Traditional Kyoto Fans, Kyo-Sensu

May 27, 2013

by Yuko Nakamura and Aina Maeguchi

What is kyo-sensu?

The Sensu is a folding fan, an implement Japanese people use to cool themselves during the hot and humid summers. Japan was the first country to fold paper and then apply it to thin slats of bamboo in order to make a fan.

Sensu are known for their elegant shapes and design. Kyoto fans, or kyo-sensu, are especially known for their delicate form and elegance, more so than other sensu in Japan.

Kyo-sensu first appeared in Kyoto in the Heian period (794- 1185). At that time, kyo-sensu were written upon and often decorated with short poems brushed in ink. People recorded many things on paper, but paper was very valuable, so fans were special objects. The oldest kyo-sensu was found in the arms of the Senju Kannon (Thousand Armed Avalokiteshwara) in Touji Temple in Kyoto in 877.

In the Kamakura period, Japanese sensu were brought to China. Later, paper was pasted on both sides of the fans and common people were permitted to use them. Kyo-sensu were used by Noh actors and tea ceremony practitioners. Kyo-sensu continued to progress and a foreign market was established in the Edo period.

Today, fans are limited only to the domestic market and 90% are sold in Japan.

A Variety of Sensu Types

A sensu is used in many ways. Some are used in dance, some purely for decoration, and so on.  All in all, there are about ten kinds of sensu and the number of ribs or slats is different in each one.

Hi-ougi are used in ceremonies and for decoration. This is the oldest style of fan. They are made from thin slats of hinoki, or Japanese cypress. Gold foil is applied to the front of this fan. At first only men used such a fan, but later women came to use it too.

Kawahori-sen are a paper type fan. The first kawahori-sen were made in the Heian era.

Cha-sen are used in the tea ceremony.  There are two sizes of this fan, according to the gender of the user. Those for men measure about 18 cm, and those for women about 15cm. We always use a sensu in the tea ceremony.

Mai-ougi are the fans used in Nihon buyo, or Japanese dance. These are a very common type of fan. However, they also show certain differences between those used by men and women, for example, in color, design, size and so on.


Kyo-sensu logo mark

This logo mark was made on May 1st, 2010. It shows that goods with this mark belong to“京都扇子団扇商工協同組合”(a cooperative group of makers of kyo-sensu). Moreover, this mark is restricted only to those goods which are produced in Kyoto.



Where can we get kyo-sensu?

Miyawaki baisenan


Daikoku-tyo 80-3 Rokkaku Tominokoji, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto city

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