Uchiwa Fans from Kyoto

An artistic cooling item indispensable in Japan’s summer season

Uchiwa Fans from Kyoto
 The uchiwa fan is an indispensable item during Japanese summer. It is used not only for fanning, but also for repelling mosquitos and flies. It is also believed to have the power to ward off evil spirits and have been used in various forms and for various purposes, such as in the form of gunbai fan at Shinto rituals. Uchiwa fans come in two types: round fans and rhombic fans. It is said that this type of fans existed in China as early as 3 B.C., and were brought to Japan around the 6th-7th century. 
The origin of Kyō-uchiwa was the gosho-uchiwa used at the Imperial court that featured two sides and a separately made handle inserted between the two sides. The paper and the ribs are made separately, before being combined together. There are over 20 stages, from preparation of the raw materials to finish, and requires over 14 months to finish. Meanwhile, Fukakusa-uchiwa fans are made with one-single piece of frame and ribs. According to folklore, it was Gensei Shōnin of Zuikō-ji temple who around 1660 came up with the idea of using bamboo produced at Fushimi, which was a well-knon product at the time, to create fans in the shape of a natsume (jujube). Uchiwa fans are made through labour division by artisans specializing in each process.
 First, the ribs are made using bamboo cultivated for 4-5 years in a cold region (Madake and Hachiku). Long internodes are cut out and the width and thickness adjusted. The upper edge is then cut into sections of 5mm and the bamboo is split from these cuts along the fibre. The bamboo is split into 2 or 3 stips depending on the required thickness. Kyō-uchiwa fans are characteristic in having many ribs.
 Next, the paper for the fan is made by an artist using a variety of techniques, such as painting by hand, adding cutout-like watermark, printing with woodblocks, or applying Yūzen dyeing. 
After the two sheets of uchiwa paper (front and back) are ready, they are combined with the ribs. The thin bamboo ribs are first placed in a radial pattern over a thin sheet of paper with glue already applied. This step is called karbari (temporary pasting). 

Pasting the many ribs over the paper with an evenly applied thin layer of glue will prevent distortion and ensure a beautiful finish.

Pasting the many ribs over the paper with an evenly applied thin layer of glue will prevent distortion and ensure a beautiful finish.

Glue is then applied on the other side of the ribs and the front uchiwa paper is pasted onto this side. A spatula called nenbera is used to pressed the paper down along the ribs to ensure the paper is properly stretched over the ribs and frame of the fan, so that the fan will bend with flexibility.
Paper and silk are combined and pasted onto the base where the handle is to be inserted. This step is called mototsuke and its purpose is both to decorate the fan and to reinforce this part of the fan. After excess areas are cut off along the edge of the fan to the desired shape (narimawashi step), thin mitsumata washi paper is then pasted along the edge to ensure the paper on both sides does not peel open. This step is called heritori.
Fukakusa Uchiwa
 In 1573 the Sumii family who were court nobles were ordered by the emperor at the time to “be in charge of making uchiwa fans by using the madake bamboo grown in the Fukakusa area of Fushimi.” To achieve this, local people in Fukakusa were mobilized and the Fukakusa Uchiwa was created during this period. With roads becoming better established during the Edo period, this type of fans became a great hit as souvenirs from Kyoto. 

We can get a glimpse of the popularity of these fans also from the “Fukakusa no sato – uchiwa-ya-mise” illustration of Shūi Miyako Meishso-zu e published at the time.

We can get a glimpse of the popularity of these fans also from the “Fukakusa no sato – uchiwa-ya-mise” illustration of Shūi Miyako Meishso-zu e published at the time.

The Gensei-style Fukakusa Uchiwa
The Gensei-style Fukakusa Uchiwa is said to have been devised during the Edo period by Gensei (1623-68) who established the Zuikō-ji Temple and who enjoyed poetry with the Sumii Family. This type of uchiwa alongside incense containers was given out to people close to him after he passed away. While none have survived in perfect form, a Tokyo resident who visits Zuikō-ji has one of these as a family treasure passed down for generations, and it has two black branded marks on the handle which is still used today as evidence that a uchiwa fan is made by the Sumii family.  
Re-created Gensei-style Fukakusa Uchiwa fans
These re-creations were made based on existing Gensei-style Fukakusa Uchiwa fans from the Edo period. The fans carry poems written by Gensei, and each one has a beautifully decorated background using suminagashi (ink marbling), chigiri-e (collage of pieces of coloured paper), and bokashi (colour gradation), respectively.
Kyō Maru-uchiwa
In the Hanamichi or pleasure quarters of Kyoto it is customary for geishas and apprentice geishas to give uchiwa fans with their names written on them to important customers for summer greeting. These fans with the names written in vermillion on white paper is known as Kyō Maru-uchiwa or ‘round fans from Kyoto’. Every year around the beginning of summer, visitor to Kyoto’s restaurants and shops will see these establishments gorgeously decorated with fans with the names of geishas.
The 42 fine ribs of this uchiwa fan are split from one single bamboo strip at the node, leaving the part below the node as the handle. The ribs are adjusted before the paper is glued onto the frame and left to dry. A chisel in the shape of a crescent moon is used to cut the fan to the desired uchiwa shape. Next, a strip of paper is added to the rim for finish, and a bamboo spatula is used to press the paper down along each rib. The side with the crest is the front, and the side with the name is the back.
Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Credits: Story

Images provided by:
Aiba co., ltd.
Komaruya co., ltd.

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

Text written by:
Yamamoto Masako, Ritsumeikan University

English Translation by:
Eddy Y.L. Chang

Exhibition created by:
Ohashi Aiko, kyoto Women's University

Directed by:
Yamamoto Masako, Ritsumeikan University

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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