Furaidochikin Crossing: My Work So Far

Welp. It’s been a roller coaster of a production period here in my first month at Studio Kura. I learned that once I harvest the bamboo and cut it that it has to soak for 5 days before I work on it. I thought, “Ya know… I can go explore the town and stuff!” So I did. Then after 5 days I cranked. But it didn’t look like I was cranking so I’ve felt unsettled this whole time.

This isn’t even the biggest piece of bamboo I’ve seen up behind the house. There are some as big around as my thigh.

With me I brought a cut tube of bamboo from Marugame. This was important. It was this cut piece that I knew was already approved by the masters at Marugame Uchiwa and the visitors center. They were so great to sell it to me for mere coins. I treated it like a precious, precious thing… and that would lead to its demise. But I’m getting ahead of myself. If I had been thinking, I would have brought it into the forest with me when I harvested my first stalk of bamboo to use for comparison. As it was, I chose a stalk that was a little too small. I’m not going to trouble you with the details as to why it was too small but I figured that out on my own as I began to chop it up.

This is Hiro-san’s mother. Hiro is the founder of the residency and his mother lives behind the office. She cut the bamboo for me. I couldn’t wield the freaking saw to save my life. The same saw in this amazing woman’s hands sliced through the bamboo like butter. Yes, I know the cutting direction is pulling with Japanese saws. Yes, I’m comfortable with tools. Yes, I brought shame to my family.

I measured the length and the diameter of the very important tube from Marugame and noted where the node was in relation to the length of bamboo on either side of it. This tube was my guide. While I got to witness several processes in Marugame, I still have a blind spot. I’m not sure exactly what happens between harvesting it and cutting the little slivers of the fan. I mean… I’m guessing pretty well and I’m able to make fans, but there have been… casualties. This is because I don’t know what my working time is, how long it can stay underwater, what the shelf life is, etc.

I lost 14 fans to mold. Not sure why.

My precious, exemplary tube of bamboo also wound up ruined from soaking for far too long. All of this mayhem set me back a couple of days. I’ve been stressing out because I have a set idea of how many fans I’d like to make and I’m relating it to how many fans I made in Onishi during a 3 week period. I made a little over 20 at the Shiro Oni residency 2 years ago. I had 50 in mind for here. As of today (I worked my ass off this morning to make up for lost time.) I have 66 fans in varying degrees of readiness, and one uncut tube left. I have 5 fans complete after one month which I think is sad.

Fan pieces in varying states of readiness.

It’s not that I haven’t been working – it’s that I’ve been working like a factory doing single processes in bulk for efficiency. I’m getting faster and smarter too, thank goodness. BUT… all I see are sticks. No fans. I worry that that’s what everyone else sees too and that I’m being seen as lazy.

Fan frames ready to be strung.

I’ll have a little less than 7 weeks of work time total at Studio Kura. 50 fans would be good. Then I can bring the rest of the sticks home to make a few fans there. We’ll see. The fans I’m making with lights in them take quite a bit longer to make but I’m still aiming for 50. Wanna see the ones with lights?!

Fancy handles.

Here are the two kinds of handles that take a long time to carve. They are shown here on top of their fallen brothers. (May their little bamboo spirits return to the earth that made them.) The two to the right are the fiber optic kind and the two on the left will house small sets of white strand lights. Very tiny and cool burning. I see them showing up in fans as fireflies, lights in the windows of a passing train, stars, etc. I had this vision in Texas and am getting to carry it out here!

The battery pack for the strand of lights is ugly. I was engineering this elaborate bamboo cover with hinges so that you could get in and out of the handle to change the batteries and turn the lights on. Then a simple solution hit me.

No Dad, this isn’t a bottle of Worcestershire sauce with a stick of celery in it but I totally see it!

I’ll cover it with a fitted fabric sleeve made of vintage kimono fabric. I’m hand sewing zippers into the cover so that you can get in and out and not have to see the ugly battery pack. These are taking me a long time.

Ta da!

My first prototype. I have to tell you, the reaction I get from Japanese people when I tell them I make uchiwa is priceless. Add to that a fan that lights up and they are doubly fascinated. Here’s a pic that my friend Takiko took of a group of people huddled around my phone as I showed them pictures of my previous fans. They are so adorable and supportive.

Adorable Japanese people. Photo credit: Takiko Akita.

I have 5 fans completed at this time. It feels good to see paper on them! OH! I have to show you all my paper!

Not the best pic but you’re looking at about 20 feet of handmade washi paper. I have been to two paper factories this trip and will blog about it. I’ll highlight the paper better there. And of course you’ll see it on my fans.

Ok let’s look at the finished fans.

First fan with good ol’ retro reflective tape. Not going to make you cross-eyed with some of the technical details and style of fan I made here but it is slightly different from what I’ve done before.
With flash.
The back.

A big part of me just wants to make beautiful fans and let go of the “privacy” aspect that originally got me making uchiwa in the first place. There are several different directions I am thinking about exploring. One idea involves a hip, modern, maybe even graffiti style of imagery. I plan to make some stencils and actually spray paint some.

Blue beauty.

This paper is dyed with indigo, the same stuff used to dye blue jeans. The dye is expensive and I decided that the paper was beautiful enough on its own. The back is a tan fibrous washi.

Ryder is leaving some prints behind. He did a series of woodcut prints and disliked the paper they got printed on. I told him to leave them with me and that I would make use of them in some fans.

A rare spousal collab.

The ink he used was water based. I thought I managed to get the prints glued down without disturbing the ink but there are a few places where it smudged. Maybe I’ll keep playing with this one to try to cover it up but I do like the simplicity of it. I’ll try making a few more. Back is tan fibrous washi.

Lastly, another direction to play with. I have some sumi-e ink. My first experiment became my current favorite fan. The first thing I did was to paint the ribs with ink. I thought the ink would bleed into the paper. It didn’t. To get the effect I was hoping for I took the fan outside and dropped ink onto the edges of the front and back.


I finished the edge with a delicate natural colored paper and instead of putting the small pieces of paper to attach the bow to the fan, I placed a couple of drops of ink. I’m definitely going to play with this idea more!

Thanks for reading! Love, Furaidochikin.

By sueanne

Artist and videographer, sort of.

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