Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Making Traditional Japanese Fan - Boshu Uchiwa

"Edo no mizu 
nomu tote hidari 
uchiwa kana"

Kobayashi Issa
Japanese famous haiku poet

"Living in comfort in Edo, his left hand, fanning"

The above line is one of the many haiku (short form of Japanese poetry) written by Kobayashi Issa, who is probably the best loved of the haiku masters. The phrase, edo no mizu nomu ("to drink Edo's water"), is equivalent to "being in Edo" or "living in Edo." Edo by the way, is the old term for the present Tokyo. The phrase, hidari uchiwa ("left hand fanning") is an idiom in Japanese for "living comfortably." This haiku is Issa's cynical remark about his contemporary haiku-poets living in Edo.

This post however, is has nothing to do with haiku nor Edo.


Michi-no Eki Tomiura, where the Biwa Club is located.


The craft studio where visitors get to experience making traditional Japanese fan, or uchiwa.


A description of all 21 steps involved in making an uchiwa.

During the forth tour of Chiba Kun Ambassadors in late January this year, the final stop we made was at the "Biwa Club" of Tomiura. Tomiura is a small town in Awa District in the south-western end of Bōsō Peninsular in Chiba. This town is famous for the biwa or loquat, also known as the Japanese plum.

At this club, we were given the chance to make traditional Japanese fan, commonly known as uchiwa (団扇). What makes it special is that the uchiwa we would make is Bōshu Uchiwa, popularly known as one of the top three uchiwa in Japan. The other two uchiwa in the list would be Kyō Uchiwa (京うちわ) from Kyoto and Marugame Uchiwa (丸亀うちわ) from Kagawa.


Uncle Shiomi, who were the teacher for the day, along with his two assistants.


The materials and equipments were all ready on the table.


Various of designs for us to select before making our own uchiwa.


Due to time factor, we would only do the last quarter of the uchiwa-making - attaching glue and pasting the paper on the bamboo frame, and trimming off the extra parts of the bamboo.

Bōshu Uchiwa, which is mainly produced in Minamibōsō city and Tateyama city, utilises the roundness of bamboo to form the circle pattern (marue, 丸柄), and the equally divided 48-64 parts of bones, which is woven with a thread to form a beautiful semi-circle "window" (mado, 窓).

Until the abolition of clans and the establishment of prefectures during the Meiji period, the southern part of Bōsō Peninsular was known as Awa-no Kuni (安房の国). Taking one character from that name is how the name "Boshu" (房州) was born. The production of uchiwa in Kanto region began about 350 years ago, during the Edo period (1781-1788). During that time, the basic material for uchiwa production, i.e. bamboo was exported from Bōshu to Tokyo. Later in 1884, workers from Tokyo were brought into Nago-cho (那古町) town, and that is when Bōshu Uchiwa started its production, in which later became the largest source of economy for the city.


The first steps, applying glue, pasting one side of the paper to the bamboo frame and making sure all the bones are equally spread.


One of the Chiba Kun Ambassadors were given a chance to be the white mice under the supervision of the instructors.


And finally, my turn came as I carefully applied glue to the bamboo frame. It is important to make sure the glue is not too little or too much, as it would determine whether the paper will stick neatly to the frame later on.


Sticking my beautiful Japanese geisha onto the bamboo frame. This step has to be done as soon as the glue is applied to avoid the glue from drying up.


Using a short bamboo stick to spread the bones equally. According to our instructor, this one of the factors that determines the quality and price of an uchiwa.

There is a port near the Daifukuji (Gakeno Kannon), where ships departs regularly to Tokyo, Also, this area is rich with its bamboo, which is the main material for uchiwa production. All this factors was the reason for the sudden rush for people from Tokyo to move to Bōshu region.

In addition, Nago, Funakata and Tomiura are well known as fishing villages in the past. When the men goes out for fishing, the women usually stayed back to look after their homes. During this free time, the women took up the skills of making the uchiwa and this skill was passed down from generations to generations. There were approximately 1,000 uchiwa makers during those days, producing an average of 7-8 million uchiwa a year.


In computing terms, cut-and-paste is very common. but this time, it is paste-and-cut. After pasting the paper on the bamboo frame, it was time to trim away the access paper and bamboo bones.


And finally, the last step is to paste a narrow paper of approximately 0.5 centimeter wide along the frame.

However,  with the advancement of technology and the invention of electrical fan and air-conditioner, people has stop using uchiwa nowadays. At present, the production of uchiwa has significantly dropped to only 200,000 - 300,000 pieces a year. To preserve this beautiful art for the sake of the future generations, Bōshu Uchiwa was designed as a one of Japan's charming traditional crafts in 2003. Uchiwa is also lately popular to be used as part of the decorative items in Japanese style interior design.

On the another hand, at present, the introduction of polymer uchiwa, in which almost 90 per cent of the nationwide production is mainly done in Marugame city in Kagawa prefecture is threatening the future of Bōshu Uchiwa. Besides that, the aging craftsmen and also the lack of young generations to venture into this industry is one of the main problems that could spell the extinction of this beautiful craft.


The vivid colors of the latticed patterns on the semicircular fans are very elegant.


And here you are, my traditional Japanese fan. We returned to Chiba with a fan in hand, and a little wiser of Minamiboso.

Boshu Uchiwa Making Classroom
Opening time:
10:00 - 18:00 (open every day)

Uchiwa-making content: Pasting, trimming, sticking, etc.
Time: 2 hours
Price: 1,000 yen per person (the price varies according to the content and number of people)
Address: 12301 Aoki, Tomiura-cho, Tateyama-shi, Minamiboso-shi Chiba Prefecture, 299-2416, Japan.
Tel: 0479-33-4611

Website: (Japanese only)

Car: (through Tateyama) Tateyama Futtsu Expressway (館山富津自動車道) → Tomiura IC (富浦): 5 minutes drive
Express bus: Get down at Tomiura Biwa Kurabu (とみうら枇杷倶楽部): Takes approximately 100 minutes from Tokyo, 90 minutes from Chiba.

Train: JR Tomiura station (JR富浦駅)
: 15 minutes on foot.
※ For more information:
Tateyama Economy and Tourism Department, Commerce and Tourism Division Address: 1145-1 Hojo, Tateyama-shi, Chiba Prefecture, 294-0045, Japan.
(Japanese only)

Minamiboso Commerce and Tourism Department, Commerce and Tourism Division

Address: 28-banchi, Aoki, Tomiura-cho, Minamiboso-shi, Chiba Prefecture, 299-2416, Japan .
Tel: 0470-33-1092
Website: (Japanese only)

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