|Japan's Paper Fan|
Fans play important role in Japanese society and culture
Japanese fans called sensu or ohgi (folding fan), uchiwa (flat fan) are not only designed to fan away summer heat, but they also take on important roles in ceremonial and social activities in Japan.
The first fans were introduced from China in the 6th century. They were made of a simple flat and stiff design. The folding fans called "sensu" or "ohgi" originated in Japan during the 7th century. Both types are still used today by both men and women. Ohgi became popular among the ladies of the Imperial Court in 763 and were used primarily to cover the face from public view.
The folding fans were once used as a gift to show goodwill and respect during the Heian Era (794-1192). The emperor presented the fans to pay respect to the many shrines. The fans today are used in formal tea ceremonies, the chief guest takes a small folding fan to greet the host. Also Japanese style wedding, and noh plays.
Fan frames are usually made of bamboo. Fan ribs are made of bamboo, wood, plastic or steel. The frame and ribs are covered with materials such as paper, rayon, lace or silk. Paper-covered fans are usually decorated with painted or printed designs or brush writing.
Before the electric fan was invented, manual fans were invaluable in Japan's daily life. Throughout Japan, household fans were made of water-proof and durable shibu-uchiwa. They were coated with persimmon extract, and were used to kindle a cooking fire or accelerate wood burning for preparing a bath.
Today, the flat fans are mainly used for festivals or advertising purposes. But, during bon dancing or a summer night-out, people still carry them to fan away mosquitoes.
In sumo wrestling events, a referee uses a fan called "gumbai uchiwa" to show the outcome of the bout. During professional or high school baseball games, fans play an important role in leading cheers (in the same fashion as American cheerleaders use their pompoms). Colorful and elaborate folding fans call "mai-ohgi" are indispensable in performing traditional Japanese dances.
Whatever the purpose, Japanese fans are a nice gift in showing goodwill to friends.