Japanese Fans

by annagrant94


In Japan the hand fans are a very important symbol within Japanese lifestyle.  Hand fans have a long history within Japan, it is said that Japan was the homeland of the traditional folding fan.

Hand fans had many different purposes, these included warriors as a form of weapon, actors and dancers use them within performance, children use them as a toy and sometimes used within religious ceremonies and events. Below is a video showing a Japanese dancer using fans.

war fam Traditional War Fan

The Japanese believed that each part of the fan had a meaning, the top of the handle shows beginning of life and the ridges within the fan show the many different pathways within life to bring good fortune and happiness.

Evidence has shown that hand fans where used as early as the 6th century, this was discovered on a burial mound wall painting which showed drawings of fans.

burial mounded paninting exampleBurial Mounded Painting Example

The two first main types of Japanese fans were the tuan shan known as the round fan and the bian mian known as the screen fan. From this Japan then developed the folding fan production started for this style of fan in the 6th largest city in Japan.

a round fanA Round Fan.

Fans are used in many different countries also, In China many kung fu masters such as Shaolin monks use fans as a weapon. Korea use hand fans in a style of dance called bunchaechum which is a very popular dance within Korea. And of course the Japanese Geisha are trained to be anonymous as much as possible, this is partly done using a fan to cover the identity of their face.


The use of wood block printing created opportunities to broaden the range of fans shapes and sizes. In the 19th century Japanese fans became popular all over Europe and were exported all over the world. Artists were also inspired by the Japanese fans, painting various designs and scenes onto them.

IMG_3470[1]Block Printed Fan

the-lady-with-fans-portrait-of-nina-de-calliasPainting by  Edouard Manet “The Lady with the Fans”

With Spain being part of the exportation of hand fans, as a child visiting Spain every gift shop sold folding fans, the designs were slightly different mainly being quite floral with a lacy edge around the top and also being darker in colour. The expense of a Japanese fan is more than a Spanish fan due to the materials that are used, but Spanish fans were produced using cheaper materials which made them more accessible for people to buy. The main uses for fans within Spain were to keep you cool.  As I remember we would buy one every time we visited for that reason, creating quite a collection of designs and colours. They were also used as a privacy matter to cover their faces from strangers.

spanish fan2Traditional Spanish Fan

fan-cherry-blossom fanTraditional Japanese Fan

Still now fans are used widely throughout the world whether it is for simply keeping you cool, used as a beautiful decoration within the home or used within culture. The designs that are created for the fans show a piece of a countries culture which I feel (with having so many different Spanish fans) is a lovely way to remember a country.

Spanish fanSpanish Fan


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Oriental Decor. (-). Japanese Folding Fans. Available: http://oriental-decor.com/japanese_folding_fans.php. Last accessed 23/11/13.

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Rupert Faulkner (1991). Hiroshige Fan Prints. England: Victoria & Albert Museum; 1st Edition edition.