A-Z of Japan: F is for…

I’m a little early this week, but it’s time for my A-Z of Japan. So, what could F be for? Of course, the obvious choice would be Fuji-san (富士山). A less obvious choice might be furoshiki (風呂敷) – Japanese wrapping cloths. Or I could write all about fish – one of the staple foods in Japan. But I’ve decided on a more seasonal choice.

F is for… fans!

Most of Japan gets really hot in the summer, so it’s no surprise that people tend to carry fans. Japanese fans come in two basic styles, called “uchiwa” and “sensu”.

In the picture above, the fan on the left is an uchiwa (団扇), or “flat fan”, and the fan on the right is a sensu (扇子), or “folding fan”. Generally speaking, a sensu is much more beautiful than an uchiwa, and much more expensive. When walking in the street or attending a festival in Japan you can often be given an uchiwa for free, as they are also used for advertising. However, both types of fan can be beautifully designed, collectors’ items – or incredibly cheap, costing only ¥100.

If you attend a summer festival in Japan, you will probably see a lot of fans. Both women and men often tuck them into their yukata as they walk around or join in the festival.

Bon dancers

Fans may also be used in dances and parades.

Float - man with fans

Fans have been used in this way for a long time, and are a traditional dance accessory for geisha and maiko.

If you are in Japan, go into a department store and you will be able to see large sections of ornate fans for sale (especially around summertime). Some of them are really beautiful, and you can understand why people collect them and spend a lot of money on them. Fans also make great presents, and a lovely souvenir from your trip to Japan. Remember, you don’t have to spend a fortune if you don’t want to. Even ¥100 can buy you a very pretty fan – so you might want to buy them for all your friends!

This is one of my favourite fans, which was given to me as a gift while I was working in Nagoya:

Nagoya Sensu

This fan is made out of paper, and I don’t tend to use it because I don’t want to risk damaging it. A lot of sensu are made out of fabric though, and they seem a little sturdier to me. I think a sensu is more practical than an uchiwa, because you can fold it up and tuck it into your handbag. In fact, I still carry mine in my bag now, and have found it comes in very handy on the London Underground!

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