During the warm Kyoto summers, it’s not unusual to see women and men unfolding hand fans and quietly enjoying the breeze. This effortlessly cool accessory, called sensu in Japanese, is steeped in rich history and remains as a timeless art form. To this day, folding fans flutter in the hands of geisha walking along Kyoto’s cobblestone streets, businessmen hailing a cab, or even chic women waiting for a subway train.
My friends at Miyawaki Baisen-an, a centuries-old fan shop in the heart of Kyoto, shared with me some fantastic facts and figures behind this elegant invention.
6th: century that folding fans came into fashion for the noble classes. The earliest fans of the Heian Period are depicted in paintings and other artwork.
1823: year that Miyawaki Baisen-an opened as a fan shop in Kyoto. Working with the finest craftsmen, Miyawaki Baisen-an is the go-to shop for fans carried by geisha, artists and dignitaries. It’s also one of my must-see places in Kyoto—no trip is complete without a visit.
1868: year Japanese folding fans became a key export. At the end of the Edo Period, global demand inspired fan-makers to explore new designs that would appeal to those outside of Japan.
1: decade of practice required to master the art of traditional fan-making.
60: years Yonehara-san, the artist who made our Hikari Kyoto Fan, has been making fans by hand. Yonehara-san was kind enough to let us into his workshop, pictured in the blog post.
8: weeks it takes to make one fan, from start to finish. The steps that require the most care are making the folds, dampening the paper, and carefully inserting the paper into the fan’s frame.
87: steps to make a fan by hand, from start to finish.
12: special tools used to craft each fan.
50: fans that Yonehara-san makes at a time.
3: layers of paint applied to this year’s Hikari Kyoto Fan, which was inspired by the way light sparkles on Kyoto’s waters. The fan is first painted grey, then covered in blue. As a final step, iridescent pigments are added for a pearly lustre.
4: limited-edition, hand-made fans we’ve brought to you. It’s become our yearly tradition to introduce a new fan as a nod to our Japanese heritage, and the good luck they symbolize.
35: the number of fans from Kyoto in my personal collection (yes, I am quite the fan)! Each time I visit Miyawaki Baisen-an, I leave with a new piece of art that’s travel-friendly and quintessentially Japanese.