Boshu Uchiwa | Adding Color to the Japanese Summer


Boshu Uchiwa, an indispensable traditional Japanese craft for humid summer in Japan

Along with Kyoto’s “Kyo-uchiwa” and Kagawa’s “Marugame-uchiwa,” Boshu-uchiwa, made in southern Chiba Prefecture (Tateyama City and Minamiboso City), is one of the three most representative fans in Japan. Unlike the “Kyo-uchiwa,” which has a wooden handle inserted, and the “Marugame-uchiwa,” which is made of flattened bamboo, the Boshu-uchiwa is characterized by its handle made of thin shinodake (female bamboo), and was designated as a national traditional craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in 2003, the first in Chiba Prefecture.

The top part is split into 64 equal pieces with a razor to make the fan bone, and the bottom part is used as the handle. The top part is split into 64 equal pieces with a razor to make the fan bone, and the bottom part is left as it is to form the handle.

Difference between Kyo-uchiwa and Marugame-uchiwa.

Some experts argued that Kyo-uchiwa originated from Korean uchiwa, which were brought to Japan by Japanese pirates during the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties. It was not until the Edo period (1603-1867) that the “sashie” structure, in which the handle is attached later, became a characteristic of Kyo-uchiwa.

Gosho Uchiwa,” painted by painters of the Kano school for the court, took root, and later spread as a tool for the general public to cool off in the summer. Most Kyo-uchiwa are decorated with glittering decorations and elegant paintings of lacquer and gold, and many people are fascinated by the delicacy of the workmanship.

It is said that Marugame uchiwa originated when a traveling monk from Marugame taught how to make uchiwa in Kyushu before the Edo period. In addition to keeping cool, Marugame uchiwa have been used for many other purposes, such as cooking, starting fires, avoiding the sun, and repelling insects. Therefore, there are many variations of shapes and designs to suit different purposes.

Boshu uchiwa

History of Boshu Uchiwa

Uchiwa production in Boshu began in 1890 when Shintaro Oshidari, a resident of Nako, began processing split bamboo as a side job, and until then, round bamboo was shipped to wholesalers as material for uchiwa fans. In 1930, Mr. Shokichi Iwashiro, who lived in the same town, began processing “split bamboo” in earnest, and began shipping large quantities of processed products.

The integrated production of Boshu Uchiwa began in 1921, when Torakichi Yokoyama, an owner of Matsuneya, an Uchiwa wholesaler in Nihonbashi Horie-cho at the time, moved to Funagata and started Uchiwa production. Later, in 1923, when the Great Kanto Earthquake hit Japan, most of the fan wholesalers were destroyed by fire, and with the cooperation of the prefectural government’s local industry development guidance, the whole town began to produce uchiwa fans.

Nako, Funagata, and Tomiura have long been fishing communities, and fan making was welcomed as a handicraft by the women and elderly who were left at home after the hard-working men went fishing. The first time the company was founded was in 1949.

Due to various changes in social conditions, such as the spread of electrical appliances and soaring wages, Uchiwa fans are no longer used as a practical product, and today there are only about 400,000, or 1/20th of what they were at their peak. However, the appreciation of handicrafts as “traditional crafts” is now being replaced by a new appeal.

Japanese uchiwa
Source: Encounter “Japanese Handicrafts”: Traditional Crafts from the Kanto Koshinetsu Shizu Region

The rounded shape of bamboo is a characteristic of Boshu Uchiwa

One of the characteristics of Boshu Uchiwa is the “marue” (round handle), which is produced from thin shinodake bamboo, also called “me-dake” (female bamboo), which grows wild in the mountains of the Boshu area. The round handle is made by splitting a 1.5 cm thick piece of shinodake bamboo into 64 equal pieces to make the bone, and then weaving them alternately with thread to create the fan shape. When woven, an attractive lattice pattern appears in the semicircular part called the “window,” which enhances the beauty of the Boshu fan.

There was a time when Boshu Uchiwa fans were decorated with traditional ukiyoe prints and pictures of beautiful women, but nowadays, simple designs favored by the masses are also on the rise. In addition, yukata (summer kimono) fabric is sometimes used instead of Japanese paper.

Manufacturing Process

Boshu Uchiwa is made from 21 different processes. Here we will introduce some of the processes involved in making Boshu Uchiwa.

  1. First, in a process called “split bamboo” (saki-dake), bamboo is split into small pieces to make the bones. First, the bamboo is divided into 8 equal parts, then into 48 equal parts, and finally into 64 equal parts.
  2. Next, the “Amidake” process, in which the bones are woven alternately with thread.

    boshu uchiwa
    Source: Boshu Uchiwa Promotion Council
  3. In the subsequent process called “mado-zukuri,” the thread is tightened to prevent the bones from moving, and a bamboo skewer called a “bow” is tied to each end of the bone and through the bone with a thread.
  4. After the “yaki” process, in which each fan is individually quenched to flatten its surface, the “hari” process is used to attach Japanese paper or cloth to the uchiwa bone, which is then left to dry in a dry room.
  5.  The final step is called “heri,” in which thin heri-gami is pasted around the rim of the fan.

    Boshu uchiwa
    Source: Boshu Uchiwa Promotion Council

All of these processes are carried out by skilled craftsmen. As you can see, Boshu Uchiwa is a traditional craft filled with the skills of artisans.

Demand for fashion and interior decoration

It is no exaggeration to say that uchiwa fans are a summer tradition in Japan. Boshu Uchiwa are not only used to fan the air, but can also be fashioned by inserting them into the obi of a yukata (light cotton kimono). In addition, Boshu Uchiwa are now increasingly used as dance props and interior decorations, and many people choose them as gifts. The reason why Boshu Uchiwa became popular as a gift is due in large part to the fact that it was the first product in Chiba Prefecture to be designated as a traditional craft by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, and has become well known as a specialty of Chiba Prefecture.

Boshu Uchiwa used to be made exclusively of Japanese paper, but recently, cloth uchiwa fans have been produced in addition to Japanese paper, increasing the variety of designs. Even now that Boshu Uchiwa has been recognized as a traditional handicraft by the national government, it continues to evolve.


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