SensuOgi (folding fan) (扇子)

A Sensu or Ogi (folding fan) is an implement used to move air by hand like Uchiwa fans, and its frame is several dozens of wooden strips tied together with thread at their ends (kaname referred to as pivot), and when used, a Sensu or Ogi is widely unfolded and waved back and forth to create a cooling airflow. They are made out of accordion folded Washi (Japanese paper) pasted to movable strips of wood, and when a Sensu or Ogi is unfolded, it shows the accordion folded paper attached to the movable wooden strips. Sensu is compact in shape when folded. It is, so to speak, an uchiwa that can be folded.

The angle a Sensu or Ogi when unfolded varies from 90 - 180 degrees, with around 120 degrees being the norm. The shape of the unfolded fan is called 'Ogigata or Senkei' and is used as a term in geometry. The shape of an unfolded Sensu is known as 'Suehiro' in Japanese, and has been considered lucky. Therefore, it makes a nice gift on special or happy occasions. The word 'Ogi' has its origin in 'afugi (あふぎ)' (something which creates wind) which had derived from 'afugu (あふぐ)', and it has been hard to ascertain the association between the words.


Uchiwa were made much earlier than Sensu, and it is recorded that Uchiwa were being used in China in B.C.
Among ancient Egyptian wall paintings, there is one showing a scene where a King was being attended by servants holding a huge Hane-uchiwa (feathered fan.)

History shows that uchiwa has existed since the appearance of civilization, and was adopted in Japan during the 7th century, the idea of developing it into a folding fan, Sensu, to make it easy to carry around was invented around the 8th century. The idea of developing an Uchiwa into Sensu was inspired from a things that were made by tying wooden strips together (like a present day memo pad) with thread through holes in the end of the wooden strips.

A Sensu has been used as an expression of respect and good wishes and as a gift and as a communication tool since the Heian period, besides its function to create an airflow. In fact, a lot of literature and historical books, including the Tale of Genji, say that a Sensu had Waka (poem) written on it or were decorated with some flowers.

They were appreciated by warriors as a form of a weapon in the Samurai society.

Folding fans were exported to China in the Baisong Era.

Sensu invented in Japan were exported through China to the West in the age of discovery, and because of its convenient folding into a compact size it developed in a unique way, becoming very popular among high-class women of the times, as a communication tool when there were about 150 shops handling Sensu in Paris during the 17th century.

Among folding fans developed in Europe, there were some called Hane-ogi (feathered folding fan) and Yo-sen made of lace (for handicraft) knitted onto the strips.

It has been popularly known that Thomas Edison was successful using bamboo ribs of Sensu for filaments for his invention the incandescent bulb.



Generally, ribs are made of bamboo or wood, in a tapered shape that become thinner towards the end. Most ribs of Sensu products are thin and long, and the accordion like folded Washi is glued to the ribs that show the accordion like folds of a Sensu when unfolded. Ribs constituting the most ends of the frame (Oyabone, ribs at both ends of a folding fan) are the thickest, and unlike inside ribs, become thicker toward the end. Oyabone of expensive or fancy products are decorated with lacquer or gold-lacquer craft.

A Sensu made with only a frame is usually made from a Koboku (fragrant wood) such as Koboku-byakudan (wood sandal of fragrant wood) by whittling them flat. A Sensu made of tied thin stripes of hinoki (Japanese cypress) was called a 'Hi-ogi' wooden fan. Such type of Sensu is now losing popularity, and paper folding fans using Washi are gaining more popularity.

Ivory and tortoise shell are often used for ribs as well as wood and bamboo.

Sensu called Tessen (iron-ribbed fans) is used for martial arts. There are Tessen products which are made of paper- or cloth-pasted on iron ribs, made of stacked iron pieces like Tanzaku (small card on which Japanese poems are usually written vertically), and which don't open although its appearance is like a Sensu's shape. They are also used as a portable Goshingu (self-defense weapon) or a training tool.

Fan surface
It can create a small airflow by waving back and forth. It also functions to prevent the rib frame from extreme unfolding. The surface of a traditional type Sensu has Washi, while some other type of Sensu use synthetics- or cloth-glued to the ribs. From the need for painting on a curved area, fan painting progressed in drawing pictures on a curved shape (ogigata- or senkei-shaped place) was developed and is known as a Japanese painting style. People who contributed to developing this style of painting were believed to be Sotatsu TAWARAYA and Korin OGATA.

After the concept of Sensu spread to Europe, it developed into silk- or lace-glued Yo-sen. There are Sensu products using peacock feathers.

In Okinawa, there are products called Kuba-ogi with surface made of leaves of a Biro (Kuba) (Livistona chinensis.)
Kaname (Pivot)

Kaname (Pivot)
An elementary part to allow the folding of the fan. A pivot for the Sensu is made by tying the ribs with metal or plastic thread or baleen.
If it's brakes, the Sensu won't be able to fulfill its primary function, so this is the most important point
The term 'Kanjin-kaname' (the main point) originated from the above idea.

This is a ring to keep a Sensu closed.

The way to fold and unfold a Sensu.

A Sensu can be opened by separating the ribs by pushing them away with the thumb of the right hand. Most Sensu products are right-handed, but left-handed Sensu are also sold as well.

Shaking is another way to unfold a Sensu.

Kazari-sensu (decorated folding fan)
Natsu-sensu (summer fan)
Mai-ogi (fan for Japanese dance)
Shugi-sensu (folding fan for formal dress)

Purpose of use

To move air.
Principal purpose of a Sensu
The purpose of a Sensu is to induce an airflow for cooling by waving it by hand on a hot day. A Sensu is not appropriate for creating a strong airflow due to its delicate structure. When making a fire using charcoal, a Shibu-uchiwa (fan coated with persimmon tannin) or a Hifuki-dake (bamboo blowpipe used to stimulate a fire) will be perfect rather than a Sensu, but when making a holy fire at temples and shrines in Naritasan, it is observed for people to stimulate the fire by waving a unfolded Sensu back and forth. If a substantial purpose is not for making a fire, a Sensu is beautiful as an accessory.

Mitate likening of Rakugo (Japanese sit-down comedy)
In a scene where noodle like udon (Japanese wheat noodle) is eaten in a Rakugo, a folded Sensu is often used to substitute for chopsticks. In the scene, a folded Sensu is used to substitute for various items such as a sword or a telescope. A Sensu is an indispensable prop for Rakugo and serves also as a Tenugui towel.
Hanashika (professional Rakugo storyteller) calls it Kaze (wind) as slang (a Tenugui towel is called Mandala as slang.)

Greeting border line
When a person sits on the floor as a greeting, he takes out a folded Sensu from within the front overlap of his kimono (usually) and places it in front of his knees, before saying his greeting or thank-yous, considering the folded Sensu as a border line. Thus the folded Sensu to work as kekkai barrier in order to constitute a border line between himself and another person. A folded Sensu is used in the same way when someone extends a condolence to a host at a funeral.

Put a Sensu into the two front overlaps of a kimono.
Women dressed in kimono wear a Sensu in their obi belt as a substitute for a Futokoro-gatana (pocket dagger.)

Target for bow and arrow
In the past, there were cases where a Hinomaru (national flag of Japan) designed Sensu was opened to be used for a target for bow and arrow. There is a famous story about NASU no Yoichi shooting an arrow into a Sensu placed at the top of a Taira clan's boat in the Genpei War.

Stress reliever for a Kishi (professional go/shogi player) while thinking. When playing Shogi (Japanese chess) or Igo (game of Igo), a Kishi (player) is likely to unfold or fold a Sensu while thinking about his strategy. It is because habitual motions to fold and unfold a Sensu has a soothing effect on thinking when anticipating the coming moves. The sound folding and unfolding is sometimes likely to be annoying to the other parson, so it is considered good manners for the player to reciprocate the motion during his or her turn, as much as possible.

Prop for dance
A Sensu is used as a prop in classical Japanese dance or Nogaku, or for a substitute of a prop used in Shimai (No dance in plain clothes) or Su-odori Japanese dance on stage.
(See the Mai-ogi section, too.)

Covering the mouth. It is a polite way to cover the mouth hiding the teeth with a Sensu when laughing.

Hari-ogi paper fan
A kodanshi (professional storyteller) slaps the a shakudai pedestal (table) with a Sensu to keep rhythm and make a sound in the course of a kodan.

To hit a person with. To discipline in a rakugo, a kodanshi pats his/her own head with a Sensu or a master pats his apprentice on his/her head with a Sensu rather than with the hand. An action of slapping something in the air substitutes for a real slap. (In Samurai society, the act of slapping someone's head with a Sensu was an extreme insult.
It is believed that the act to slap someone's head, hand, or leg with a Sensu began in the Meiji era.)

Harisen (a paper fan used by the straight man for slapstick) for a straight man (tsukkomi) in manzai.
The 'harisen' is a giant folding fan which is usually made to appear closed, and is used by a straight man (tsukkomi) in a Dotsuki manzai (comic backchat using a tap as an interjection.)

Tosenkyo Japanese game, is throwing a Sensu at a target and knocking it down..
The technique used a name taken from book title such as The Tale of Genji or Hyakunin-Isshu (one hundred waka poems.)

A Sensu can be displayed as a decoration or an art object. A Sensu appreciated to be a beautiful art craft. A large Sensu, a one meter across.
A white-surfaced Sensu available for writing a waka poem on to be presented as a gift can be a decoration and a gift, which will be described below:

A Sensu is given to the actors and patrons when Nohgaku is performed in spcial occations (a Kazuki-ogi). The above practice is performed in the Rakugo society. A Sensu seemed to be popular sales promotion item in the past, but an Uchiwa seems to have taken its place.

Among nobles in society, during the Heian period, a senior-ranked person, from a noble class, used to give a Sensu to a lower-ranked person as a gift.

Weapon, for self-protection
A 'Tessen' made of iron ribs is hardly different from an iron bar, and can be a weapon used to slap or beat. In places where a weapon, such as a sword, was not allowed, a Sensu was often used as an Anki (small concealed weapon) for self-protection. There are newly developed Sensu that conceal a blade or needle in the arc-shaped paper surface, and concealing a blade of a short-typed knife in the frame.

Secret letter
Like Tessen, a Sensu is a kind of 'Shikomi (Anki)' intended to be used for military purposes or as a weapon. Taking advantage of the use of the Washi, words or statements can be written on a reverse side of the Sensu. Since, for a samurai warrior to carry an Inro (pill case) or a Sensu with him was fashionable, it was easy to flee from investigations.

When supporters dressed in Japanese clothes are cheering, they keep rhythm by moving a Sensu on which the word 'victory' is written. A Sensu may be put in a Hachimaki head band.

Hane-sensu (feathered folding fan) and Juli-sen
In Japan, dancing featuring a Hane-sensu can be enjoyed in the Takarazuka Revue. Mostly, a Hane-sensu is employed as an item carried by a noblewoman appearing in a musical and adds more opulence to the play. Dancing in a disco was popular in the 1990s and many people danced with a Hane-sensu in JULIANA'S TOKYO British discotheque in Shibaura, so that's why it was called Juli-sen. A Hane-sensu can be used for a prop in strip theaters.

Substitute for a tray
A Kimpu (envelope with gift money) can be put on a Sensu when offered. In this case, after a Kimpu is put on a Sensu with a Kaname closer to the giver, the Sensu with a Kimpu on it is turned with the Kaname closer to the receiver and offered. It means that a Sensu substitutes for a tray although originally, a tray should be used to offer a Kimpu.

When committing Seppuku (suicide by disembowelment), a short knife should be in fact plunged into the abdomen, but it has gradually become a ritualistic thing, and eventually, a Sensu substituted as a short knife for Seppuku.
(Kaisaku (to assist someone in committing hara-kiri by beheading him/her) was performed, and there was no big difference between a Zanshu (beheading) and Seppuku.)

Ogi-awase (a fan matching game)
This is a competition where the quality of a Sensu held by the two groups of people in the Imperial court in the Heian period, and pictures were painted on the surface of the Sensu. There is a story about an Ogi-awase that was performed in 973 during the Emperor Enyu era.

Gadgets for court events
A Sensu was made every month for an On-tsuki-ogi (御月扇) because the Emperor carried it with him for a visit at the Naishidokoro (a place where the sacred mirror was enshrined) storing the three sacred imperial treasures on the 1st day of the month, and also the Edokoro government office presented a fan with pictures of Kenjo sage in ancient China on its surface and pictures of plants and flowers on Kin-gin Sunago (gold and silver leaf reduced to powder) on the reverse side as a Kenjo-Onsuehiro fan.


Hiogiayama came from the idea that its leaves resembled a Hiogi. Was called Hiogigai chlamys nobilis because the shells resembled a Hiogi. Ogibasho traveler's-tree was named because of the way the leaves grew resembled a fan.

Family crest

There are an Ogi-mon crest designed based upon a Suridatami-ogi (摺り畳扇) and a Hi-ogi-mon crest designed based upon an Ita-ogi (a fan with thin wooden board) which are used for designing family crests. Ogi-mon crests include a five-ribs-fan crest representing the number of ribs, a Gangi-ogi crest showing realistic designs, a Sori-ogi crest with a portion of sori-kaeri (leaning backward) and an Ogi-bone (ogi-ribs) and a Jigami using parts of a fan. There are the Satake-ogi crest for the Satake clan, the Shimabara-ogi crest for the domain of Shimabara and the Asano-ogi crest for the Asano clan, and the 'Takasaki-ogi crest (Mitsu-Gangi-ogi)' for the domain of Takasaki and Sanyutei appears in novels. As for the Hi-ogi-mon crest, there are the Yamazaki-ogi crest and the Akita-ogi crest.

Furnished goods

Crests are used for a design of letter boxes and folding screens, and there is a picture of two fans with a painting of a scene from "the Tale of Genji" in the area from the front cover of 'Senmen Genji Makie Bunko' and its side as well as an artistic 'Senmen-chirashi byobu' folding screen produced by Sotatsu TAWARAYA.

[Original Japanese]