Japanese women are popularly known for wearing kimonos coupled with folding fans. But do you also know that a flat, non-folding fan called “uchiwa” has also been used by families in Japanese ancient times? It is even considered more expensive since it is harder to make. This is particularly a popular choice for summer as it is a tool that produces a cooling breeze.
The Uchiwa Fan is quite historical as its earliest evidence can be traced back to the 5th century. It was believed to have been brought into Japan from China and were often made of big leaves and animal hair. In the beginning, it served an important religious purpose of being used in sacred ceremonies and rituals of Buddhism. Over the years, its significance changed. It was used by imperial families in hiding their faces from the public in certain occasions. They also used it against the sun. The earliest uchiwa fans were designed in a rectangular shape. Over the years, it became rounded and more colorful.
A district in Kyoto called Fukakusa is popularly known for bamboo groves. It was at a certain time in the past when an emperor decided to ask his fan master to make uchiwa fans out of bamboos in order to stimulate the economy. The earliest fan business was managed by Ms. Keiko Sumii who employed her servants in carrying out the task of making the fans. The business branched into three and became famously known as top producers of fans in the year 1624. They also produced expensive fans for the geisha and maiko. The fans were also used as souvenirs left by high-ranking geisha or maiko with their signatures written on it and were displayed in restaurants and similar places.
The primary challenge faced by this traditional fan is keeping its craft process alive and relevant. If you want to grab an uchiwa fan, you may visit Komaruya Sumii in Kyoto which is open daily except Sundays and holidays.
Komaruya Sumii’s Website *Japanese only