The different uses of the folding fan in Japanese culture

Many people may think of the folding fan as something to put on the wall for decoration or as an accessory used by noble ladies at social gatherings. However, in Japan, the folding fan is an object primarily for cooling oneself, and is used by both women and men alike. The primitive form of the folding fan originated in Japan during the Heian period (about 834-848 A.D.) when slender strips of wood were used for writing notations. These were bound on one side so that they could be carried around more easily. Fans made their way to China, where they came to have paper glued on both sides. They were next introduced all over Europe, and they are still an appreciated gift to give your family and friends back home (read our article: 3 typical souvenirs of the Japanese summer). Sometime later, they were re-imported back to Japan where they also became popular among the commoners.

Folding fans are also an important object in the art world—in Noh, the theater and the tea ceremony. For example, in the tea ceremony, the single gesture of placing a folding fan in front of oneself is used to indicate a feeling of respect for the other party. Rakugo comedians use the fan to mime all sorts of different objects. Meanwhile in Noh, it means that one has created a barrier around oneself, and that essentially, one does not exist in that place.

In tea ceremony, placing a folding fan in front of oneself is used to indicate a feeling of respect for the other party. (Source:

How to open your folding fan the right way

So let’s demonstrate how to conduct oneself beautifully while holding a fan.
When using a fan, it is important to do so in a leisurely, fluid way, so as to amplify its beauty. To open the fan, push the sticks with your left thumb so as to stagger them open.

To open the fan, push the sticks with your left thumb。

The last 1–3 sticks should be left closed, however. It is important not to open the fan fully so that you do not “complete” it. The people of old used to think that once you have reached the highest possible state, all you can do is fall, and so they deliberately left their fans in an incomplete state, with 1–3 sticks unopened. Let’s aim for elegance and refinement each time we open and close our fans.

Chose the pattern carefully

Folding fans come in a variety of designs.

The pattern on a fan is also an important mode of self-expression for the user. A fan is eye-catching because it moves in front of the user’s face. Be sure to select a design that suits your style and that will create an impression when you nimbly open up your fan.
Folding fans feature not only traditional Japanese handmade paper or Japanese patterns, but also come in many styles that suit western clothing or that are unique in design, so experiment in coordinating your fan with your outfit or the location in which you intend to use it.

Add a touch of elegance with a delicate fragrance

Sandalwood fans are famous for their  fragrance.

Fans can also be enjoyed for their scent. Scented woods such as sandalwood or Japanese cypress release a delicate fragrance when you fan yourself. We also recommend adding your favorite scent by storing your fan with some incense or spraying it with a little perfume.

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I’m a freelance filmmaker who was born in Tochigi prefecture. I like the Southeast Asian subculture. I’d like to present information that will make the people of the world want to visit Japan.