The charm and history of Uchiwa as a traditional craft|Basic Knowledge of Japan's Three Major Uchiwa Crafts

Among the Uchiwa produced in Japan, there are three traditional crafts known as "Japan's Three Great Uchiwa. They are "Marugame Uchiwa" produced in Marugame City, Kagawa Prefecture, "Kyo Uchiwa" produced in Nantan City, Kyoto Prefecture, and "Boshu Uchiwa" produced in Tateyama City and Minamiboso City, Chiba Prefecture.

These uchiwa are designated as "traditional crafts" by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. Traditional crafts are handicrafts made with traditional techniques, technologies, and raw materials. By meeting certain conditions, they are designated as traditional crafts by the government.

What are the characteristics of uchiwa that have been traditionally made in each region? In this article, we will introduce the production areas where Uchiwa fans have been produced in Japan since ancient times and the charm of each type of Uchiwa.

Japan's three most popular traditional crafts

Traditional crafts have taken root in Japanese life since ancient times and continue to be made using traditional methods until the present day. The three regions known as "Japan's three major Uchiwa" are famous for the production of Uchiwa, which are designated as "traditional crafts" by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. Here we introduce the production areas and characteristics of Marugame Uchiwa, Kyo Uchiwa, and Boshu Uchiwa.

Marugame Uchiwa

Marugame Uchiwa is produced mainly in Marugame City, Kagawa Prefecture. It was designated as a traditional craft on May 14, 1997. The handle and the fan face are made from a single piece of bamboo. The history of Marugame Uchiwa is said to have begun in the early Edo period. At that time, uchiwa fans with "gold" written in a circle on the red fan were invented as souvenirs for "Konpira mairi," a pilgrimage to Konpira Shrine. In the mid-Edo period (1603-1867), the Marugame clan encouraged the production of uchiwa fans as an in-house occupation. Against this background, fan making developed as a local industry. Although the demand for uchiwa in Japan has been decreasing with the changing times, the Marugame area continues to be the production center of uchiwa, accounting for 90% of the total uchiwa production in Japan.

Kyoto Uchiwa

Kyo-uchiwa are fans produced mainly in Kyoto City and Nantan City, Kyoto Prefecture. They were designated as a traditional craft on October 14, 1977. The main feature of Kyo-uchiwa is a structure called "Sapgara," in which the middle bone of the fan is separated from the handle. It is believed that Kyo-uchiwa originated from a line of uchiwa introduced from Korea during the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties. The characteristics that lead to today's Kyo Uchiwa began with the Gosho Uchiwa of the Edo period (1603-1868). Gosho Uchiwa are uchiwa with designs drawn by painters of the Tosa and Kano schools who served the court, and the structure of the inserts was adopted. Some high-end Kyo-uchiwa have as many as 50 to 100 middle bones. Some Kyo-uchiwa are highly valued as works of art or crafts, and the high-end ones are mainly used as decorations.

Boshu Uchiwa

Boshu Uchiwa are produced mainly in Tateyama City and Minami-Boso City, Chiba Prefecture. They were designated as a traditional craft on March 17, 2003. The two distinctive characteristics of Uchiwa fans are the "round handle," which uses round bamboo for the handle, and the "split bamboo," which is made by splitting the bamboo into small pieces to make the window (the part not covered with paper) of the Uchiwa. The raw material used for the round handle is a thin bamboo called "jyotake," which is processed to take advantage of its unique roundness. Up until around the Edo period, Boshu was a source of high-quality bamboo, which supported the production of uchiwa (Japanese fan) making. Uchiwa making is said to have started in this area around the Meiji period (1868-1912). Later, after the Great Kanto Earthquake, Tokyo's damaged uchiwa wholesalers moved to Boshu, leading to a full-scale expansion of production and establishing it as a local industry.

The Appeal of Uchiwa as a Traditional Craft

How about choosing an Uchiwa, which you usually use to keep cool, with particular attention to its place of origin? Here we introduce the appeal of uchiwa as a traditional craft, which can be recommended both as a practical product and as a fashion item that goes well with yukata (light cotton kimono).

Carefully handmade

Even today, many production processes of traditional Uchiwa crafts are still done by hand by craftsmen. A single fan is completed only after many delicate processes are completed. The advanced skills of skilled craftsmen are indispensable in this process. Traditional fan-making techniques and region-specific techniques have been passed down from generation to generation, and this is what makes Uchiwa fans so rich in flavor. The high quality that only handmade uchiwa fans can provide is one of the major attractions of traditional craft uchiwa fans.

You can enjoy the differences in production areas.

Each region has its own unique characteristics in terms of traditional crafts. The historical background and characteristics of the materials used differ from region to region, making it possible to enjoy the differences in design and production methods. In addition to the "Japan's Three Great Uchiwa" and other traditional crafts introduced earlier, there are other attractive uchiwa. Examples include mizuuchiwa (Gifu Prefecture), which are made of handmade Japanese paper, and shibuuchiwa (Kochi Prefecture), which are coated with persimmon tannin to prevent insects. Why not find your favorite uchiwa from among those produced in various parts of Japan?

History of Uchiwa

Uchiwa is now one of the traditional crafts. Its history is long, dating back to the Kofun period. Finally, we would like to introduce the history of Uchiwa.

Kofun Period

The prototype of the uchiwa was a tool called "shades," which came from China. The hai has a longer handle than today's uchiwa. It was used to hide the face of a person of high rank to show authority.

Asuka period - Kamakura period

Uchiwa were used to hide the faces of aristocrats and other people of high rank. They were made from a variety of materials, including bird feathers, to create colorful uchiwa fans. Gradually, uchiwa came to be used in daily life as a way to ward off insects.

Warring States Period

Gunpai Uchiwa (military fans) were used during battles. Gundan Uchiwa is used by warlords to direct their troops in battle. In modern times, it is used as a tool for the gyoji, the Sumo wrestler in charge.

Edo Period

In the Edo period (1603-1867), uchiwa became popular among the general public. They came to be widely used in daily life, such as for keeping cool and for starting fires for cooking, as is the case today. Uchiwa fans with ukiyoe paintings of beautiful women and Kabuki actors were very popular at that time. Uchiwa became popular not only as a tool but also as a work of art.