No trip to Kyoto is complete without visiting Miyawaki baisen-an, the legendary maker of some of Japan’s finest folding fans, called sensu. Exploring the abundant collection in this store and meeting with Mr. Takashima, the proprietor, has become a favorite ritual. Every year, he selects a fan for me that he feels best suits my personality, and I add it to my collection. While I have always appreciated the aesthetic and practical beauty of the fans, after he explained the long history and cultural symbolism of fans, my appreciation for these elegant keepsakes expanded exponentially.
“Geisha and others used it to deflect, divert or even disguise emotions with a flick or a flutter.”
A uniquely Japanese invention, the sensu’s opening symbolizes the spread of good fortune. Unlike other fans that stay fixed, sensu neatly fold away, easily tucked into a kimono obi or in modern times, a purse or briefcase. Popularized by nobles, Kabuki actors and geisha, the folding fan quickly became an indispensible accessory in Japan. Besides offering quick relief from the humid summer weather, the fan’s portability makes it a clever communication tool as well. Geisha and others used it to deflect, divert or even disguise emotions with a flick or a flutter.
Fans also play a pivotal role in tea ceremonies and other traditional events. For centuries, fans have been a favorite gift for significant occasions, especially at birthdays, graduations and weddings. Each spoke of the fan brings good luck, especially at a turning point in his or her life, and is often handed down as an heirloom between generations.
My fans will always hold a special place in my heart, the black one Mr. Takashima first selected for me years ago, and the white, lucky shippo-patterned one he picked for me last year—and I’m already looking forward to seeing which one he will select for me when I visit Kyoto next month.
In honor of this tradition, we partner with Miyawaki baisen-an to bring our friends a special fan as a token of good luck from Kyoto. This year’s fan is the Shirakawa fan, named after the famous river that runs through Gion, the district where geisha have lived for centuries. One side shimmers with gold ink, while the other side is in silver, to represent the way light reflects off the water’s surface. A delicate fragrance compliments the cool breeze that is created when using this fan. The Shirakawa fan is a lovely gift to commemorate a special moment or to simply stay refreshed this summer.