Marugame Uchiwa makes the most of Flexibility of bamboo


Marugame uchiwa fans are inseparable from summer life in Japan

Uchiwa is a summer tradition in Japan and absolutely indispensable in daily life. Its largest production area is the Marugame region in Kagawa Prefecture. Marugame Uchiwa is characterized by the fact that the handle and the bone are often made from a single piece of bamboo. Bamboo is the most suitable material for Uchiwa because it is flexible and creates a pleasant breeze when you blow on it. There are both round and flat patterns. Most of the 47 processes involved in making Uchiwa are done by hand by craftsmen. Different from Boshu Uchiwa, the Marugame traditional Uchiwa is composed by Bamboo with stronger suppleness.

History of Marugame Uchiwa

The origin

Marugame Uchiwa has a long history, spanning more than 400 years. Its origin is the “Marugatame Uchiwa,” which was made of bamboo in a round shape with a handle. According to the oldest record, a monk from Marugame taught the art of fan making to a traveler to Kyushu in 1600 in return for lodging for the night, suggesting that the art of fan making was already established in Marugame in the early Edo period. It is said that Kumamoto’s “Raimin Uchiwa” was born as a result of this event. At this time, holding fans were more popular than uchiwa fans.

Around 1633, during the Tokugawa Iemitsu era (1633-1633), “Marukin” mark “shibu uchiwa” (fans coated with persimmon tannin) with a vermilion-red ground were sold as souvenirs for worshippers visiting Kompiragu Shrine, and they became very popular. Later, during the Temmei era (1781-1789), the technique of making “women’s bamboo round patterned uchiwa” using thin bamboo (having similar feature of willow products) was introduced, and uchiwa making spread rapidly as a domestic occupation for the feudal clan’s staff.

In the Tempo era (1830-1843), the Marugame clan encouraged lower-ranked samurai to make uchiwa (Japanese fan) as a side job to cope with financial difficulties, and uchiwa making took root as a local industry. During the Ansei period (1854-1859), as many as 800,000 Marugame Uchiwa were produced annually.

Uchiwa from Marugame
Source: Marugame Uchiwa


Marugame Uchiwa in the Meiji Period

During the Meiji period (1868-1912), Marugame Uchiwa were exported to overseas by merchants in Osaka. At that time, many “Otoko-take Hira Uchiwa” (male bamboo flat-patterned Uchiwa), which were modeled after the “Nara Uchiwa,” were produced and became the mainstream of Marugame Uchiwa. The reason for the spread of “Otoko bamboo flat-patterned Uchiwa” was that they were easier to make than round-patterned Uchiwa and could be mass-produced.

 Industrialization of Marugame Uchiwa and the decline of bamboo uchiwa

Mechanization progressed during the Taisho era (1912-1926), and in 1913, inventor Takejiro Waki developed the”incising machine” and “hole punching machine,” which enabled the mass production of flat-patterned Uchiwa fans. In addition, these invented machines were opened to traders in the production area so that they could use them freely, which greatly expanded the production volume. The production of uchiwa fans in the region now accounted for 80 to 90% of the domestic market share, establishing the region as the largest producer of uchiwa fans in Japan.

Meanwhile, the demand for uchiwa fans began to change with the times. After the Pacific War, when household appliances such as fans and air-conditioning equipment became popular in homes, demand for uchiwa fans shifted from being a daily commodity to being used for advertising. The number of uchiwa fans with company or product names on them, as is often seen today, increased, providing a tailwind for their production. The changes of the times also affected the raw materials: in 1967, the production and sales of polyethylene fans began in earnest in Marugame, and the production of traditional bamboo uchiwa fans declined sharply. Today, polyethylene fans account for 85% of the total production.

How Marugame Uchiwa Fans are made

1. Wood cutting

Taking advantage of its ability to split straight, the bamboo is cut into 40-45 cm pieces and the tube is split to a certain width. Next, the inner joints are shaved off to create a comfortable feel when held in the hand.

2. Splitting (waki)

Using a cutting machine, a cut is made about 10 cm from the tip of the ear, and the 35 to 45 ears are split in the same way.

3. Drilling

Using a drill for drilling, a hole is made in the knot to allow the sickle to pass through. The sickle is made by another skilled craftsman.

4. Shaving the handle

The handle of an Uchiwa is shaved with a small knife. The process of shaving the handle is the finishing touch to the Uchiwa.

5. Weaving

The ear is threaded through the bow bamboo and woven with thread.

6. Attaching

The knitted Uchiwa is then shaped into a bamboo bow and the threads are attached to the knitted Uchiwa to make it symmetrical while correcting any distortions caused by the weaving process.

7. Haritate

The bone of the Uchiwa is glued to the ear, and the base paper is pasted.

8. Katakiri

The ear is finished according to the type of Uchiwa, such as full-moon or egg-shaped. This process is also called “tataki” (beating), because the kizuchi (wooden mallet) is used to beat the katakiris against the katakiris.

9. Heri-Tori

A long, thin piece of paper called
heri-gami (a kind of Japanese paper) is pasted around the Uchiwa so that there is no danger when it is
used. After this, the sickle is finished by attaching a piece of wormwood to
each end of the sickle, roller pressing, and making stripes.

manufacturing Marugame Uchiwa
Source: Marugame Hyakkaten



Today, fans whose frames are made of polyethylene and other chemicals are sold at low prices by industrial associations. However, there is an absolute difference between industrial products and traditional bamboo fans. It is because of the bending that is unique to bamboo that it is able to generate the proper amount of wind. Moreover, because of its “bendiness,” even a slight force can create a pleasant breeze. It is precisely because industrialization has progressed that we can once again appreciate the quality of traditional Japanese crafts. ( For more Bamboo products, see Gifu Lantern or Suruga bamboo lightning.)


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