A hand-held fan is an implement used to induce an airflow for the purpose of cooling or refreshing oneself. Any broad, flat surface waved back-and-forth will create a small airflow and therefore can be considered a rudimentary fan. But generally, purpose-made hand-held fans are shaped like a sector of a circle and made of a thin material (such as paper or feathers) mounted on slats which revolve around a pivot so that it can be closed when not in use.
Japanese fans are made of paper on a bamboo frame, usually with a design painted on them. In addition to folding fans (ōgi), the non-bending fans (uchiwa) are popular and commonplace. The fan is primarily used for fanning oneself in hot weather.
It was also used in the military as a way of sending signals on the field of battle, however fans were mainly used for social and court activities. In Japan, fans were variously used by warriors as a form of weapon, by actors and dancers for performances, and by children as a toy.
These uchiwa aren’t as fancy. The two on the left were probably handed out on the street as an advertisement.
In the summer, companies sometimes promote their services on uchiwa and hand them out on the street.
You can also get free uchiwa during summer festivals to fan yourself with during the muggy evening. The free uchiwa usually have ads on them, so buying one that matches your yukata (summer kimono) might be the better choice!
What else can you use uchiwa for?
Fans usually bring uchiwa to concerts (usually idol concerts, but nowadays you can find fans who bring them regardless of the artist) in order to show their support for a particular member or their general support for the whole group or artist.
You can either buy your uchiwa at the concert if they’re selling it; usually these are specific to the tour and have the member’s face on the front. Or you can make your own. Tokyu Hands, a popular DIY chain, has a big section for uchiwa-making materials, and hundred yen stores also have a selection.
Oftentimes with homemade uchiwa, fans write messages to the members, either referring specifically to something the member said on television or in an interview (kind of like an inside joke) or with something like “blow me a kiss” or “I’ve wanted to meet you.”
Official concert uchiwa
The back of the uchiwa have the member’s name and the front has a picture of their face.
You can also use uchiwa to support a friend at a competition or event. And when it gets hot, you can use it to cool off – its original purpose!