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.
About the Area
Kagawa Prefecture is often referred to as the gateway to Shikoku because it hosts one of the footholds of the Seto Ohashi Bridge in Sakaide City. The bridge, which is the longest in the world to carry both passenger cars and trains, stretches across the Seto Inland Sea like a dragon in flight before touching down in Shikoku.
The capital of the prefecture and the largest city in all of Shikoku is lovely seaside Takamatsu City. It is a castle town which is famous for its port area and long shopping arcade.
Marugame City, like neighboring Takamatsu City is a renowned for its castle. However, as Marugame Castle rests at a high elevation, it commands an impressive view of the region. From the castle, there are panoramas of the cityscape, Mt. Iino (Sanuki Fuji) and the Seto Inland Sea.
Kagawa Prefecture is a champion of the arts and plays a large role in the Setouchi Triennale Art Festival, which as its name suggests, takes place every three years. There are art installations and museums throughout the prefecture.
The beating heart of the art scene in Kagawa is on several of its islands, namely, Shodoshima and Naoshima. There you will find an intriguing world dedicated to beauty and creativity.
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