The history of the Japanese hand fan is a beautiful and cultural piece of the past. The hand fan is a huge part of both Japanese culture and design, with its unique evolution and use of exquisite materials, there is a lot to learn about how far the hand fan has come. Let’s take a trip into the past to find out more about the colourful history of the hand fan.
The many shapes and styles of hand fan
Originally used by Samurai and Japanese aristocrats, the Japanese hand fan had a variety of uses. Fans were regularly used as a means of communicating, a symbol of status and also as a weapon. The first origins of the hand fan were in the style of a court fan and were referred to as ‘Akomeogi’ after the court women’s dress named ‘Akome’. Since then, the hand fan has had many adaptations but the most traditional and popular hand fans are the Uchiwa fan, the Sensu fan and the War fan.
Although the Uchiwa fan is a type of Japanese hand fan, it is thought to have originated from China. The form of this fan is flat and rigid and is traditionally used as a fan or for interior and decorative purposes. The Uchiwa fan has a small circular frame consisting of sliced bamboo and is complemented by stretched silk or washi paper that incorporates beautiful and intricate Japanese designs.
The Sensu fan is the most traditional form of Japanese hand fan. Although this fan has a basic shape and structure, there are many variations of its style including the Court fan, Chasen fan and Maiougi fan which are all made from a variety of materials and hold different meanings.
Interestingly, fans were traditionally used in Japan for warfare as both a signalling device and a weapon. War fans took on a similar structure to the more commonly recognised traditional fans with the exception of a metal covering and outer spokes for durability and use as a weapon.
The origin of the hand fan
The Japanese hand fan is said to have been invented somewhere between the 6th and 9th century. The earliest visual depiction of the hand fan was actually found in ancient Japanese burial tombs from the 6th century whilst the earliest literary references to hand fans came a little later in the 10th century.
Japanese fans became so popular after the 11th century that laws were passed to restrict the decorations used on the paper of the fans. Laws were also put in place that stated the number of strips of wood on each fan should reflect the rank and or status of the owner. By the 15th century, Japan began to export their fans to China and across Europe, through trade and the silk road. The hand fan showed its true popularity by the 18th and 19th century where many European women from a variety of social classes carried a folding fan with them in their day to day life.
Modern-day hand fan makers
Modern-day hand fans take on a much more simplistic use than they have done in the centuries gone by. Used either as a way to keep cool or for decorative purposes, the hand fan has changed vastly in terms of purpose since its creation. Fans that made their way out of Japan and into the modern day market did so as a result of political and economic changes which led Japanese craftsmen to begin tailoring their skills and goods to meet demand in Western markets.
Today, Japanese fans are still as popular and desirable as they were thousands of years ago. They are now often displayed as works of art in homes, businesses and traditional temples and also make unique and individual gifts for those interested in Japanese culture and design. With so many materials and processes used when making hand fans, there really is something to suit everyone.
At Atelier Japan, we believe in making the most of the finest of Japanese products and heightening the Japanese experience for customers, that’s why we work with one of the oldest traditional fan makers in Japan, Komaruya, who continue to lead the industry with their pieces that showcase incredible quality, technique and beauty. Go online to view our range of Japanese products, from fans to fine jewellery, sake bottles to silverware, we have a piece of Japanese culture for everyone.