Takashima: Where all Japanese Fans are Born

April 8, 2015


Takashima: Where all Japanese Fans are Born

To most of the Western world, fans are an easily recognizable symbol of East Asia. Fans have been used in Japan for 100s of years and even used to be distributed by businesses as free gifts instead of the modern day free t-shirt. Specific cities in Japan have gained some renown for their particularly ornate and well crafted fans, one of which is Kyoto. However, in modern-day Japan, if a sensu (扇子) folding fan is advertised as made in Japan, it actually started its life in the small town of Adogawa, Takashima. Adogawa, Takashima, located on the west side of Lake Biwa, has nurtured a 300 year old tradition of crafting the ribs of the famous folding fans. In the early Meiji era a division-of-labor system was developed to produce fans quickly in the area. All of the artisans specialized in one specific part of the rib-making process and would live in the same neighborhood or on the same street. When they finished their portion of the fan they would run it over to their neighbor artisans. In this fashion they were able to mass produce fans. Long ago cities like Aichi used to also make the ribs of fans, but as fans have become less and less necessary in modern life, the production of fans has also decreased, leaving Takashima to produce 100% of Japan’s fan ribs. Because of this trend, the production of fans in Takashima has decreased from 1 million pieces a year to 600,000 pieces a year.


Fan ribs are traditionally made of Bamboo. From a cylinder of bamboo, the top green layer is sliced off and discarded, and then a thin layer of what’s left of the outer part of the bamboo cylinder is also sliced off and used to make the fan ribs. The outer layer of the bamboo is the hardest and the only section of the bamboo that can be used in the fan making process. Because bamboo from different regions varies in how soft it is based on humidity levels and other climate related factors, bamboo used for fans can only come from certain areas. Japanese bamboo is actually perfect for this task because the climate of Japan leads to strong sturdy bamboo that is still flexible enough for fans.


Using a variety of tools, the sliced layer of bamboo is turned into two different kinds of ribs: the naka-bone (lit. inner bone) which is the smaller thinner variety of rib that makes up most of the fan, and the oya-bone (lit. parent bone) which is the two larger ribs found on each end of the fan. Fans are actually valued by how many naka-bone are found in the fan because the more ribs there are, the better the fan feels and the harder it is to make. On average there are either 13, 33 or 43 naka-bones, but there can be up to 60. A fan with 60 naka-bones is very difficult to make because the artisan needs to make the ribs very thin and precise. There are very few people who can actually execute this process properly (the fan artisan at Suita Sensu, a shop in Adogawa, can make the 60-rib fan). We recorded the following video of Suita-san making the ribs into a uniform shape. In this video he has stacked 1300 ribs together and is smoothing them out with various tools.

After the ribs are formed they are dried in the sun for 4-7 days, depending on the season, until they turn the desired mustard color. They are then completed and sent to various cities, including Kyoto, to be decorated with painted washi (traditional Japanese paper).


There are many different kinds of fans which can be divided into three main categories: fans for daily use, which would be the smaller and simpler kind of fan, fans for dance performances which are more ornate than daily-use fans but must have the same pattern on both sides, and fans for decoration which are very elaborately decorated but usually only have a pattern on one side or a different pattern on each side. Fans used for decoration can also be used in traditional Japanese theatre performances like Kabuki and Noh. Each kind requires a different kind of rib. While the everyday fan is made up of thick rounded oya-bones and thin and slender naka-bones, fans meant for dancing, display, and theatre performances are composed of similarly thick oya- and naka-bones.


After shipping many of the ribs that have been produced to Kyoto and other large cities, some ribs remain in Takashima to be constructed and painted by local artisans. A variety of these fans can be found at the Adogawa Michi-no-eki (道の駅, or roadside station), called Fujiki-no-sato Adogawa 藤樹の里あどがわ (Map). This building hosts a small local market which sells a variety of food, including the local Ado berry, and crafts. A fan museum and workshop space (as shown in the top photo) is also located here . For more information, please follow this link:

Takashima_15From the left to the right, Suita-san: the owner of Suita Sensu, Murata-san: the executive director of Takashima Sensu Union, myself, and Belinda Kyle

Suita Sensu  (Map) is another great place to find beautiful fans. Suita-san, the owner of the shop, is an expert in his field and makes incredibly beautiful fans. Recently this shop has been working with students from Seian University of Arts and Design ( to create more modern versions of fans and pass on the tradition of fan making. Currently the students are working on a paper-free fan design. Suita Sensu and other shops located in Adogawa, Takashima are also working towards making 100% of their fans in Japan by using bamboo from local forests.

高島 -「メイドインジャパン」の扇子が生まれる町










この後、扇骨は京都やその他の地域にが大方送られ完成品となりますが、ここ高島でも扇子の組み立てや絵付けが行われています。それらは安曇川道の駅「藤樹の里あどがわ」 (地図)でも購入することができます。ここでは、アドベリーをはじめとしたこの地域の農産物や工芸品などが販売されています。また、扇子ギャラリー(トップ写真参照)やワークショップスペースも併設されています。詳しい情報はこちらで紹介されています。


すいた扇子 (地図) でも様々な美しい扇子を購入することができます。このお店のオーナーである吹田さんは扇骨作りのエキスパートであり、素晴らしい扇子を沢山作られています。最近は成安造形大学の学生プロジェクトにおいて、現代的なデザインの扇子を作ることをなかで扇骨作りの伝統を継承する活動をされており、現在学生たちは扇骨だけでつくる扇子に取り組んでいる様子でした。また、高島にあるその他の工房も一緒になって、地元の竹材を使用した100%メイドインジャパンの扇子製造に向けて取り組まれています。

One Comment
  1. Micaela

    Elena, thank you so so much for this article. I m travelling in a month to Japan and had been looking for the "sensu capital" without luck. Do you know if there are any workshops that teach? I don't know Japanese (yet) but I would like to learn this craft and I m not sure how to proceed. Do you have any recommendation? I will definitely visit Takashima!

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