If you’ve ever participated in any of the Japanese summer festivals, you’re probably familiar with the uchiwa fans. The round-shaped paper fan is often seen in the hands of men and women in yukata robes during the summer festivals.
Unlike the collapsible design of folding fans, the fan framework and handle of the uchiwa are made from a single piece of bamboo, and such design can be traced back to the Heian era. Other than creating a breeze to keep cool in hot weather, the uchiwa fans are also crafted for appreciation and decoration. They’re sometimes decorated with gold and silver, hand painted by artists, and other times the fans are kept simple and pure. The various kinds of fans make their ways into different walks of Japanese life, and they have become a cultural heritage that has a long history spanning 1,000 years.
Nowadays, Kyoto, Marugame and Kumamoto are considered to be the three greatest production areas of uchiwa in Japan. The uchiwa shown above is the Kutami uchiwa produced by the Kurikawa Shoten in Kumamoto. Kurikawa Shoten is the only workshop that has inherited the tradition of crafting Kutami uchiwa.
The technique of crafting Kutami uchiwa, which originated in the Shikoku area in the 17th century, is said to be inherited from the monks of Marugame. The main materials used for making the fans are paper, bamboo and persimmon tannin (kaki-shibu). Among which, the persimmon tannin is made from unripe persimmon, and is applied over the Japanese washi paper as a coating to make the fans more durable, strong, and shiny, as well as to repel insects.
It may be true that the plain color Kutami uchiwa could come across as a bit dull and simple compared to the vibrantly painted fans, but it is this simplicity that allows people to develop a sense of respect for history and traditional craftsmanship.
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