Japanese Paper Balloons — Traditional culture alive and kicking!

We often hear it said about internet trends but the toy industry is also a rapidly changing one. What stand out then are the toys that are still fun to play with even though they are old. (Just think: Have you ever seen a website that was made in 1990?) There’s a fair few of these “nostalgic toys” around today and we’ve picked out paper balloons (kamifusen).

First of all, let’s explain just what are paper balloons. Well, as the name suggests they are balloons made from paper. Just like rubber balloons, you put air in them to blow them up and play with them. Ultimately you just have to blow air into them and that’s it. The balls are extremely light so you can send them up into the air by tapping them with your hands. However, if you hit them too hard they’ll break so these delicate toys require you to be gentle.

When did the history of these paper balloons start? It’s not quite clear but they are said to have appeared in Japan in 1891. So, within the history of balloons they are relatively recent arrivals. Being cheap to manufacture they were often included as little extra giveaways for kids. In particular, Toyama Pharmaceuticals are said to have distributed them to children and that’s apparently how the balloons spread all over Japan.

All right, let’s take a look at paper balloon design!

Standard Paper Balloon

This is what comes to mind when you think of paper balloons. It’s not quite a rainbow in terms of color numbers but it’s certainly vibrant.

paperballoon01Photo by paperballoon.net

Early Paper Balloons

These paper balloons probably date from before the war. Unlike the typical paper balloons today, these ones are square and other shapes. On the paper is a children’s song called ‘Hatopoppo’ showing children feeding pigeons (hato).

paperballoon02Photo by paperballoon.net

Wartime Paper Balloons

Paper balloons were also mass-produced as children’s toys during the war. You can get a real sense of the period not only through the nationalistic pictures and the weaponry, but also the jingoistic slogans printed on all six sides of the balloon. We can only wonder how the kids felt when they played with this kind of toy…

paperballoon03Photo by paperballoon.net

Paper Balloons as Advertisements

After the war we start to see lots of paper balloons being produced as “novelty items” or advertising. On the whole the balloons would be printed with corporate or product names, though you can find the odd example in the shape of a hat.

paperballoon04Photo by paperballoon.net

paperballoon05Photo by paperballoon.net

paperballoon06Photo by paperballoon.net

Lion Dance

These rather dignified lion dance two-tier balloons have cool patterns and could even work as funky decorations for your home! On the reverse of the face it has a name, “Oshishi” (Mr Lion). A charmer!

paperballoon07Photo by paperballoon.net

paperballoon08Photo by paperballoon.net

Paper Balloon Series

Here a series of round paper balloons have been joined together. When you blow them up you have to use scissors. They are harder work to blow up than regular paper balloons but they are really striking once complete. Saying that, quite how you play with this is a mystery!

paperballoon09Photo by paperballoon.net

Hello Kitty

Is there no product made in Japan that doesn’t have a Hello Kitty tie-up? Well, paper balloons are certainly no exception. The butterfly ribbon is super cute.

paperballoon10Photo by paperballoon.net

Rabbit Paper Balloons

This rabbit paper balloon even has a full body.

paperballoon11Photo by paperballoon.net


And this cat also has a torso, which is a paper balloon with traditional Japanese motifs.

paperballoon12Photo by paperballoon.net

paperballoon13Photo by paperballoon.net


The eight legs have suckers, and the legs flutter in the wind so it looks fab when you put it in a place with a breeze. And with his droll expression this octopus will soothe your stresses.

paperballoon14Photo by paperballoon.net


This is an educational paper balloon in a Miffy design. Each side has a basic English word and so you roll the balloon like a die and then can learn as you play. Cute or what?!

paperballoon15Photo by paperballoon.net

paperballoon16Photo by paperballoon.net

Food + Paper Balloons

There are food products that use paper balloons too. The square paper balloon here is a container for kanmochi from Etchu Tateyama in Toyama. You heat it up in the microwave and the paper balloon puffs out, — and so does the mochi (Japanese rice cake) inside.

paperballoon17Photo by paperballoon.net

paperballoon18Photo by paperballoon.net

All images courtesy of http://paperballoon.net.