Japan has been using hand-held fans for a variety of purposes, including for ceremonies, decoration, and, of course, to keep cool, for many hundreds of years. These days, fans are still widely used during hot and humid Japanese summers and many foreigners buy them as souvenirs.
The foldable fan (sensu) was invented in Japan. It is made of Japanese paper or cloth fixed to a collapsible frame of bamboo or wood. Some variations use sandalwood, to lend a pleasant scent to the cooling breeze.
The uchiwa is a hand-held fan that was originally introduced to Japan from China. Plastic frame versions bearing company logos and advertisements are distributed for free. But there are still a few companies that make artisanal uchiwa constructed out of bamboo and Japanese paper or cloth.
Hinaga uchiwa is a hand-held fan typical of the Hinaga district in Yokkaichi City, Mie Prefecture close to Nagoya. A characteristic feature of the hinaga uchiwa is that whole fan is made from one single piece of bamboo. The top of the circular bamboo handle is carefully bent to create the frame on which the paper is attached. This creates an empty space just above the handle into which a small paper ball is placed. When fragrant oil is dropped onto the ball, the hinaga uchiwa becomes a fragrant fan. As the handle is perfectly round, it’s possible to add extra functionality and you can also turn it into a flute.
The frame of the hinaga uchiwa is generally covered with Japanese paper featuring traditional motifs such as bamboo, sakura or ume blossoms, pine trees, or cranes and other animals. But Yokkaichi is also very close to famous centers of traditional textile production and local companies sometimes cooperate to make hand-held fans covered with kimono cloth.
Fuurin wind chimes are also very popular items during summer. They are placed close to windows or doors, or used outside the home as ornaments for the garden. These bells make a pleasant tinkling sound when the wind plays with them. Fuurin wind chimes come in many shapes and are usually made of glass, bamboo or metal.
Many glass wind chimes are decorated with beautiful hand painted pictures; the sound they generate is made when a central glass clapper touches the sides of the bell. In the old days small cast iron clappers were used. Very often a strip of paper is attached to the end of the clapper to better catch the breeze. Animals, plants or cages are commonly used to adorn the bells.
How about enjoying a hot summer day Japanese style, by wearing a yukata, drinking a glass of cold tea and feeling the cooling breeze from your hand-held fan, while listening to the sound of your wind chime?
Text: Nicolas SOERGEL