Handheld non-folding fans (uchiwa in Japanese) are recognizable just about anywhere in the world as implements for cooling the body. Their uniqueness comes from the individual cultures that produced them, stamping a particular sensibility onto the object.
The Japanese rigid fan or uchiwa has its origins in China, where they would serve the dual purpose of depicting marvelous scenes across the countryside. In Japan, the fan became one of the most common and affordable utilitarian tools.
Bamboo became the material of choice for constructing the frames of the fans. Incredibly durable, yet flexible, it continues to be highly prized.
It is pretty easy to argue that anything is better when it is handmade and fans are no exception. The art form that has developed from this everyday item is astonishing. The patience demonstrated by artisans and the dexterity of their hand movements is amazing. They have truly developed a personal relationship with the bamboo.
Marugame happens to be where most of the rigid bamboo fans in Japan are made. In fact, Kagawa has distinguished itself has a center for the promotion of this Japanese traditional art form. This may be due to two factors. One is that the prefecture lies on the Seto Inland Sea and was part of an important trade route. Trade is often accompanied by cultural exchange, which new skills and techniques.
The other quality that has aided Kagawa in its rise as an artistic center is the overall spiritual importance of the island of Shikoku. With almost innumerable temples and shrines and its world famous 88 Temple Pilgrimage, artisanship was encouraged as a revenue source even in ancient times.
The bamboo fan of today comes in all shapes, sizes and colors. It is both a work of art and a practical item for everyday use.
Access: The Uchiwa-no-minato Museum is about a 15-minute walk from JR Marugame Station.
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