A traditional craft carefully handmade by skilled craftsman,     Feel the gentle breeze at a long-established fan shop

A traditional craft carefully handmade by skilled craftsman, Feel the gentle breeze at a long-established fan shop

冨岡 ちづこ


Chizuko Tomioka

Looking through the shop's glass doors, you can see brilliant array of fans in dazzling colors looking like burst fireworks.

Established in 1689 and located closed to Nishiki Market, Aiba is one of the few shops that specializes in paper and round fans in Japan.
In Kyoto, people are more familiar with folding fans however Kyo Uchiwa, the Kyoto style of oval, flat paper fans are also a popular traditional craft that has been developed in a rich climate and culture. Today we take a look at the long-standing fan shop in the ancient capital.


It is believed that fans were introduced to Japan from China through the Korean Peninsula between the 6th and 7th century.
Fans in Kyoto were descendant from Korean fans which have many ribs and the exquisite and graceful Kyoto fans today have been influenced by colorful fans made by the famous painters from the Tosa and Kanou school in the Edo period.


Sliding open the entrance door of the 200 year old Machiya style house shop, the sight of beautiful big fans jumps right into your eyes. They are called Sukashi Uchiwa or openwork fans that have no paper covering on the ribs.
It was completely new idea to me until I visited the shop, that there are fans without paper.

Paper fans are usually for cooling yourself off however these paperless fans, Sukashi Uchiwa are made as good luck charms that will bring fortune and ward off evil spirits.
Aiba has been making the openwork fans for interior use or as gifts since their establishment. Their designs include depiction of seasonal flowers and image of local events on the openwork fans and people feel cooler and more comfortable as they contemplate the lovely images of the fans.

Even now, in summer, we get fans as complimentary gift from shops and promotional events. Fans have become an important part and symbol of our culture from fans and it's a custom that can still be seen today.


Kyoto style paper and openwork fans are made from carefully selected materials and all parts are handmade with traditional crafting techniques.
Beautifully designed and crafted wooden ribs are a mark of excellence in the construction of Kyo Uchiwa. What makes an openwork fan stand out is the perfect alignment of the ribs in its construction. The main criteria for beauty in flat paper fans is to just glimpse the underline structure beneath the paper image.

The ribs are made of Madake, Japanese bamboo. Ideally this should be grown for four years in the flatlands in the Tanba area in the west of Japan, where it can get a lot of sunlight and is harvested during winter. However, it is not always easy to procure the best materials so Aiba has been trying to source the best possible materials from a variety of different providers.


The grip of fan is a distinctive part of Kyo Uchiwa. It is inserted into the fan's body after they have made the rib section. The kind of wood used in the grip is selected depending on the design.
The grip can be made from Japanese hemlock, cedar or bamboo.
Aiba takes great care in the use of Japanese hemlock. They used to outsource production to artisans who specialized in making hemlock grips however after these traditional craftsmen retired, Aiba started producing hemlock grips in house.

Holding Aiba's fans, they feel gentle and smooth and you will be surprised that they are easy to hold even with the thin grip. The grip made of bamboo is sometimes polished with scouring brushes and boar's tusks to produce a smooth and glossy finish.

Artisan including Japanese paper craftsman and painters are essential to the crafting process. Production also requires the work of picture framers who have experience working on hanging scrolls or folding screens. Crafting Kyo Uchiwa takes team work with a variety of traditional craftsman working together to create superlative work of art.
Aiba has always worked hard to put quality first and this tradition has been passed down for over 330 years.


Here you can find the fans at Aiba that feature Walt Disney characters in their design. This is one of the collaboration series that 14 Kyoto based traditional art crafts companies have concluded with Disney to show a new way of expressing their work.

The fans in the photo are named "mobile type" as it is easy to carry with an iPad. They create nice cool breeze to take the edge off of Kyoto summer. Soft pastel colors featured in the fans and retro look go well with Winnie the Pooh image.


This excellent cricket pattern fan is made with Mother-of-pearl inlay, one of Kyoto traditional crafts most famous techniques.
There are some other designs that are the fruits of collaboration with other traditional Kyoto handy crafts including Kyoto Embroidery and Kyoto Kanoko Shibori. The company also teams up with a number of famous world brands to produce original fusion products.


This fan is named Inazuma or thunder. It is a traditional fan made of wood and paper however it appeared on a male fashion magazine. Both front and back look cool.

Fans have become an everyday item in summer. They help you relax while you are lounging in your garden or on your balcony and they go well with traditional Yukata, a casual cotton summer kimono.

The shop proprietress happily told us a warm story about a young college student who loves fans and sometimes visits the shop to buy a new fan when his old fan has worn out. Casually carrying a fan around like the student, is one of the best things about owning a fan.
Simple, delicate dyes might run on your clothes or skin when you sweat or if it rains.


Although fans are an iconic image of summer in Japan, at Aiba you can find items featuring seasonal designs including autumn leaves, plum blossoms or Kabuto, decorative samurai helmets for Children's day that are displayed to evoke a tasteful feeling for each season.

Kyo Uchiwa, Aiba

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