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Japanese fans – Types and Symbolism

Japanese fans – Types and Symbolism

As we think of Japan, the very first image that comes into our mind is a lady wearing Kimono holding a fan and an umbrella.Japanese society has a major influence of holding fans in their culture.
Hand Fans are meant for providing cooling wind in hot weather,but they are closely related to Japan’s traditional dance forms and other cultural activities.

Most commonly, the Japanese fans are made of identical length sticks held together at the bottom with a rivet, then a curved leaf of paper, silk, lace or any other material is glued to the sticks and pleated.

There are actually three types of Japanese Fans :

sandal wood fan with stand - floral

(1) Fixed Fans: These fans are rigid and cannot be folded .In Japan, they are called “Uchiwa” and in China, they are known as “Ping Shan “. Such fans can be circular, palm-leaf shaped, straw fans and even feather fans etc..These fans are very popular throughout Asia including Myanmar , Thailand ,Cambodia and Sri Lanka and till now , are used by Buddhist monks as “Ceremonial fans “.These fans have deeper relation in Japan’s history and their customs and culture.

(2) Folding Fans: These fans can be freely folded and can be made of paper, silk or sandalwood etc..They are called “Zhe Shan” in China while “Sensu “or “Ougi” in Japanese. These fans are made of tying thin stripes of Japanese Cypress wood (called “Hinoki”) combined with thread. And leaves of washi paper or silk painted by craftsmen or artists. These fans also imprinted with traditional pictures.They are handy and can be carried anywhere with you .Normally, fans of 20cm length are for women while 23 cm is for men.

Japanese fans
Sandal Wood fan- dragon
cherry blossom sandalwood fan

(3) Brise Fans : These are common type of Folding fans made of decorative sticks with no pleated leaf.(Brise is a term for “broken” in French since the early 20th century)The Brise fan has carved or pierced sticks held together by a ribbon or lace which is either threaded through pierced openings at the top of sticks or glued to each stick.Brise fans have sticks between 6” and 7 “long. These sticks are carved or pierced, creating a uniform repeating pattern giving an illusion of filigree or lace.

Brise fan

Symbolism and beliefs

The fan is symbol of prosperity and spread it even more as we open it. Also it is said when we swing fans , its sticks move in various directions and are resembled to various path leading us through our life after our birth.
Mostly all the patterns on the fan have odd number of patterns and they consider odd as a lucky number.
Also different paintings and pictures on the leaves of the fan have certain meanings. Their color also signifies different meanings like Gold Colored fans are considered to attract wealth .Red and White colors are lucky colors in Japan and so colored fans.
Gifting fans to family and friends is a tradition in Japan and wishing for their long life and happiness.

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