Kyō-sensu — Folding Fans from Kyoto

Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

An implement not only useful for cooling but also important for ceremonies, festivals and performances

The sensu or ōgi (folding fan) is an implement used to fan wind.It has been used in Japan by the nobility and monks as an accessory and a ceremonial item since the Heian period.Besides that, it also plays an important role in performing arts (such as Noh, Kyōgen, Rakugo and traditional Japanese dances) as well as in tea ceremony.
There are three types of folding fans, the hiōgi (wooden folding fan), the kamisen (paper folding fan), and the kinusen (silk folding fan). The hiōgi is made using thin strips of Japanese cypress or cedar wood measuring 30 cm or more in length and about 3 cm or more in width. Two or several holes are made at the top of each piece, while one hole is made at the bottom for the pivot. 
The folding fan was invented in Japan around the 9th century. The first shape was that of the hiōgi fan, and before long the kawahoriōgi made by pasting paper onto one side of the ribs was born. Japanese folding fans were exported to mainland China in the 10th century and were known as wasen in China. During the 14th century, double-sided paper folding fans made in China were imported to Japan. These were called tōsen and from which three types were further created: the suehiro (chūkei) ceremonial folding fan, the bonbori fan, and the shizumeori fan.
During the Meiji period Japan’s participation in the World Expositions pave way for the exportation of Japanese folding fans to the West, before also being exported to Central and South America and the rest of the world. Folding fans designed for women with vibrant colours and gorgeous decorations became popular. The depression of the first half of the 20th century turned these exportation folding fans towards domestic consumption, allowing for the development of the mainstream paper folding fans we see today.
The production of folding fans basically involves three main processes: the making of the ribs, the making of the fan surface, and the combining of the two parts. Each of these process is done through labour division by specialized craftsmen. There are over 20 main steps and over 80 fine steps in the making of a folding fan.
The first step is the making of the fan ribs. Bamboo strips with impurities removed are thinning cut to the desired width and length, then shaved to even thickness to create the basic frame. Me’ana holes for linking the ribs are drilled using a special tool called maigiri.
The ribs are next shaped into the basic frame. A skewer is put through the me’ana holes, pieces some hundreds of ribs together, which are then soaked in water for 2-3 days until they become soft. After this comes the atetsuke step, which involves the shaping of the ribs using a specially shaped knife called wakikaki to shave the surface of the dampened ribs. The green part of the bamboo is removed and the ribs are set to dry in the sun, after which they are polished using boar tusk. Next, the ribs are dyed and decorative lacquer or carving is added.
A rivet heated in a hibachi (Japanese brazier) is then used to put in the kaname (pivot) that bundles the ribs together. In the past whale whiskers were used to pass through the pivot holes, today other materials such as plastic are used. After this the nakabone or ribs to go inside the surface paper are thinly shaved.
Next, the paper for the fan surface is prepared. In the case of a summer fan, 3 sheets of paper are used, while 5-7 washi paper are required for a dance fan. The sheets of paper are joined using glue. A thin sheet of washi paper called shingami (core paper) is flanked by a front and back sheet of paper called hishi (shell paper). Once the glued sheets are dry, a mould is placed over the paper to cut out the shape for the fan.
Decorative designs are painted on the surface of the fan. In the case of uwae (dyed or printed figures), the paint is first mixed with glue before being applied onto the paper. Painting is done by paying attention to where the paper will be folded to avoid the final picture from looking distorted. Apart from painting by hand, other techniques such as using a stencil or woodblocks are also employed. Finally, Gold foil or dust are applied to give the fan a splendid finish.
The paper is folded where the ribs are to be placed. It is first dampened and then folded from one end to the other using a folding mould. Several folded sheets are placed on top of one another and clappers are used to gently tap over the folded line to adjust the shape. The paper is placed inside a wooden frame while still moist for several hours, before being removed to dry.
Holes are opened in the layered paper for inserting the ribs. The core paper is separated into two layers using a bamboo spatula at each folding to make an opening for the insertion of the ribs. Once the openings in correspondence to the number of ribs required are made, clappers are used to adjust the shape and a large blade is then used to cut the fan down to the right size.
Next, ribs are inserted into the paper holes by first blowing air into the holes with the mouth. This step is called jihuki. Once the holes are blown open, the ribs that are pre-coated with glue are then inserted. It takes an experienced craftsman to insert ribs into these small holes.
After the folded paper with ribs inserted is adequately dry, clappers are used to adjust the shape. Next, a step called oyagiri to cut the side guards for length adjustment. The fan is then placed between a vice overnight to make sure the paper is securely attached to the ribs. The side guards are warmed using fire so they can be bent inward. This step called oyatame allows the fan to close easily and with the characteristic snapping sound. Finally, the folding fan is finished by adhering the side guards and let to dry. 
Only folding fans whose entire production (including the making of the ribs, surface and finish) is done in Kyoto or its surrounding areas can be called Kyō-sensu or folding fans from Kyoto.
Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Credits: Story

Information provided by:
Miyawaki Baisenan Co., Ltd.
Tomatsuya Fukui senpo
Shimizu Yoshinobu
Yonehara Shinji
Yonehara Yasuhito

Supported by:
Kyoto Folding Fans and Round Fans Commercial Cooperative Association

Text written by:
Yamamoto Masako, Ritsumeikan University

Photo by:Kuwajima Kaoru

English Translation by:
Eddy Y. L. Chang

Exhibition created by:
Naito Yukie, Ritsumeikan University, Literature Department

Directed by:
Yamamoto Masako, Ritsumeikan University

Credits: All media
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