Uchiwa Fan (うちわ)
Uchiwa fan (団扇 in Chinese character) is a tool to make a wind by fanning it.
An Uchiwa fan consists of two parts, fan part and handle part which supports the fan part. Uchiwa fan has not only physical function to make a wind by fanning it with a hand, but also various cultural functions for its design and pattern applied to the fan part.
Uchiwa' is the reading of a combination of Chinese characters in Japanese. Fan-shaped object called "wa" in Japanese was grouped by size, large "wa" and small "wa," latter of which was used for more practical purposes such as for knocking down harmful insects like fly and mosquito. Such knocking down behavior is called "uchi-harau" in Japanese, therefore "wa" to use for "uchi-harau" was called 'Uchi-wa' by combining two words into one, a theory suggests. It is assumed that "Uchiwa" also worked as a talisman to protect people from evil, because people believed that it could knock down the evil influences including diseases.
Chinese character '扇' originally expresses the appearance of hinged double doors opening and shutting like a wing. A theory suggests that the reason why Chinese character "扇" was applied to "Uchiwa fan" is that opening and shutting hinged double doors can also make a wind. 団扇' is a combination of Chinese characters deriving from China. 団' means 'round' ('団' also has a derivative meaning of 'gather'). 団扇' is also read 'dansen' in the pseudo-Chinese reading.
Name of each element
Uchiwa fan was originally larger than the current one, which was made of various materials such as wood, feather, fur, leaf of areca nut palm or Japanese banana. Uchiwa fan in the old days was aimed at 'brushing something off' or 'holding it up high' rather than 'making a wind,' which was used for several purposes including a symbol of dignity, ritual, good-luck token, prayer, religious faith and fortune-telling, as well as used as military leader's fan and sumo referee's fan. Afterwards, the form and the material had changed with the times. Current type of Uchiwa fan, which is made of bamboo-made frame and paper, was established in the end of the Muromachi period, aimed at lightening the structure with a strong fan part. In the Edo period, Uchiwa fan became popular among ordinary people. With the bloom of popular culture, Uchiwa fan was used in various scenes and for various purposes such as in enjoying the cool and in watching fireflies, and for cooking, for accentuating one's dress and fashion, and for brushing away insects.
In the Meiji period, receiving high acclaim from foreigners for their beautiful pattern, Uchiwa fan were exported in large quantities. With the dramatic increase of demand from merchants for Uchiwa fan to distribute, Uchiwa fan was gradually used as an advertising medium by adding the name relating to the clients on the back side as well as the image of their products and various messages on the front side. Uchiwa fan has been loosing its practical role due to the drastic change in living conditions such as the spread of electric fan, air conditioner and stove since 1965, however, Uchiwa fan now enjoys popularity as a living tool for cooling off in summer, a fashion tool for enjoying the Japanese taste such as fireworks, a kitchen tool and an advertising medium.
In addition, Uchiwa fan is also used in the concert of entertainers belonging to the Johnny & Associates, stars from South Korea and so on.
The history of Uchiwa fan can mainly be categorized into five periods according to its design (shape, material, and structure), function and purpose, meaning and significance, background and period it existed.
The oldest records, on which Uchiwa fan first appeared, are the record of Chinese history and wall painting of the ancient Egypt. Wooden products excavated from the remains of the Yayoi period and the Kofun period (tumulus period) show the detailed shape of the oldest Uchiwa fan existing in Japan. Uchiwa fan was originally larger than the current one, which was made of various materials such as wood, feather, fur, leaf of areca nut palm or Japanese banana. Uchiwa fan in the old days was aimed at 'brushing something off' or 'holding it up high' rather than 'making a wind,' which was used for several purposes including showing dignity, ritual, good-luck token, prayer, religious faith and fortune-telling, as well as used as military leader's fan and sumo referee's fan.
A Sashiba (large fan-shaped object held by an attendant and used to conceal the face of a noble) took the shape of Uchiwa fan with a long handle part. It was originally used for making a wind. However, it is believed that Sashiba was regarded as a symbol of power or used for showing person's dignity in Chinese aristocratic society, while it was used as a tool for showing the dignified appearance in the ritual ceremony at tumulus in Japan, according to the picture and sentences left on the wall paintings.
The Medieval period
Uchiwa fan developed into a tool for showing person's dignity among kuge (court noble), government officers and Buddhist monks in the Medieval period (Asuka, Nara, Heian, and Kamakura periods). As a result, large-sized Uchiwa fan for having their attendant carry, as well as gorgeous Uchiwa fan with patterns, were produced using various materials such as silk, vegetable fiber distracted from areca nut palm or Japanese banana, feather of Japanese pheasant and magpie. Among ordinary people, a quadrilateral Uchiwa fan (called Hosen) with a wickerwork pattern was commonly used for its lightness and convenience. Since ancient times, most Uchiwa fan have had a structure of one main center 'rod,' which also becomes a handle part, and a 'frame' for fixing the material, which shapes the outline of the fan part.
The Sengoku period (period of warring states)
Afterwards, the shape and the material had gradually changed with the times. It was the end of the Muromachi period when the model of 'Current type' of Uchiwa fan was established by using bamboo-made frame and paper made from areca nut palm or Japanese banana, aimed at lightening the structure with a strong fan part.
Moreover, Ajiro Uchiwa fan, which was made by painting urushi Japanese lacquer on materials, and the military leader's Uchiwa fan (called Gunbai in Japanese in short), which had a firm structure by adopting various materials such as lacquered skin, board and thin iron plate, had been used in samurai's war since the Sengoku period
Gunbai was a symbol of a commander and a unified troop, showing a family crest. It also had a function as armor for blocking arrows and stones. Moreover, a large-sized Uchiwa fan was used for hatasashi-mono (battle flags), showing the family crest and others.
The early-modern times
Becoming popular among ordinary people in the Edo period, Uchiwa fan was used as a daily life tool in various scenes and for various purposes such as in enjoying the cool and in watching fireflies, for cooking, for accentuating one's dress and fashion, and for brushing away insects. There were many Uchiwa fan-producing area scattered nationwide for mass production. In addition, advancement of the wood-block printing technology enabled mass production of fan painting, with the result that even ordinary people could enjoy the beauty. The pattern of the fan painting reflected the public tastes, which allowed the appearance of fan part with literature (seventeen-syllable verse, Japanese poem, and Chinese poem) and Ukiyoe (Japanese woodblock prints of manners and customs). The public tastes were expressed in original ways by using Uchiwa fan.
At this time, the role of Uchiwa fan shifted from a tool for "showing the dignity" to a tool for 'fanning,' 'brushing off' and 'enjoying.'
The Modern times
In the Meiji period, Uchiwa fan with beautiful pattern fascinated foreigners, with the result that Uchiwa fan was exported in large quantities. The elegant features of the Uchiwa fan, such as the painting and calligraphy on the body of the fan, and elaborate Uchiwa fans used to make fires for making sencha (medium-grade green tea) means that this type of fan is preferred even in the present day, lending a little color to everyday life and the Japanese arts and crafts. With the dramatic increase of demand from merchants for Uchiwa fan to distribute, Uchiwa fan gradually became one of the significant advertising mediums by adding the name relating to the clients on the back side as well as image of their products and various messages on the front side, which was abetted by its low cost. However, it was used for the national policy such as the fostering the spirit for the war during the decade started from 1935, therefore the production decreased sharply in wartime. A small amount of Uchiwa fan was produced as war supplies.
After the war, in line with the recovery of Japanese economy, the production of Uchiwa fan gradually recovered from around 1950. Printing the image of popular actors and actresses at that time on the fan part was quite popular from 1955 to 1975, which enabled people to feel close to those idols.
Aiming at solving the bamboo shortage, as well as pursuing higher productivity and lower cost by the introduction of machine-made method instead of hand-made method, Uchiwa fan made of plastic materials instead of traditional bamboo was developed and became popular in the decade started from 1965.
Uchiwa fan has been loosing its practical role due to the drastic change in living conditions such as the spread of electric fan, air conditioner and stove since 1965
However, Uchiwa fan, which can fit people's hand for its comfortable lightness and make a handmade wind, is even now counted as one of the tools which create a cool atmosphere. Uchiwa fan is still regarded as a Japanese living tool for enjoying customs in summer like fireworks, or as an advertising medium.
Difference between Uchiwa fan and Sensu (folding fan)
Uchiwa fan and Sensu had been confused by using a word 'Ogi' (fan) in documents of all times. This tendency remains even now, therefore it is difficult to draw a clear line between them.
Generally, they are distinguished by the difference in their design.
"Ogi" designed in a way that people can fold is called 'Sensu,' while people cannot fold is called 'Uchiwa fan.'
There was a period like the Medieval period when Uchiwa fan was mainly used by Buddhist monk, literati and hermit, while 'Sensu' was mainly used by court nobles and nobles. Government officers and samurai used both of them.
Usage and function
Usage and function of Uchiwa fan can be classified as follows from physical and other viewpoints.
Usage and function from a physical viewpoint
For making a wind
Using Uchiwa fan, people can cool themselves by fanning it, send a wind to their children (wind includes natural wind and spiritual wind), dry something wet (including damp wound and others), drive away something, make a fire, cool dishes and dust off.
Before winnower came into wide use, put on a basket like winnow after grain threshing, paddy was separated from rice husks by wind made by hand in the Edo period.
The Uchiwa fan used for fire fighting was a large fan given a coat of lacquer or other materials, by which people made a wind and fanned the sparks away to block the spreading fire. Uchiwa fan was one of the fire fighting tools which were always equipped in each fire fighting team in the Edo period.
Other physical usage and function
Uchiwa fan was also used for sheltering oneself from the sunbeam and driving away insects (mosquito in the mosquito net and flies in a living room).
Usage and function from a cultural viewpoint
Usage and function as a tool for customs and folkways
The Uchiwa fan is used to drive out evil spirits, show dignity, cover one's face to show dignity, show one's symbol such as a family crest, tell fortunes, take command of the military, and demonstrate good manners when entertaining others in a drawing room; it is also held above one's head in certain rituals. It is also used as presents, a lucky charm (sold at a festival day), and used for enjoying festivals (enjoy dance holding it in Bon Festival Dance and other festivals), advertising, putting it on (as a fashion tool), following the current fashion (influenced by the pattern on the fan part), catching fireflies and driving insects away, sorting out paddy from rice husks, extinguishing fire (by fanning the sparks away, a large type was used).
Usage and function as a tool with miraculous efficacy
It is believed that fanning the Uchiwa fan can get rid of destructive insects in the field and shut out bad diseases. When the Uchiwa fan is affixed to the front door, it is believed to protect the family member from illnesses which would prevail in the summer (Karasu Uchiwa (crow fans) distributed by Okunitama-jinja Shrine in Fuchu City Tokyo).
The Uchiwa fans with a Mantra printed on the basal paper are made by the Buddhist monks. Visitors to the temple compete with each other for the Uchiwa fan in the Fan-throwing Ceremony. It has been regarded as one of the fetishes which can drive out misfortune and an evil spirit (Hosen distributed by Toshodai-ji Temple in Nara City, Nara Prefecture).
Usage and function as gifts
Uchiwa fan has been regarded as one of the major summer gifts, which was proved in an ancient document by the description that the court presented the delegate from Balhae Kingdom with 'Binro Ogi' (Uchiwa fan made of Chinese fan palm). The Uchiwa fan distributed by companies and shops today is used as gifts.
In an event that a child visits the shrine where Mt. Fuji is enshrined for the first time, his or her parents buy Uchiwa fan called Hatsuyama Uchiwa in the annual festival held on the opening day of a mountain to climbers (usually June 1), distributing it to relatives for expressing their appreciation and telling relatives about their child's growth. Uchiwa fan is generally sold apart from the goods given by Shinto shrine, which means that Uchiwa fan is regarded as a gift.
Usage and function in dance performance
Uchiwa fan is frequently used in dance. When all members have Uchiwa fan, having Uchiwa fan with a same pattern shows that those people belong to the same group. Uchiwa fan is used for keeping time when people are dancing, while for cooling themselves when they are taking a rest. When a certain person has a Uchiwa fan, the Uchiwa fan shows that the person is playing some roles such as guard and taking charge of several matters like controlling the dance. The large-sized Uchiwa fan with dynamic writing of the name of the group, religious group and the role of the person on its fan part is used as a Sashiba to make their presence felt by holding high the Uchiwa fan.
Pattern and design
By virtue of various pattern and design added on Uchiwa fan, Uchiwa fan is used as a tool for various purposes such as a fashion tool for introducing Japanese special feature, an advertising tool for business and others, and a ritual tool for showing 'heraldic emblem and family crest.'
Accessories and relevant items
In the past, every house used to equip Uchiwa-shiki (special material to set Uchiwa fan) and Uchiwa-tate (holder of Uchiwa fan) in a zashiki (Japanese style tatami room) or a drawing room. A set of those items and Uchiwa fan were regarded as one of the important tools for entertaining guests in summer. Those items are often made of bamboo so as to create a cool atmosphere. Uchiwa-shiki is a basket or a box like a tray for setting the fan part of Uchiwa fan. Uchiwa-shiki is often made of woven bamboo, having a design that the handle part of Uchiwa fan is always kept outside of it.
Uchiwa-shiki, Uchiwa-bako (box for keeping Uchiwa fan), Uchiwa-tate, Uchiwa-bukuro (pouch for keeping Uchiwa fan), tassel and so on.
yukata (an informal cotton kimono), kanzashi (an ornamental hairpin), comb, nakasashi (tool for the hairdressing), mosquito net and so on.
Museum and festival putting its main subject on Uchiwa fan
Uchiwa no Minato Museum (POLCA), Marugame City
Marugame Municipal Archives Museum
Kumagaya Uchiwa Matsuri (fan festival)