Its thought that kites were first introduced into Japan by Buddhist missionaries who travelled from China in the Nara period (649-794 AD) and were mainly used in religious and thanks giving ceremonies.
The Japanese absorbed much of the Chinese culture but they developed their own distinctive kite designs and traditions. They were used from earliest times for practical purposes such as in the construction of many shrines and temples in Japan where large kites were used to lift tiles and other materials up to workers on the roof tops.
An early example of man-carrrying was told of a 12th Century warrior Minamoto-no-Tametomo who was exiled to an island along with his son and saddened by his son's lonely existence constructed a large kite on which he made his escape to the mainland.
It was in the Edo period 1603 - 1867 when Japan was closed
to all foreigners that most of the beautiful Japanese kites we
know today were developed. There are about 130 different styles
and types of kites, each region having its own unique shape. They
are normally decorated with characters from Japanese folklore,
mythology or have some religious or symbolic meaning.
Congratulation kites are still given to first born sons. Kites with paintings of folk heros or gods are believed to protect and guide the new-born child into adulthood, Fukusuke the large headed dwarf will bring good luck and some carry long life symbols such as the crane or tortoise, The most popular design is Kinorta - a small boy who was left by his parents in a mountain forest and raised by bears - he grew up to be wise and very strong. Kinorta is often painted with a carp, another symbol of strength and bravery because the carp must swim up stream against the current to lay its eggs.
Sadly kite flying is on the decline in most parts of Japan due to so many high buildings and overhead power cables. You would now have to drive out of Tokyo for over 2 hours to find a suitable place to fly a kite. The old Kite Masters are dying and their sons and daughters are not prepared to work the long hours with poor pay. The want to become engineers or work in the city.
More detailed history