Hiogi wooden fan (檜扇)

Hiogi is a fan made of wood that was used in the Imperial court. Hiogi for female in particular is also called Akome-ogi.

Fans made of paper (kawahori) is derived from hiogi as informal fans for daily use.


Hiogi is a fan made of slats of cypress wood tied together at the pivot and top of the slates are enforced with strings so that the slates can be folded. A clasp of the pivot was originally a string of twisted Japanese paper, but today a wooden peg or metal fitting is used for that purpose. The pivot was enforced and decorated with decorative metal fixtures in the forms of butterflies or birds made of gold, silver, or nickel. A slate of straight-grained wood is counted with a unit of "kyo" and eight kyo forms Hitoe (one layer).
(on the contrary, fans for elderly, youngsters, or children use slates of cross-grained wood.)

Adult men used three-layered fan with white binding string, while women used five-layered fan with colored binding string; actually, however, even numbers were regarded as ominous and people used fans with odd numbers of slates by adding or omitting one slate.

It is said that hiogi fans were used as notes of complicated manners of court functions, and women used these fans to hide their faces at once to avoid people's eyes.

Today, hiogi for female are beautifully decorated with pictures of kissho (lucky omen) drawn with gold, whitewash, crimson, and rokusho (malachite, an inorganic green pigment), colored strings tied in ninamusubi knot at both ends, and artificial flowers of pine and Japanese plum (sometimes including tachibana, inedible citrus).

Today, women in the Imperial family use the uniformed fan with 39 slates of straight-grained cypress wood with thread flowers (imitation flowers made of silk thread) of pine and Japanese plum and six-colored binding strings. Details will be described below.

Manners of Hiogi

Hiogi was indispensable in the Imperial court, so there were many manners of handling.

How to hold
People today tend to hold fans at the pivot, but the formal manner of hiogi is not holding the fan at the pivot. To hold an open fan, the user has to hold it by the point slightly above the pivot; to hold an closed fan, the user has to hold it lightly with one hand by the point closer to the bottom from the center and place the other hand from below the fan to the position near the top.

Although there is no document left that depicts the formal manner of holding fans in the Heian period, many emaki (illustrated handscrolls) show that people hold fans with one hand by the position near the pivot and to the height of their chest or faces. Some of them hold the fans with their left hands while others with right hands. Men hold hiogi closed in right hands or in their bosom.

In the early-modern times, women's hiogi was called Okazashi used for hiding their faces, while fans of cross-grained wood for boys were always used with closed and with six-colored nina kazari (decorative strings) around it. After the Meiji period, girls also used the fan with closed and with nina kazari around it, holding it in the way as described above. Boys held the fan in their right hands with slightly lowering the top or in their bosom, and in some cases they placed the fan in front of them when they sat down. The fan made of cross-grained wood is also held in right hand.

Today, adult women always use hiogi of straight-grained slates, but in the Heian period, there were small-sized hiogi for children made of cross-grained wood with drawings of flowers and birds, as well as plain fans for young men and for elderly. Basically, high-ranked nobles were regarded as grown up at the age of 14 or 15, and as elderly after 40. The higher the ranking of nobles, the more precocious accessories and wearing they used, something that would be suitable for older people than their actual age.

Fans for both girls and boys were made of cross-grained wood with colored binding strings and drawings of gold paint. Fans for women were made of straight-grained wood with drawings and colored binding strings, fans for men were made of straight-grained white wood with white binding string, and fans for elderly men and women were made of cross-grained wood as those for children, with white binding string but no drawing.

At birth
When the birth of an Imperial Prince or Princess was approaching, court ladies serving the expecting mother tightly did their hair and dressed all in white. In such situation, they used hiogi with decorative nickel fixtures and white biding strings. Drawing on the fan were simply made with only whitewash and silver paint instead of showy drawings of usual fans made with crimson, gold paint, rokusho (malachite, an inorganic green pigment) or indigo.

Hiogi in early-modern times

Adult men
Plain wood fan
Usually made with 25 slates of straight-grained cypress wood. One white string is used for binding. People higher than goi (Fifth Rank) in the rank used decorations on ribs at both ends of a fan. It is said that such decoration was originally remains of white binding strings knotted in the form of flowers and attached to the ribs, but in the early modern times it was a family crest stitched with white strings on white plain silk (or habutae, a thin, soft, durable silk). It was not a single-stroke drawing of binding string, but the family crest was drawn by a line of string so a stitching technique called "okimon" (heraldry) was used in which the crest was placed with strings went under the cloth as little as possible. For younger people, an arabesque pattern was placed around the family crest which was called Nagakazari (long decoration). No heraldry was used for the elderly. Fans for people lower than rokui (Sixth Rank) in the rank had no family crest. Emperors used the Imperial Crest of the Chrysanthemum as their heraldry, and when they were younger than forty, nagakazari was added. When the emperor turned to be 40, only the Chrysanthemum was stitched. The basis of such convention was established by the end of the Kamakura period. In the Kamakura period, informal 23-slate fans were also used. An old fan from the medieval (Kamakura and Muromachi) period is left in the collection of the Kyoto University on which the program of a ceremony was written in black ink.

After the Meiji period, emperors used fans with heraldry of the Chrysanthemum with Nagakazari regardless of their ages; the Imperial family used the Chrysanthemum only; among retainers by enthronement, those of the offices originally selected as candidates by the Prime Minister and senior officials or higher used the crest of goshichi no kiri (literally, five seven paulownia); and at the Ise-jingu Shrine, the crest of flying cranes was used. There is no differentiation by age.

The pivot was in principle tied with a twisted-paper string. It had four knots. Most of hiogi today use a rivet, but in the early-modern times fans for Buddhist priests used this four-knot pivot.

A special case was fans for the emperor used in Shinto rituals in the early-modern times. This fan was made of 25 slates of plain wood with white nina decoration, and the pivot had silver butterfly and flower fittings. No heraldry or thread flower was attached. People carried the closed fan with nina decoration around it in their bosom (according to the record of emperors' clothing at traditional ceremonies). Different forms of hiogi were used depending on the religious sects. Many of these fans were made of plain wood with a decoration of agemaki knot (made at the top of the fan and the remaining strings are hung on the front with notches in both sides) and the pivot had a rivet.

Suo (dark red) fan
Slates of straight-grained Cyprus wood. Usually 25 slates. Some emperors and high officials such as ministers used this type of fan. It used ordinary white binding strings. A white twisted-paper string tied the pivot. A white heraldry was attached (not to the fans for the elderly). A suo fan was basically the same as a plain wood fan, except that it was dyed Cyprus wood dark red with dyes called suo. Suo was already used in the medieval period. Purple or red (suo) fans seem to be used at enthronement where emperors and high officials carried these fans in their bosom in court dresses. Today, the emperor uses a suo fan only with ohiki noshi (clothes). The heraldry is the Chrysanthemum with Nagakazari. In addition, there were special cases where the elderly used fans of kozome (dyed brown by clove) in the medieval period, and some of such cases were revived in the early-modern times.

Young boys

Cross-grained fan
Made of cross-grained cedar slates. 23 to 25 slates. Yamashina school in the early-modern times used a fan with 25 slates of fine straight-grained cedar. Some of such fans used cross-grained wood only for ribs at both ends of a fan and straight grained wood for the rest of the fan because cross grain was fragile. A cross-grained wood was decorative because of its fine grain, and that was why cedar with darker grain was preferred to Cyprus. Therefore no white coat was not applied to a cross-grained fan while such coat was applied to fans for girls.

Cross-grained fans were also called Doroe (pictures drawn with pigments made from earth materials) fans, referring to chromatic picture on the surface. Fans of Yamashina school in the early-modern times had a picture as follows: gold Genjigumo (floating clouds) with brilliant-colored frames (both pigments made from earth materials and foil were used for gold; gold and silver were used for girl's fan of Yamashina school but only gold was used for cross-grained fans); two flying cranes and a big pine tree; bamboo grass on the hill at the bottom of the pine tree; ultramarine water on the left; in the water there were Kanzemizu (whirling waves) drawn with silver paint; and a green turtle. This is the standard design, and Yamashina school fixed shape of branches of the pine tree and the direction of cranes. Takakura school allowed more flexibility; designs of celebration such as pine tree, camellia, Japanese plum, and cranes were placed appropriately. There are also many exceptional cases that seem to be not bound up with neither of these schools. Such type of fan has Genjigumo (floating clouds) on the back and butterflies and birds are densely described with five or so colors.

The metal fittings of the pivot usually have a butterfly on the surface and a bird on the back, but not a few such fittings have Japanese plums on one side. As it cannot be concluded that all of these decorations were added later, these instances could be possible. Metal fittings are made of gold and silver. After the pivot is fixed with a wooden peg, metal fittings are pierced into the pivot with a rivet, so these fittings can fall out relatively easily. Binding strings are two colors: crimson and yellow.

Nina decorations are six colors in Yamashina school: crimson, green, yellow, purple, white, and light pink. Two ninamusubi knots are tied, and between the first and second knots, adjoining ropes are tangled so that they are not falling apart. These six ropes are lined up, folded downward, binding strings are tied round the ropes tightly in a knot to fix the ropes. Fixing the ropes with metal fittings is not a proper method. Schools other than Yamashina may use five-colored ropes excluding a light pink one, and many of them use two ropes of each of five or six colors. Some of these schools explicitly showed distinctive features of Takakura schools, which may have used a method of using two ropes of each color. In rare cases, agemaki knot is tied between ninamusubi knots or a plum-shaped flower knot is tied instead of ninamusubi knots. There are a variety of other approaches in contrast to the fixed form of Yamashina school. The Yamashina school's specification of fans with cross-grained slates is described in detail in "Kyotei hiki" and typical articles of Yamashina school still exist today as gyobutsu (Imperial treasures).

Yamashita school designated Japanese plum blossoms and pine as the thread flowers. The school strictly specified that Japanese plum was made of three colors of crimson, white, and light pink, and the number of flowers and buds were also exactly specified. Thread flowers must be made of untwisted raw silk. Pine was made by showing both edges of bent raw silk strings. Japanese plum was made by curved edges of bent raw silk strings, and none of silk texture was used except for sepals of the flower. Japanese plum had a yellow stamen. It seems to be made by shredding a yellow paper. A branch was made of a wire and an untwisted raw string was tied around the wire to hide the surface. The bottom of the branch was made into a circle, and it was pierced with a red silk strand into another circle made at the top of nina decoration which was bent downward and tied by a binding string. It was preferable that the red silk string was slightly loosened so that thread flowers could dangle. In Takakura school, fans to be delivered to the Imperial court had decorations of pine and mandarin orange only (according to 旧儀御服記), but the fan delivered to Iesachi TOKUGAWA (later Iesada) had three flowers of pine, plum, and mandarin orange, just like a fan for girls (Choshin Hikae in collection of Yusoku Bunka Kenkyujo (Institute of Court Culture)). Thread flowers are rarely seen except pine, Japanese plum blossoms, and mandarin oranges.

Cross-grained fan can be found in documents in the cloister government period. There is a record in 1220 (Gyokuzui (Michiie KUJO's diary)) that thread flower of pine was found on the hiogi of young crown prince, although it was a plain-wood fan instead of cross-grained fan, and nina decoration can be found in the documents in the mid-Kamakura period (Shozoku Shikimokusho). By the time of the medieval period, the basic elements of cross-grained fan were all present. Pictures on the fan were strictly fixed as in Yamashina school after the early-modern times, but the motif of pine and cranes had been used for centuries because these were considered as bringers of good luck. In addition, pine and camellia were considered as motif for celebration based on the tradition of enthronement of Emperor Gosaga, and these motifs were found in the records of coming-of-age ceremonies of Imperial Prince Mihito (Emperor Shoko) (Documents of Takakura Family in the collection of Kokugakuin University) and Yoshimochi Ashikaga. There are several instances where these motif were used in the early-modern times, such as coming-of-age ceremony of Iesachi TOKUGAWA (Sample of Choshin Hikae in the collection of Yusoku Bunka Kenkyujo (Institute of Court Culture)). An old article existing today is the one handed down in the Mibu family from the early Kamakura Period, which is in the collection of Kyoto University. It uses grain of wood as waves painted with rokusho (malachite, an inorganic green pigment) and has paintings of a small island of pine trees between waves and a school of crane flying over the sky without any Genjigumo (floating clouds).. On the back are butterflies and birds painted with ultramarine and rokusho. There is no Genjigumo, of course.

In the early-modern times, cross-grained fans were used by sons of emperors, Imperial princes, and court nobles, as well as by pageboys (young male servants) such as Kodoneri (Juvenile people who served Court nobles and samurai families) (according to the documents on costume of Kamo Festival in these days). This type of fan was indispensable for coming-of-age ceremony for court nobles, so many of them were found among articles left by the deceased, and some inferior goods were found probably because they were used by pageboys. At Jodo Shinshu temples, a son of the manager of a temple who married to a daughter of a court noble used this type of fan in some cases. Fans that seem to be cross-grained fan from the early-modern times are often put up for antique auctions. Articles left by members of the Reizei family are published in photographs in many books. Of course, there are some cross-grained fans in the Imperial treasures.

Although there is no restriction for Crown Princes to use this type of fan, most of them used red fans or whitewash fans as described below.

Red fans
Red fans were used by the emperors and crown princes. It consists of 25 slates of wood dyed in suo (dark red). Pines and cranes were depicted with kindei (gold paint) on the front and butterflies and birds on the back. Nina decorations were dyed in dark red, purple, or six colors. The fan had thread flowers of pines only. Metal fittings were butterflies and birds of gilt bronze. Articles from the early-modern times still exist today as Imperial treasures (御服御目録).

As a case after the Meiji period, a red fan with six-colored nina decoration was supplied for the investiture of the Crown Prince Hirohito (Emperor Showa), but there is no instance after the investiture of the Crown Prince Akihito (the present Emperor).

Whitewash Fan
This type of fan was used by crown princes. It had 25 slates of wood painted with whitewash (white pigment). It had pictures of brilliant coloring Genjigumo (floating clouds), pines, cranes, water, turtles, and bamboo grass on the front just like that of a cross-grained fan. It is said that a whitewash fan had the same pictures on the front and the back, instead of butterflies and birds on the back. Nina decorations were in six colors. Thread flowers were pines. Metal fittings were butterflies and birds of gilt bronze. Articles from the early-modern times still exist today as Imperial treasures (御服御目録).

During the Jokyu era, Togu (the Crown Prince) (later Emperor Chukyo) used this type of fan for chakko (ceremony of first-time wearing of a hakama). Fans in the early-modern times were restoration from this record. Although there is no articles left today, a small hiogi at the Itsukushima-jinja Shrine is whitewash and has the same pictures on the both faces as described in the old records, so it is highly possible that a whitewash fan was something like the one at the Itsukushima. In recent years, female members of Imperial family also use cross-grained fans, but Princess Kazunomiya used a 38-slate fan at the ceremony of chakko (ceremony of first-time wearing of a hakama) which was probably not a cross-grained fan. In addition, girl servants in men's clothes accompanied with imperial visits called "Azumawarawa" used 28-slate whitewash fans in an instance in the end of Edo Period, indicating that girls in the early-modern times rarely used cross-grained fans.

Hiogi for girls


38 or 39 slates of cypress wood. On painting of whitewash and kira-biki (applying the powder solution of mica on paper), Genjigumo (floating clouds) in gold and silver and richly colored pictures were drawn.

Usually, 39 slates were used for high-class women such as Imperial family, and 38 slates for court ladies. The name "Okazashi" came from the fact that in the Edo Period court ladies used this type of fan at important ceremonies to hide their faces by holding open fans in their hands. After the Meiji period, Okazashi was used closed and tied around with nina decoration, which was originally the handling of cross-grained fans (新近問答).

A design for female emperors (such as Emperor Gosakuramachi) was paulownia and phoenix (旧儀御服記), which was also used for some empresses (belongings of Tofukumonin in the collection of the Reikan-ji Temple and belongings of Empress Dowager Eisho in Imperial treasures). In the general design of Yamashina school, Kobai (the rose plum) and bamboo trees were placed on the right and running water on the right (Kyotei hiki). This design was also found among belongings to empresses (belongings of Empress Dowager Eisho in Imperial treasures). The designs of schools other than Yamashina include flowers in branches (belongings of Mrs. Nariaki MITO, Arisugawanomiya Princess Yoshiko in the collection of the Tokugawa Museum) and pines and cranes (article handed down in the Mori family; belongings of Teisoin, a daughter of Imperial Prince Arisugawanomiya Taruhito).

Binding strings were usually two colors of red and white to tie the strings of Nina decoration. Details are the same as the specification of cross-grained fans; many of this type of fan have strings of six colors, one of each color, but some of the fans existing today have two string of each of six colors.

The thread flowers were pine and plum in the Yamashina school, just like a cross-grained fan, but in the Takakura school the thread flowers were pine, plum, and mandarin orange.

The pivot was butterflies and birds of gilt bronze, as in cross-grained fans.

Hiogi in modern age
In the modern age, even Imperial family wear Western clothes and they wear traditional costume only at large-scale ceremonies.
Examples are as follows:

A fan for the ceremony of the enthronement has gilded clouds and pictures of paulownia and phoenix on the front, and gilded clouds and pictures of flying birds and butterflies on the back. This fan was also used for important ceremonies such as the official investiture ceremony of the Crown Prince.

Crown princess
Used hiogi at marriage ceremony and ceremony of the enthronement. Same as the Empress at the ceremony of the enthronement.

Imperial princesses
Used hiogi at marriage ceremony and ceremony of the enthronement. The design was the same as crown princesses except for pictures of pine trees and two long-tailed fowls (beautiful birds with long tails, not chickens) in ultramarine and red.

These designs were designated at the ceremony of the enthronement of the Emperor Taisho. The design of pine, plum, and crane was also used in hiogi for marriage ceremonies.

There are books and magazines that contain photographs of hiogi fans used by the Empress Michiko at ceremonies of marriage, enthronement, and investiture of the Crown Prince; Princess Masako, the wife of Imperial Prince Naruhito at the marriage ceremony; and Princess Kiko, the wife of Imperial Prince Fumihito at the ceremonies of marriage and enthronement. There are also published photographs in which cross-grained fans are used by Imperial Princess Norinomiya Sayako (present-day Sayako KURODA) and Toshinomiya Imperial Princess Aiko at the ceremony of chakko (ceremony of first-time wearing of a hakama).

[Original Japanese]