Furaidochikin Crossing: Marugame Uchiwa

My trip to Marugame was exciting to say the least. I’ve been anxious to go here for months, ever since I discovered the place on google maps after doing some deep research. The art residency I will be attending, Studio Kura, was chosen for its proximity to Marugame even though it’s still a good 4 to 5 hours away by public transit. Because of my trajectory from Tokyo I was able to make it there for one day. The trip to Marugame almost didn’t happen due to the language barrier but luckily, since I sent a follow up email, the uchiwa museum asked for help translating it from an employee at the international relations department of city hall!

To keep it simple, I make artwork about privacy. When I came to Japan two years ago my art took on the flavor of Japan in the form of the Japanese fan – the uchiwa. I used the fan as a statement about hiding your face from surveillance cameras. There are two kinds of fans. The one you may recall is the folding fan called the sensu. The uchiwa is a flat, rounded fan that does not fold. As an example, I’ll give you a sneak peak at one of the goodies I could not live without.

Cats and noodles. Kagawa prefecture is known for its udon. I’ve had it. It’s awesome.

About two weeks before I left for Japan I got an email from and woman named Hiromi from city hall explaining that they didn’t speak English at the Uchiwa no Minato Museum in Marugame. She informed me that she would accompany me to the museum and be my interpreter for the day. What, really?!? Awesome! I knew they were going through way too much trouble here but in hindsight having Hiromi around was priceless. I really did need her.

Hiromi and I had so much fun together! Why does my neck always look like string cheese?

Hiromi got a list of my questions pre-interpreted for me. The Master uchiwa maker, Keiko Hyodosan, meticulously answered everything for me! These were very uchiwa-centric geeky questions like, ‘What time of year is best to harvest the bamboo?” and “What species of bamboo do you use?” I got a lot of important details about the processes that I am incredibly thankful for. I’m going to spare you all of the technical details because I value your readership. Hyodosan went through the entire fan making process with me from beginning to end and I got all of it on film. My phone ran out of room and Hiromi chan finished filming it for me! I am very grateful to have it in film. In the end, Hyodosan gave me a handmade bamboo tool for separating the bones when they are glued to the paper. This tool is also handy for getting the woven string in the right place. This tool will be cherished and used! Thank you Hyodosan for sharing your rare knowledge with me and for this special tool! (The video was too long to upload unfortunately. Maybe I will put it on youtube later.)

Various fan making tools.
Brushes for applying glue to the bamboo bones and paper.
Custom forged cutting tools for shaping the fan symmetrically. Drool.

You guys know I tend to fixate on something once I decide I like it. I don’t know where I got that from. I guess my Dad has a few fixations: guns, knives, motorcycles… so maybe I got it from him. All of these tools and fans made me so happy. I have some pics of some historic fans as well.

LOVE these see-through fans!
Different style of handle. Also seem to have a waterproof coating on them.
Ollllllllld.
Beautiful. The two things I practiced, uchiwa and sumi-e, combined.
This one looks like a thin piece of laser cut wood. It could be hand cut but I think it’s too perfect.

The creative juices are flowing though. Studio Kura has a laser cutter and I have plans to play with it this time around. I hadn’t even thought of just using thin wood. This changes everything. Here are some of the fans for sale in the showroom.

All handmade. All different.
GIANT fan in the back room. The others fans are regular size for scale.
Fan frames as decor in the back room.
A manhole cover with uchiwa seen on the way to Marugame castle.

After the uchiwa museum, where formality reigns, Hiromi took me to Marugame castle which was quite a hike! This was to burn some time before my next uchiwa experience at the Marugamejonai Information Center. Here we would find another set of uchiwa-makers who also let visitors make fans. At the Marugame Uchiwa Museum I was only able to put paper on a frame but here they let me play with the tool I am most interested in: the one that cuts all the bones quickly and evenly. If I could get my hands on one of these or make something similar it could shave a good hour or two off the making of a single fan.

Here is that tool. It’s a complicated image but the tool is pretty simple.

There were several instructors here and I loved them all. Where I once again expected to work with one person, a number of different people came to my aid. It was a team effort! Hisako Kawata is the president of this group of craftsmen and women, several of whom are “dento kogeishi” which means registered Master Craftsman. What an honor to work with them. Masaharu Obayashi is seen in the video below. Yoko Fujioka, a woman overflowing with personality and smiles, helped me paper and glue the fans. Junko Mitani taught me how to weave the threads to spread the bones. Katsue Fujikawa supported me in the process as well! I loved them all for their support, their skill, and their enthusiastic guidance. (Thanks again to Hiromi for fishing out that information for me!)

A video of Obayashisan and myself! Video credit Hiromi Nishi.
The artisans laughed at me at both places when I marveled at the beauty of the cutting marks left behind on the stumps. I think they look like beautiful line drawings. They may appear on my fans!
Beautiful stained and cut handles. I’ve never seen this before.
Obayashisan was working on this larger old style fan.
Yoko chan making sure my gluing technique is sound.
Did you see these cute uchiwa in the background?
Yoko chan and me.

At the end of my visit here, Yoko chan was a riot! She was closely inspecting my shirt (The one Tadaaki made always gets a lot of attention from the locals!) and teasing me a lot. I gave her one of my cards and she wanted me to pose like I did on my card with her. I even got a giggling hug! I wish I could pack her in my suitcase and bring her home with me. SO! You saw my cat noodle fan. Check out the rest of my booty!

This is a smaller fan. It’s a waterproof fan because it has a persimmon juice coating. It reads: Persimmon Uchiwa.
As I mentioned, I love the transparent papers on the fans. So delicate!
CATS! Look at the one dragging along a squid that is bigger than he is!
Last but not least, Hyottoko. Really developed a liking for how silly this guy is.

My experience making uchiwa in Marugame has left me wanting more. Maybe on my next sabbatical I can come for the two week class that they offer every November. I hope my uchiwa making goes a little faster with the right kind of bamboo this time. I have some interesting technological plans for my next round of fans. I will be embedding different kinds of lights inside of them and I’ll also have access to a laser cutter. I plan to play with making some sort of wearable contraption as well. Well see how that goes!

As always, thanks for reading, everyone! Love, Furaidochikin.

P.S. Hiromi wrote to tell me that she printed the pics of Yoko chan and I and brought them to the information center. The dream team of uchiwa-makers told her to tell me thank you. Oh! My aching heart!

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