Things I like about Japan #3: Fans

As I think I’ve mentioned repeatedly, summers in Japan are hot and humid (蒸し暑い, or mushiatsui, is a phrase you’ll hear countless times). There are a few things that make this bearable, however. One is the ability for both women and men to carry around fans without looking ridiculous. (And as you can see from the picture above, having a fan at a choice moment can definitely make you friends.)

There are actually two types of hand-held fans common in Japan: uchiwa and sensu. Although many people might think first of folding fans (sensu) as the Japanese cooling implement of choice, uchiwa are actually more popular for everyday use. Uchiwa are flat, non-folding Japanese fans which have been a familiar part of daily life for all classes in Japan since ancient times. They come in all shapes and sizes, from more decorative/formal ones to video game-themes versions to free uchiwas that actually have ads printed on them:

This site has some interesting background information on uchiwa.

The folding style fan is harder to make and thus also more expensive. But according to various sites, although the uchiwa was commonly used in China, the sensu was actually invented in Japan sometime around the 8th century. The earliest versions were made of thin slats of Japanese cypress hinoki wood that were stacked and bound. The production of these folding fans rapidly grew in Kyoto and sensu became popular among the nobility. Gorgeous decorations evolved with the use of elegantly painted designs and paper sprinkled with gold and silver foil. Folding fans were also made for use in Noh, Japanese classical dance, and tea ceremony. In the 13th century, sensu were exported to China and the fashion later migrated to Europe as well.

Again, a variety of styles of sensu are available, though I have yet to see a sensu with ads printed on it:

The fan I’m using above was actually procured in the Philippines, where it seems that lace styles are also popular. In any case, I’m always looking for ways to beat the heat, and these things are great!

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