July 28, 2007

Uchiwa - Japanese fan

Another symbol of summer in Japan are the Japanese fans, also known as Uchiwa (うちわ). Uchiwa are flat, non-folding Japanese fans which have been a familiar part of daily life for all classes in Japan since ancient times.

Similar to fans available in China, many people think of the folding style fan as most common to Japan. These are much harder to make and thus also more expensive. For common, everyday use, the uchiwa is the casual breeze-making tool of choice.

It is not clear when uchiwa were invented or how the idea arrived in Japan. Historical records indicate that the first uchiwa fans were brought from China in the 5th century. In the very beginning, these fans were sacred tools used in Buddhist ceremonies and rituals. The earliest designs were not rounded as they are today. Instead, they were more like rectangles mounted on a stick.

The Japanese imperial family and other noble families used these fans to block the sun and to discreetly hide their faces from the public on the few occasions that they ventured into the world of daily life beyond the palaces and estates where they spent their days.

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