What are Kyo Folding Fans?
Kyo Folding Fans are all made in and around Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto. This style of fan has its origins deep in Japanese history, and Kyoto was at the center of its development. Each step of the manufacturing process is carried out by a specialized artisan, and the fans are renowned for their intricate designs. They are popular not only in Japan but around the world, with many visitors to Japan buying them as souvenirs or gifts.
The History of Kyo Folding Fans
Kyo Folding Fans originated at the beginning of the Heian period (8th century AD). The legend is that a Heike princess, Tama-ori, created a fan called akome-ogi with the monks at one of the veneration halls in Kyoto (miedou), built in the early 9th century. This akome-ogi fan was made especially for women dressed in formal attire, which is also the case for original kyo fans.
However, a more prosaic explanation is that folding fans were based on long wooden slats called mokkan. Owing to the expense and rarity of paper at that time, people utilized these wooden slats for writing and keeping records. These mokkan were often linked together into a kind of notepad that could double up as a fan. Thus, these notepads acquired the name hi-ogi, meaning cypress-wood fans. People commonly wrote letters and messages on these notepad fans, but gradually pictures were used to decorate them.
Later in the same period, a new style of fan was developed; this fan used bamboo or wood for the structural elements (senkotsu), and paper attached to one side. This fan was said to resemble the wings of a bat when open, and was therefore given the name kawahori-ogi (bat fan). Towards the end of the Heian period, more intricate details and cut-away designs were added to the wooden senkotsu parts of the fan. The most notable of these designs were minaeribone and kirisukashi-ogi.
The folding fan most commonly seen today, with paper attached to both sides of the senkotsu, was actually a 're-import' from China. During the Kamakura period (13th century), Japanese fans had been exported in large numbers to China, where further developments on the original design were made. In the following centuries, these Chinese-style fans (to-ogi) were then brought back into Japan, where they quickly gained popularity for everyday use.
There are still a wide range of folding fans made according to these historical designs that are produced in Kyoto today. The importance of the Kyo Folding Fans was recognized by the Japanese government in 1977 when the industry was designated a 'Japanese Traditional Craft'.
The features of Kyo Folding Fans
Kyo Folding Fans are noted for their refinement and classic beauty. These qualities derive from the knowledge and techniques of experienced artisans and the use of the finest materials. While at first glance it can be difficult to differentiate a Kyo Folding Fan from other fans, those with the Kyoto heritage have a greater number of wooden slats or ribs (senkotsu) and the folding width of the fan is therefore narrower. As a result, Kyoto fans open and close very smoothly, and when folded they are particularly neat and beautiful.
The wooden ribs of the fan are made from a particular type of bamboo, called madake, which grows in Tamba near Kyoto. This bamboo is harvested, steamed and then split to the size required for the individual ribs using a small knife or mallet. This process is divided into 87 different steps, each one of which is carried out by a different, skilled professional, which results in a more refined and robust fan.
Modern Usage and Maintenance
There are a number of different types of Kyo Folding Fans. The most commonly found is the kawahori-ogi. This is used primarily in the hot summer months as an aid to keeping cool. As such, they often carry a design or pattern that has a refreshing or cooling connotation. They come in larger sizes for men, and smaller ones for women.
Some fans are made with embroidered silk and, while these are used in daily life, they do make excellent gifts due to the intricacy of the patterns and designs. Those silk fans without embroidery (kinusen) can coordinate very well with modern western clothing styles, while their durability and the luxuriousness of the silk make them very popular. Shuugisen, meanwhile, are fans made for specific celebrations or occasions. The pictures or patterns on a shuugisen are typically associated with a particular event, so it can be helpful to consult a professional to interpret the design before purchasing. In addition, there are fans used for a whole host of different cultural events: for the tea ceremony; for traditional dances; and for performances in the Noh theater.
In caring for your fan, there are a number of precautions you can take. Most importantly, do not use a Kyo Folding Fan around water or fire. When you store your fan, ensure that it is folded correctly and, ideally, wrapped in the washi paper in which it came.
These steps can prevent the wooden ribs from bending or snapping. If your fan is to be stored for a longer period, try to avoid exposure to high temperatures and high humidity to stop mold forming. In terms of daily maintenance, the wooden ribs should be wiped with a dry cloth to remove any dust prior to folding. If you notice any dirty finger marks or stains, you can use highly refined sandpaper to gently remove them.
The face of the fan should be cleaned of dust using a clothes brush. However, if you notice more stubborn dirt on the face, you should use a well-wrung, damp cloth to wipe the affected area and then ensure it is completely dry before folding and storing. If any of the ribs or other wooden elements of the fan break or the face comes away from the ribs, then contact the manufacturer or vendor. The time and cost of repairs will vary depending on the type of damage, but it may be possible to completely restore a damaged fan.