Kyo uchiwa fans

Kyo uchiwa fans Kyo uchiwa

The traditional Japanese summer must-have:
A delicate fan made of thin bamboo ribs


What is Kyo uchiwa fans ?

Kyo uchiwa are a type of Japanese traditional fans made in the Kyoto prefecture. There are three main types of traditional fans: Chinese-inspired, southern-inspired and Korean-inspired fans. Kyo uchiwa belong to the third category.
The English word "fan" can refer to "uchiwa" which are flat fans that do not open and to sensu which are folding fans. This page refers to the uchiwa type only.
They have front and back ground papers pasted onto their 50 to 100 bamboo ribs (the more ribs, the more high-class). Kyo uchiwa have a unique structure of thin bamboo ribs aligned to form a flat surface with a handle made of lacquered and dyed bamboo and Japanese cedar. One of the most popular fans is the hyakudate (or "a hundred sticks" in Japanese) with 100 ribs.
Kyo uchiwa are sometimes called Miyako uchiwa literally meaning “fan of the capital” or Gosho uchiwa “fan of the imperial palace”. They are known for their elegant paintings, gorgeous Japanese lacquerware and gold leaves decorations. Most of the Kyo uchiwa designs are inspired from traditional Japanese scenery, plants, the changing seasons or haiku and tanka poems.


Kyo uchiwa were brought to Japan by Japanese pirates marauding along the coasts of China and Korea during the Nanbokucho period (1336-1392) when wars between the North and the South courts of Japan were at their peak. This Korean-inspired fan slowly made its way from the coast to the inside of Japan and eventually to the region of Kyoto. This is where the Kyo uchiwa as we know them today were developed once and for all, giving them the name of Kyo uchiwa or sometimes Kyoto uchiwa. The name Miyako uchiwa (fan of the capital) was also given to them as Kyoto was the capital of Japan at the time. Miyako uchiwa were very popular with the nobles of Kyoto as they were believed to be the most elegant fans.

The inserted handle (sashie), unique to the Kyo uchiwa was only added at the end of the 19th century, after the Edo period (1603-1868). This is when two of the most important Japanese painting schools (Tosa and Kano schools) became interested in Kyo uchiwa and began painting on them, giving another name to the Kyo uchiwa : Gosho uchiwa (fan of the imperial palace). Fans, including Kyo uchiwa, then became a popular daily item for all levels of society.

Most Japanese houses and stores are now equipped with air conditioning but fans are still an important part of life in Japan. They are used in offices, homes, during transportation, in festivals etc. whenever one may need some cool air or a light wind just for themselves.
Kyo uchiwa are appreciated for their beautiful shapes and designs and can be used as accessories in everyday life or as a finishing touch to a yukata (a type of kimono worn in the summer).

General Production Process

  1. 1.Cutting the bamboo The bamboo is dried, cut along its length and then split vertically into strips that fit the dimensions of the fan.
  2. 2.Equalizing the sides The bamboo strips that will become the ribs of the fan are cut on the sides to become the same size.
  3. 3.Adjusting the strips’ thickness The strips are cut into very thin layers.
  4. 4.Indenting The strips are indented at the top.
  5. 5.Rubbing By rubbing the strips, the indents at the top become bigger slits. The indents at the top naturally cleave on both sides along the bamboo fibers.
  6. 6.Planing The strips that will become the ribs of the fan are planed.
  7. 7.Decorating the paper The paper is decorated using different techniques: hand-painting, woodblock printing, dyeing, or collage.
  8. 8.Backing The backing paper and the ribs are pasted together. Then, the frame of the fan is created by pasting the backing paper onto the ribs and the thin paper.
  9. 9.Peeling The thin paper previously pasted onto the ribs is moistened and the paper peeled away from the ribs.
  10. 10.Pasting A front ground paper is pasted onto the ribs and the backing ground paper.
  11. 11.Fixing Once the glue is completely dry, each rib’s inside edge is pinched with a spatula to crease the ground papers.
  12. 12.Reinforcing A cloth or a thick paper is pasted over the part where the fan handle will be inserted so as to reinforce the structure.
  13. 13.Shaping The paper is cut into the shape of the fan.
  14. 14.Finishing touches Thin paper is pasted all around the fan and the handle is attached to the reinforced part of the fan.

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The traditional Japanese summer must-have: A delicate fan made of thin bamboo ribs

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Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts

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