扇子/Sensu is a folding fan invented in Japan, with the date ranging from the 6th to 9th centuries. In old days, they were simply called 扇/Ougi. Japanese folding fans were originally made as court fans, and only people in high ranks were able to obtain them and they were tools to signify social standing, and often used during art performances like traditional dances. During war times in Japan, commanders would send samurais signals using fans.
Today, Japanese fans are most typically used to keep cool during the hot and humid Japanese summer times, and they remain as an important artistic tool and stylish fashion accessory as well.
According to the historical record of the Song Dynasty (950-1279), the Japanese monk Chonen gifted folding fans to the emperor of China in 988. Later in the 16th century, Japanese foldable fans were imported to Europe and became popular in Spain and then in other countries around.
Folding fans were typically crafted from bamboo and paper (expensive ones have Japanese 和紙/Washi paper). Japanese cypress known as Hinoki was used for traditional ones, and silk for the fancy fans.
Sensu were usually made for right-handed people, meaning you can spread a fan by opening from left to right. If you do the other way around, you will break the fan so be careful!
Also known as a fixed fan, Uchiwa fans are traditionally circular and made from paper and bamboo. These days however, plastic and paper are common materials. In addition to the regular use, you will often see Uchiwa fans during summer festivals as accessories and also for Bon dance performances.
Kazari Sensu are folding fans made for the interior decoration, especially for traditional Japanese tatami houses. Fine ones are hand made and have beautiful, flashy paintings on expensive Japanese Washi paper, and sometimes used for occasions like weddings to bring in good fortune. Although the main purpose is to display, they can be used like regular folding fans.
Folding ones are popular souvenirs. If you want to be creative, you could try making one for yourself at home!
Japanese fans are great tools for hot summer days and now that we have to wear masks at all times, using them is a great way to cool down.
Have yourself a portable fan and enjoy the summer!
Today’s words and phrases
・the other way around 逆のやり方で
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