Varieties of Japanese Fans

There are two basic types of fans that exist in the Orient. The first is a rigid, flat wall fan or hand fan, called in Japan, uchiwa. The second type is the folding fan and is called ogi or sensu in Japan. The uchiwa Asian fan is often painted with a beautiful decoration but more often that not fulfills simple and useful functions.

The ogi Oriental fan was originally used at court by aristocrats. Not many specifics are known, but one unconventional use of the ogi hand fan is recorded in the history books: it was used in a leisurely game played by artistocrats where they would actually float their fans down a river (the further details of the game are unknown). We do know, though, that the Asian hand fans of Japanese empresses were made of 23 blades of Cyprus wood painted with flowers.

These exclusive Oriental folding fans were painted only for them, and showed pictures of various trees, such as the orange-blossom and pine-tree. These Asian fans' most notorious features were the silk material they were made from and tassels. The fans of the Japanese empresses were extremely flamboyant and consisted of ribbon streamers, silken tassels and ornamental knots. These extra decorations were often considered an important part of Japanese fans during that time.

Other Asian hand fans or folding fans were used as well. These fans differed in material, shape, size and purpose. One of these Oriental fans is known as the Akome ogi (made of 39 blades of wood painted white with beautiful decorations of nature), which was an open court fan used since the 7th century. Another form of the court fan was known as the komori, named after the bat. But perhaps the most interesting of all the fans of the Orient is an iron one carried by a commander in battle for giving directions, and which can also be used as a weapon.

Indeed the wall fans and folding fans of the Orient, and in particular, Japan, are so numerous and full of history that many types require pages of their own. Down the years, and into the 21st century, the most popular fans in the West seem to be wall fans (used for decoration only) and hand fans (used for stylistic reasons, cooling the body and keeping away insects).