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about sensu 扇子

Uchiwa and sensu, the Japanese traditional fans

Despite looking very traditional, fans are still used a lot during the summer by Japanese people to cool down themselves. There are two sorts: the uchiwa and the sensu.


Uchiwa: Non folding fans


An uchiwa is a fan usually made of bamboo and paper. It is often used during Japanese festivals dances. I comes in a variety of designs, and during the summer you might find some bearing the kanji 祭, which means matsuri, the Japanese traditional festivals.  Light and inexpensive, it’s ‘s a great souvenir: in Japan, during the Edo period (1603-1868), people were already buying them as souvenirs for shrines! If you visit Japan during summer, you might be given free plastic uchiwa during events or in the city center as a promotional material.


The traditional “uchiwa” fans are the non-folding type. Since it can’t be folded like a sensu, it is not as handy for portable use. It is commonly used inside houses or offices and you can often see them tucked into kimonos. 


Sensu or Ougi: the folding fans


The main advantage of these sensu fans is that they are handy and can be carried with you always. It consumes only a small space inside your bag and hence can be used at any place while traveling. It is usually the sensu type of fans used in Japanese dance forms like Kabuki, Nihon Buyo etc. These types of colourful sensu fans are called the “maiogi”. There is another kind of sensu used in tea ceremonies. There are sensu fans of various sizes ones meant for men and others for women. It is considered that the fans at a length of around 20cm are meant for women and those at a length of 23cm or more should be used for men.


◆ Origin of SENSU fan       扇子の伝来                                                                                                       

Sensu was invented in Japan during the 7th century. It is believed that the first Sensu fans were derived from wooden plate notes called "mokkan 木簡" dating from the early Heian period (794-1185 A.D.). "Mokkan 木簡" was thin strips wood that people used to take notes with, and were used as accessories worn by men in the imperial court.

A fan discovered inside a Buddhist statue in the temple of Toji in Kyoto is considered to be Japan's oldest Sensu fan. It was called a "Hiogi 檜扇" and is inscribed with the characters "the first year of the Genkei period (877)". So, "Hiogi" were actually a development of the Mokkan.


◆ Trace history of style     初期の扇子のスタイル                                                                                   

The fans evolved over time into its current shape."



In the mid Heian period, "Kawahoriogi 蝙蝠扇" became popular as summer fans. In the Fujiwara period (894-1185), ”Hiogi 檜扇" were made for emperors and princes, and in the Muromachi period (1336-1573), under the influence of Chinese fans, "Kamisen 紙扇" made of bamboo and paper first appeared. From the Heian period, folding fans were an essential part of social etiquette and were often given as gifts or simply served a useful purpose. However, it was not until the Muromachi period that the production begun for the fans used in Noh theater, incense art and tea ceremonies, or any other occasions.

◆ Evolution and established popularity   扇子の浸透                                                                        

◆ Sensu folding fans - from Japan to the world                                                                         

Around the 13th century, the distribution of folding fans was not only in local areas such as Edo (ancient name of Tokyo) as Kyoto producers started exporting fans overseas including to China. It is said that Kyo folding fans made their way to India and even further afield to Europe and were adopted into the Western style design fans. Fans once exported overseas were later reimported and ”kinusen 絹扇” type fan using silk or cotton cloth was created.


The original Sensu was called Hiogi, which were originally used as a cheat sheet for men when speaking in public.

As people began drawing pictures on the Sensu, it gradually evolved into a decorative accessory and became popular among women. 

Sensu became gradually popular with women as well, it leads to have beautiful and gorgeous patterns which Japanese paper attached to the frame.


Sensu, used by distinguished people, were given another role beyond cooling people down on hot days. In "The Tale of Genji," a long story depicts court life during the Heian period, several scenes describe the elegant lives of people writing waka poems on sensu or put flowers on them and giving them to someone in mind.


Sensu can also be seen during tea ceremonies, where a small sensu (different from those used as folding fans) is placed in front of the person sitting straight (seiza) on the tatami, as a means of showing respect. This suggests that Japanese people have come to see sensu as tools that both embody and show the feelings of the person holding it. It is for this reason that sensu are seen even today as more noble and refined than uchiwa fans.


◆ Sensu Craftsmanship
Sensu are handcrafted by skilled artisans.
Each process is divided into highly specialized tasks and Sensu are the culmination of expert skills and fine handcrafting.


Sensu were first crafted in Kyoto, which was Japan's imperial capital. Tokyo, however, also developed its own traditional Sensu.

To preserve the craft Japanese has inherited for generations, artisan still craft Sensu. They also incorporate contemporary styles into orders from fashion designers and younger customers and collaborate with young artists.


Nowadays, various types of sensu are available at different price rates.  


there are many types of Sensu.

"There are mainly five categories of Sensu.

"Hiogi" are used in the imperial palace.

"Kazarisen" are used to decorate the Tokonoma, which is an elevated space in a Japanese Tatami room.

"Maisen" is a fan used in Japanese dance.

The "Mochisen" is carried around to cool yourself, and "Shuugisen" is used for celebrations.


Each of these different types of Sensu come in special shapes and sizes for men, female, or can be unisex. Each of these different types of Sensu are required to meet certain measurements. Combine all the different possible configurations, and you can begin to imagine why there are so many different types of Sensu.


"Kami-Sensu (Paper Sensu) 紙扇子

This Sensu is made of paper and wooden ribs. The ribs are inserted in the paper directly.Kami-Sensu is made using traditional techniques such as handwriting and brushing (to attach irregularity on the surface). You should know that Kami-Sensu sends larger air than Sensu made of cloth.


Kiji-Sensu (Cloth Sensu)生地扇子

This Sensu is made of Cloth. The cloth is pasted on one side of ribs, and various designs are printed or embroidered on its surface. Kiji-Sensu is easier to use than paper one.


Byakudan (Sandalwood Sensu)白檀扇子

This Sensu is made from aromatic tree like sandalwood, and long and thin pieces of the wood are piled up. What you can enjoy with it is not so much cool air as fragrance of the wood.


Kazari-Sensu (Sense used for decoration) 飾り扇子

This Sensu is made as a decoration, and is displayed with an exclusive stand on an entrance or a living room. Auspicious pictures that have good meaning such as longevity and prosperity are drawn on the surface.


Mai-Sensu (Sensu used for Dancing) 舞扇子

This Sensu is used for Japanese dance such as Noh. Mai-Sensu has patterns that give cooling images such as water, cloud and haze on surface. And lead is embedded in the bamboo rids for its peculiar use.


Hi-Ougi (Japanese cypress Sensu) 檜扇

Hi-Ougi is generally used in the Imperial court, so named also "court fan". This Sensu is made of thin boards of Japanese cypress, which are fixed with a pivot, and silk stitching; such fans were considered the symbol of a high social status.  

 There are several types of this Sensu. For example, the man’s Hi-Ougi is solid, but the child’s is small, colorful and drawn some pictures of little birds. And the manner of this type of Sensu is also different from other Sensu.


"It is believed that Sensu originated from Hiogi, which was used to signify the social status of nobility during the Heian period.

Hiogi were actually a development of the Mokkan, which was a piece of wood that people used to take notes with. The fans evolved over time into its current shape."



Add a touch of elegance with a delicate fragrance
Fans can also be enjoyed for their scent. Scented woods such as sandalwood or Japanese cypress release a delicate fragrance when you fan yourself. We also recommend adding your favorite scent by storing your fan with some incense or spraying it with a little perfume.