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SENSU: Not just a folding fan to cool yourself

SENSU is a Japanese folding fan. For fanning to cool yourself, you spread out and wave SENSU, then collapse it when unnecessary. The fan is made of the traditional Japanese paper, WASHI, pasted on thin sheets of cypress wood or bamboo frames.

SENSU, in addition to the function of cooling, plays other roles as decorative or ceremonial objects. For instance, SENSU is a very important decorative item for traditional Japanese stage arts such as KABUKI and NOH plays. From ceremonial perspectives, when you are invited to a Japanese tea ceremony, you are supposed to carry SENSU with you because you need it for making greetings to your host by putting SENSU on TATAMI mattress in the tea room thus making a courtesy boundary between the invitee and the host.

An incense box in the shape of SENSU

SENSU is a Japanese invention. At the begging in of the HEI-AN period (the 8th ~ 12th century), SENSU or the collapsible fan was invented by the then Japanese, getting much popularity among aristocrats, then SAMURAI warriors and finally commoners. During the Age of Discovery, mariners from Spain and Portugal introduced SENSU into their home countries. Especially Spanish people loved SENSU, modifying into their own folding fan, Abanico, which is very often used in their flamenco dances.

SENSU is believed to be a lucky item, too. SENSU spreads out wide to the end, creating a shape called SUE-HIROGARI in Japanese which signifies infinity and increasing luck.

I’d say that SENSU makes an ideal souvenir item for it is a Japanese invention, a lucky item, and a small object to carry back to your home country.

By Jin Shibata

e-mail: jin.shibata@i3ws.co.jp

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