History of Uchiwa|Changes in usage and the three major types of Uchiwa in Japan

The sight of people fanning themselves with uchiwa fans to cool off has become a summer tradition. They are also popular as an item to add color to summer kimonos and yukata kimonos. What is the history of uchiwa fans before they took root in Japanese life? This article explains how Uchiwa originated in Japan and how their use has changed over the years. We will also introduce some historical uchiwa, such as the three most famous uchiwa in Japan. Please read this article to further enjoy the familiar Uchiwa.

Origin and Etymology of Uchiwa

How did the uchiwa, which is now a part of Japanese daily life, originate? And what is the origin of the word "Uchiwa"? First, let us give you a basic knowledge of the history of Uchiwa.

Origin of Uchiwa

Uchiwa is said to have originated from "shades" introduced from China (Zhou Dynasty) in the 3rd century B.C. The shades have long handles, and the fan part is made of bird feathers. The shades had long handles, and the fan surface was made of bird feathers. It is believed to have been used by aristocrats and other people of high rank to hide their faces, rather than for cooling off as it is used today.

Etymology of Uchiwa

The name "Uchiwa" is thought to have changed from "Utsuha" to "Uchiwa. Some people believe that the word "uchiwa" originated from the action of swatting away flies, mosquitoes, and other insects, or to drive away misfortune. The Chinese character for "uchiwa" is the Chinese word for "fan," to which the reading "uchiwa" has been applied. The character for "dan" means round, and the character for "fan" means the wind that occurs when opening and closing a Kannon door.

History of Uchiwa and Changes in Usage

Uchiwa fans were introduced to Japan from China and have been used since ancient times, but what is the history of uchiwa fans before they took on their current form and usage? Here we introduce the history of uchiwa fans from ancient times to the present day, and the changes in their usage.

The Primitive Era

The earliest Japanese uchiwa materials are excavated artifacts and wall paintings from the Yayoi Period and Kofun Period. At that time, it is believed that the shades, the origin of uchiwa, were introduced from China (Zhou), and wooden utensils in the shape of uchiwa were found. Based on the murals painted on the tomb mound, it is believed that these tools were used for ceremonial purposes.

Ancient (Asuka, Nara, Heian)

Uchiwa gradually developed over time. In the Nara and Heian periods, decorative uchiwa fans and large uchiwa fans were made for aristocrats and other people of high rank. These uchiwa were used to keep cool, hide one's face, and decorate. On the other hand, the common people began to use uchiwa fans, which were light and easy to use.

Medieval Period (Kamakura, Muromachi, Sengoku)

Toward the end of the Muromachi period (1333-1573), uchiwa began to approach its present form. The structure was changed to one made of bone and paper, which was the basis of the modern uchiwa, and it became even lighter and easier to use. During the Warring States period, military commanders created a tool known as the "Gunbaiuchiwa" (軍配団扇). The gambauchiwa was used by warlords to direct their troops in battle. In modern times, the gunbaiuchiwa is used by sumo gyoji as a tool for instructing rikishi on how to stand and how to judge wrestlers.

Early Modern Period (Edo)

The Edo period (1603-1867) was a time when uchiwa fans became widely popular among the general public. Uchiwa came to be used in various aspects of daily life, such as to keep cool and to create a breeze for cooking. Furthermore, the design of uchiwa also developed during the Edo period. The development of woodblock printing technology made it possible to mass-produce fan paintings, and ukiyoe and portraits of actors began to be drawn on uchiwa fans. The appearance of uchiwa fans with ingenious designs made them popular not only as a practical tool, but also as an item for enjoying fashion.


Ibasen, a long-established manufacturer of uchiwa, began manufacturing uchiwa in the mid-Edo period. The uchiwa made from bamboo and Japanese paper by Ibasen at that time eventually became a product called "Edo Uchiwa. When ukiyoe decorated fans became popular in the late Edo period, Ibasen became the publisher of popular ukiyoe artists such as Toyokuni Utagawa I, Kuniyoshi Utagawa, and Hiroshige Utagawa.

Edo fan

Modern to Contemporary

Furthermore, in the Meiji period (1868-1912), the use of uchiwa as an advertising medium became popular. As is often seen in modern campaigns, advertisements were placed on the fan surface of uchiwa fans and distributed to a large number of people. Such fan advertisements were used by companies and temples and shrines of the time. On the other hand, some uchiwa fans continue to be produced as works of art or crafts, such as those with beautiful paintings on the fan surface. In this way, uchiwa have become an important part of Japanese life and culture over the course of its long history.

Three Traditional Japanese Uchiwa with Long History

The most famous traditional Japanese uchiwa production areas are the southern part of the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture, Marugame in Kagawa Prefecture, and Kyoto Prefecture. Uchiwa made in these three regions are known as "Japan's Three Great Uchiwa. Finally, we will introduce the history and characteristics of the three major Japanese Uchiwa.

Boshu Uchiwa

Boshu Uchiwa are made in the southern part of the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture. This area was once called Awa Province (Boshu) and was a bamboo production area. When fan production began in the Kanto region during the Edo period (1603-1867), Boshu supported the production as a bamboo production center, but by the Meiji period (1868-1912), uchiwa were also being made in Boshu. Later, when Tokyo's fan wholesalers were damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake, production was expanded by wholesalers who moved to Boshu. Boshu Uchiwa are characterized by the "marue" pattern, which makes use of the round shape of the bamboo, and the "saki-dake" window (the part of the Uchiwa not covered with paper), which is made by splitting the bamboo into small pieces.

Marugame Uchiwa

Marugame Uchiwa are made in the Marugame area of Kagawa Prefecture. In the early Edo period (1603-1867), uchiwa were invented in Marugame as a souvenir for "Konpira mairi," a pilgrimage to Konpira Shrine. The design of the souvenir uchiwa is based on the feather fan believed to be carried by powerful tengu, with the word "Kin" written in vermilion-red with a round seal. These uchiwa became popular as souvenirs, which led to the development of Marugame uchiwa. With many craftsmen living in the area and materials available nearby, Marugame boasts a large share, 90%, of the total production of Uchiwa in Japan. The characteristics of Uchiwa fans from all over Japan are gathered in the region, and a wide variety of shapes and designs are produced.

Kyoto Uchiwa

Kyo-uchiwa are made in the Kyoto area. The characteristics of the region, where a rich court culture has taken root over the past thousand years, are reflected in the uchiwa. The origin of today's Kyo Uchiwa is believed to be the "Gosho Uchiwa" made by painters of the Tosa and Kano schools who worked for the Imperial Court. The characteristic feature of this type of fan is a structure called a "sashie," in which the handle is attached later, separately from the fan's middle bone. The number of middle bones can be as many as 50 to 100, and the larger the number of bones, the higher the quality of the fan. In addition, decorative fans made of high-quality materials, lacquered or gilded, and otherwise highly valued as works of art or crafts are also produced.

The history of Uchiwa will bring you even more enjoyment!

So far, we have reported on the origin and etymology of uchiwa, its history and changes in usage, and the characteristics of the "three major uchiwa" in Japan, which have a long history. Uchiwa are a familiar part of our daily lives, whether we visit a summer festival with an Uchiwa in hand or receive one from a campaign on the street. The usage of uchiwa fans, which is now taken for granted, was born over a long period of history and eventually took root in people's daily lives. Knowing the history of uchiwa fans makes their use even more enjoyable. Ibasen, a long-established uchiwa manufacturer, offers "Edo Uchiwa" fans decorated with fan paintings from the Edo period. Please visit our online store if you are looking for stylish uchiwa fans with a sense of tradition.