kites used to be the gold standard at New Year’s. It’s even part of a popular children’s song from 1901 that has endured to this day, which features the lyrics, “How many nights until the new year? / When the new year comes I’ll fly my kite.”

Back then, Tokyo was home to numerous lots and empty spaces, and the river banks weren’t paved over with concrete. Flying kites required little more than sauntering over to the nearest large-enough spot, and letting it soar. Now, 120 years later, kite flying isn’t quite as simple, although the basics remain the same. You need fine, windy weather, a chunk of free time on your hands and, most importantly, an open space with no buildings, tall trees and telephone poles.

According to an article on Goo news, kite sales have spiked since last November, when it became clear that traveling, eating out and other holiday activities would be shelved over the new year due to rising COVID-19 infections.

Satoko Onda, managing director of Onda Co., Ltd., a company that makes and sells kites in Tokyo’s Taito Ward, says that sales have tripled since late last year.

“Kite sales peaked in 1995 but have then slumped,” Onda says.”Children used to buy kites with their new year allowances but, in recent years, so many entertainment options are available that the kite market has shrunk considerably. Now kites are selling again because they’re a great way to get outdoors, move your body and have fun without worrying about the coronavirus.”

Interestingly, Western-style kites are proving more popular these days, as they’re predominantly cheap and easy to handle. Most Western-style kites can be purchased for under ¥1,000, provided you don’t include kites featuring anime characters from pop culture hits such as “Demon Slayer,” which can sell for around ¥2,000.

Japanese kites, on the other hand, are often pricey works of art purchased by connoisseurs and flown in contests. The elaborate designs and craftsmanship are holdovers from the Edo Period (1603-1868), when people were really, really serious about winning kite competitions. There are accounts of such kites featuring razor blades or thorns in order to bring down their rivals. No wonder many shogunates throughout history banned kites as being dangerous, frivolous and rebellious.

Meanwhile, other traditional new year activities have attracted some attention over the holiday period.

Tokyo Gas posted an article recommending a few online new year festivities for young families unable to visit parents and older relatives. The article suggests sending karuta card games and koma spinning tops to older members of the family beforehand, so that, come Jan. 1, everyone can enjoy these games together in spite of the distance.

If it weren’t for the pandemic, it’s likely that such traditional pastimes would have once more been forgotten. But then, as @Tanachiru wrote on Twitter: “There was no place to go over the new year except the park and I thought, ‘Why not fly a kite?’ I took my child and we had so much fun. I remembered how, when I was younger, I knew how to have fun over the new year without having to visit malls or restaurants.”

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