Sunday, 23 August 2009

Ōgi - Fans

One of the images of Japan which always comes to mind is that of the fan and as a number of designs from JEC incorporate fans of one kind or another I thought I would do some reading up on the subject. So here you go, a very potted history of the Japanese fan, more reading and websites are at the bottom of the post.
Fans have been used for millennia, whether in the form of a leaf or a beautifully decorated folding fan, hand painted and gilded with gold leaf. Early Japanese fans resemble early Chinese fans and were either one piece rigid fans made from feathers or silk stretched over a round or oval frame or larger ceremonial fans. These rigid fans are known as uchiwa, you can see one of these in the photo below.
Given the fragile nature of fans very few early ones have survived to the present day, but they have been depicted in many ways in fabric, lacquer work, carvings, paintings, to name just a few. Some of these are very detailed and much information can be drawn from these representations. The earliest representation of a fan in Japan is of a large ceremonial type and is dated to the 6th century, it appears in a tomb in Wakamiya. The folding fan appeared early in the development of fans but actual evidence of where it was developed is vague. However, circumstantial evidence points to Japan, and the Chinese give credit to the Japanese. Two types of fans are described in a Japanese dictionary dated 935AD, the uchiwa and ōgi (a generic name for folding fans). Given that a generic name for folding fans had been in use for long enough to appear in a dictionary, they must have been around for some time before 935AD.

A boys kimono decorated with fans (picture courtesy of Ichiroya)

Hiōgi - these types of folding fans are most frequently made from strips of cypress wood. They were the official imperial court fan right through until the 19th century. They are made with about 30 or so wooden 'blades' which are held together with a rivet at the base and either cords or ribbons at the top. These fans were highly decorated and the guard sticks of the fans used by the Empress would be decked with artificial flowers and long flowing cords.

Wedding kimono from Ichiroya decorated with representations of hiōgi fans

Suehiro (wide ended) fans were created in the 15th century and used paper on both sides of the fan sticks, technical problems created by incorporating paper on two sides created the wide ended shape but the shape proved popular and eventually was created deliberately.

Kimono from Ichiroya decorated with suehiro fans

Suehiro - stitched by Carol-Anne Conway, design copyright of JEC

The technical problem of incorporating two leaves of paper was solved also by developing bombori type fans. In this type the guard sticks are formed to bend sharply inwards, when closed this gives the shape of fans we in the west would easily recognise. These fans are often described as suehiro as well.

Kimono from Ichiroya decorated with designs of hiogi fans

If you'd like to find out more about Japanese fans there is a wonderful book called Ōgi, A History of the Japanese Fan, by Julia Hutt and Helene Alexander. It has lots of detailed information and wonderful photographs. ISBN 1-872357-08 3

There are loads of websites out there where you can find out more and also buy fans, here are three to get you started.

The Fan Museum, Greenwich

Japanese fans in Noh drama

Lifstyle Japan - article on Uchiwa

Video of fan making from You Tube