[From May Issue 2010]
IBASEN COMPANY LTD.
Uchiwa (Japanese fans) are not only used to cool off during the summer time, they have other uses such as fanning away smoke while cooking and chasing away insects. Sensu differs from uchiwa mainly because of its compact shape when folded, making it easier to carry. It has long been incorporated into fashion where it was originally used to create a breeze. There are many varieties of sensu that are used for different occasions – for instance, a gold or silver sensu is for celebratory events such as weddings, a black sensu is for funerals, while others are used in classical Japanese dance and tea ceremonies.
IBASEN CO., LTD. has a history that dates back almost 400 years. Initially it sold washi (Japanese paper) and bamboo products, but around the latter Edo Period it began trading in uchiwa-ukiyoe (fan woodblock prints), applying the woodblock prints to fans. “It was what you would call a printing company today. We had ukiyoe artists like UTAGAWA Toyokuni and Hiroshige draw the drafts, then we made them by coloring in the prints and adding patterns,” says the President, YOSHIDA Nobuo.
The uchiwa-ukiyoe with picturesque scenery and characters gained much popularity, and soon the “Ibaya” store name became very well-known along Edo’s streets. Around the same time, when the era changed from Edo to Meiji, Ibasen started to trade sensu as well. “Uchiwa and sensu both use woodblock prints, so the same techniques are applied,” says Yoshida.
Yoshida became president 33 years ago, at the age of 28. “I was not pressured about taking over a tradition. It is purely business, so I continue to think about what kind of products we manufacture, and how we can provide them to more customers,” he says. He started their internet shopping site about 5 years ago describing it as “a doorway for the customers to step into.”
In fact, the company offers many more products than are listed on their site. Apart from the regular, company-designed items, custom-made fans using personal photos, illustrations and poems that are brought in by individuals are also popular. A majority of the customers who visit their store are in their 30’s and 40’s with many non-Japanese tourists also coming by to try the actual items and ask the store staff for advice before purchasing one.
Apart from their own store, Ibasen products are also sold in department stores and, the company also actively participates in events that promote Japanese concepts such as “Wa (harmony, peace and balance).” “We hope to advance further into the Asian markets in the near future. For example, we would like to open a shop in Shanghai, China, and demonstrate our design skills, which is our pride and joy, to give it our best shot,” he says.