Much more than just an item for cooling you down, Japanese paper fans have been playing unique roles in Japan’s long and fascinating history.
1. History of Paper Fans
The origin of paper fans dates back to ancient China. After introduced in Japan, those paper fans have developed independently. During the Heian period (794-1185), these fans spread to the common people that central government have set the rule to restrict their use to particular social classes. 700 years later in the Meiji era (1868-1912), fans with beautiful designs were highly praised by European countries and became a popular exporting item.
Recent economic growth has changed the living environment and paper fans are no longer used as an item to cool yourself, however, they are still an item familiar to Japanese.
2. Types of Japanese Fans
Most widely used. You see at summer festivals or temples when Buddhist monks use as ceremonial fans.
Sensu (folding fan)
It usually made by bamboo covered with Japanese washi paper. Folding compactly, it is a great souvenir from Japan.
Gunbai (military leader’s fan, sumo referee’s fan)
A special type of paper fan. They were most commonly used for signalling by wartime commanders, who would manage the soldiers through their movements. A sumo referee also uses it.
3. Not only cooling you down, other unique functions of paper fans
As a prop when dancing
At Japanese matsuri festival, fans are often used as props and extra extravagant accessories for performances. They can express their collectivity by having same designed fans. You can also see traditional Japanese dancers perform with sensu at Darling Harbour matsuri festivals.
As an advertising tool
Paper fans have been a popular tool for advertisement. They are an effective promotional item and many companies and theatre print their logo to distribute to people. Our antique paper fan is a good example of having a face of kabuki (Japanese play) actor.
As a cheering item
You can see the audience in a sports match holding a fan with a cheering message. At the music concert, the audience often has their own designed fan to show their support to the artists.