Folding fans are a popular summer accessory in Japan, for both men and women. There are literally hundreds of designs that may even depend on the exact time of the year you are using them… For a long time, these sensu have been a target of individual artistic expression, and many renowned ukiyo-e artists have not been above making designs for both sensu and uchiwa (non-folding fans).
So, even though I have no artistic fibre in my body, I went with two of my English students to a little sensu studio where we could paint our own fans with water colors. I was a bit reluctant at first, but they got me when they said “it’s a machiya, probably 100 years old…”
So, we went to the shop/atelier and sat down on a long table on the floor where everything had been prepared for us already. First, we had to choose the color of the paper (already in appropriate shape, then the design. You could either make your own design, or choose from dozens of already painted fans to trace over to your own paper and then color in according to the model. One of my students had come up with her own design (which is probably easy after 40 years of doing watercolors), my other student chose to copy a given design.
And then, we painted. For quite a long time because my students made a design that would cover both sides of the finished fan. I only had a simple design on a single side, so I was finished quite quickly (and then had lots of opportunity to be shown around the house ;-)) In the end, we had to choose the wood for the fan from three options. The shop would take it from there, fold our paintings properly and then insert the wooden part of the fan into the paper.
That was 4 weeks ago. Finally, last weekend, I received the result of my labour in a very beautiful package (and smelling a bit like incense), and actually, now that I see the final result, it is not as bad as I thought (you don’t have to agree, that’s fine!)
I really don’t know how the shop did it, but the wood is indeed inside the paper, so it seems they have spliced the painted paper somehow to insert the spokes of the fan. Interesting, I did not think this would be possible. Anyway, I did have a fun afternoon, and even though the result looks like a child’s drawing, I am satisfied since it does represent my home back in Austria.