Kyo folding fans

Kyo folding fans Kyo sensu

87 steps on the road to a masterpiece
A work of portable art bringing color to our life, an integral part of Noh theater, wedding ceremonies…


Sensu means a folding fan, and Kyo Sensu are fans produced centering on Kyoto; from olden times they have been much valued as high-quality art works, especially for the inclusion of gold or silver leaf or maki-e in their beautiful designs. Kyo Sensu, mainly comprised of bamboo and paper or silk, are usually made from the madake bamboos growing in the Kyoto and Tamba regions; bamboo being light and flexible is ideal for the fan ribs.
Kyo Sensu are characterized by their wide variety of types, such as hi-ogi or cypress folding fans made by stacking many thin cypress wood slats to create a final folding structure; kawahori-ogi named after a bat’s wing and made by pasting Japanese paper on 5 or 6 thin ribs; and the many different fans often seen in Noh theatre, Japanese dances, tea ceremonies, and a variety of festivities. According to the materials and manufacturing methods Kyo Sensu are diveded into two types: hari-ogi and ita-ogi. The pasted hari-ogi type is further divided into kamisen (paper fans) and kinusen (silk fans), while ita-ogi are made by stacking thin slats of aromatic treewood such as white sandalwood.
The extraordinary point common to all fans is the large number of artisans involved in the production of such a small item; there are some 87 processes, each requiring skilled handwork. Kyo Sensu are not only beautiful, but also utilitarian, delightfully fitting the hand, and with so many pliable senkotsu (fan ribs) they are flexible and ideal for fanning gentle cooling breezes on a warm day.


Kyo folding fans - History

It is considered that the first Kyo Sensu were derived from mokkan (wooden strips) dating from the early Heian period. A fan discovered inside a Buddhist statue in the Toji temple is considered to be Japan’s oldest fan; it is an example of hi-ogi and is inscribed with the characters “the first year of the Genkei era (877).”
In the mid-Heian period, kawahori-ogi became popular as summer fans. In the Fujiwara period, hi-ogi were made for the emperors and princes, and in the Muromachi period, under the influence of Chinese fans, kamisen made of bamboo and paper first appeared. From around the Heian period, folding fans being an essential part of social etiquette were often given as gifts, as well as simply being used for fanning. However, it was not until the Muromachi period and later that the production of fans used in Noh theater, incense and tea ceremonies, or other occasions started.
Around the 13th century, distribution of folding fans was not limited to local areas such as Edo, Kyoto producers were exporting fans overseas including to China. It is said that Kyo Sensu made their way to India and even further afield before arriving in Europe, where they were adopted into the design of the Western-style fans. Fans once exported overseas were later reimported, and kinusen using silk or cotton cloth were born.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Making Ribs: Dogiri (Cutting Bamboo) Bamboo is cut and the joints are removed to make senkotsu (fan ribs).
  2. 2. Waritake (Splitting Bamboo) After steaming, bamboo is finely sliced to the rib width by using a pattern to measure the length and a warikogatana (knife) or mallet.
  3. 3. Senbiki (Carving the Ribs) After rough planing to separate the white interior layer from the exterior bark, the exterior bark is planed thin on both sides, and left to dry for a day and night.
  4. 4. Memomi (Drilling) A hole is drilled in the base of the ribs and they are threaded onto a bamboo or metal skewer and left to soak and soften in water for 2 to 3 days. The hole will eventually be fitted with the final rivet.
  5. 5. Atetsuke (Shaping) Dozens of skewered ribs are laid out on a worktop and then cut and shaved to the final shape with a chisel and a unique-shaped knife called a wakikaki.
  6. 6. Shirahoshi (Air Drying) Air drying outside in the sun removes the shade of blue from the bamboo.
  7. 7. Migaki (Polishing) An inoki tool made of wild boar tusk is used for polishing.
  8. 8. Kanameuchi (Fitting the Rivet) The ribs are riveted followed by suesuki, which involves individually trimming and planing the ends of the ribs in preparation for being inserted into the fan paper. The now thin and narrowed section of the rib is known as nakabone.
  9. 9. Jigami (Paper) Processing Preparation of the jigami paper consists of awase, drying, and cutting to the fan shape. Awase involves pasting kawagami (shell paper) onto both sides of the shingami (core paper). This is a highly skilled task as it is important the core paper separates into two layers when the thinned nakabone ribs are inserted at the stage of herakuchiake. After pasting and drying, the layered sheets are cut into the fan shape.
  10. 10. Decoration: Hakuoshi (Foil Decoration) Fan-shaped jigami are sometimes decorated with gold leaf. With a bamboo spatula, gold leaf is cut on buckskin or ground into gold dust and then scattered on jigami, or gold leaf is applied directly to the design; both techniques add gorgeous coloration to Kyo Sensu. Moreover, in the muji-oshi (plain pressing) technique only found in Kyoto, extremely thin gold leaf covers the whole jigami, which requires a high degree of skill.
  11. 11. Painting, Woodblock Printing In this stage, a picture is drawn on the jigami, using colors mixed with glue, and applied by a single brush or multiple brushes. In addition to hand drawing, decoration is applied by kirigata surikomi or tsukihan, a technique unique to Kyoto.
  12. 12. Folding Firstly herakuchiake using a bamboo spatula is carried out to split the pasted core paper into two layers, and then the damp jigami is inserted between origata (folding molds), and each crease is individually folded.
  13. 13. Nakazashi (Opening) Using a sashidake (thin bamboo tool) a space to insert each nakabone rib is created in the part that was split into two layers in the herakuchiake stage.
  14. 14. Mangiri (Cutting) To adjust to the right size, the excess paper at the top and bottom of the jigami is removed using a mangiri (large blade).
  15. 15. Finishing: Nakatsuke The artisan by blowing air inflates the spaces created in the core paper in the nakazashi stage in preparation for more easily inserting the glue-coated nakabone ribs. The larger the number of ribs, the narrower the space to insert the nakabone, which requires a highly skilled technique.
  16. 16. Oya-ate (Attaching the Side Guards) Firstly oyatame is carried out in which the fan’s oyabone (side guards) are warmed to bend inward along with the tamekawa. Oyatame ensures the fan closes tightly and helps produce the characteristic sharp snapping sound. Finally, glue is applied to the inner side of the side guards, and attached to both ends of the jigami and left to dry. The Kyo Sensu is now completed.

Where to Buy & More Information

Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts

Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts