|Harmonious Combination of Decoration and
The flat fan has been used in China and the Orient since
ancient times as a means of creating a breeze, and was inspired by the
shape of leaves or that of a bird's wing. Already in use in Japan in the
7th century, the portable fold-away sensu, on the other hand, is
a homegrown traditional handcrafted item. The earliest versions, hinoki
fans, were made of thin slats of Japanese cypress hinoki wood that were
stacked and bound. Later, paper fans made by pasting paper to a skeleton
of split bamboo were made. Since then, many types of folding fans have
been created with various materials, shapes, and decorations as times have
The production of these folding fans rapidly grew in Kyoto which was long the center of Japanese politics and culture. The fans became popular at the court and among the nobility, and gorgeous decorations evolved with the use of elegantly painted designs and paper sprinkled with gold and silver foil. In the 14th century artisans of Kyoto made folding fans to match the styles of the courtly performing arts of Noh (masked drama) and Buyo (Japanese classical dance) and later the tea ceremony. In the 13th century folding fans were used not only in Japan but were also exported to China. Later the fashion migrated to Europe; even the fancy courtiers of the Bourbon dynasty of France highly prized the colorful Kyo Sensu.
Even today, the Kyo Sensu, which grew up in the rich cultural environment of Kyoto, is still used in daily life, and the artisans apply their creativity to devise new designs. The attraction of the folding fan owes its allure not merely to the superb craftsmanship and decorative skills involving the hand-working of selected materials, but it is a practical device with beauty of both form and function.
Photos: Beautiful folding fans made in Kyoto (Kyoto Sensu Uchiwa Shoko Kyodo Kumiai)
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