A ceremonial folding fan 

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This is my hiogi. There are many like it, but this one is mine. Without me, my fan is useless. Without my fan, I am useless. I must wield my fan more skillfully than any of the other hags ladies in this court. I must devastate all in my path before they devastate me. My fan and I know that what counts in this dewdrop existence is not the snap of the vanes or the flash of artful paint. We know it is the illusion of fleeting beauty that counts. We will create that illusion.

My fan is human, even as I am human, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a sister. I will learn its weaknesses, its strengths, its parts, its paintwork, its pivot, its balance. I will keep my fan with the care I keep myself. We will become part of each other...... (With my apologies to the marksmen of the U.S. Marine Corps.)

This is the second hiogi I've ever built. The first one can be seen here. I made a lot of mistakes which taught me a great deal when it came time to make this one.

A Japanese dictionary compiled circa 935 AD mentions the ogi, or folding fan, and the paddle-like uchiwa. The Song Shu, the official chronicle of the Song dynasty (960-1279 AD) states that a Japanese monk named Chonen presented fans to the Chinese court as gifts. Hiogi, fans made of slats of cypress wood threaded with silk and elaborately painted, were used in the Imperial court on formal occasions. Fans are also mentioned in much of the literature of the Heian period (710-1185 AD), such as Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book and Murasaki Shikibu’s Tale of Genji, where a sensu, or paper fan, with a poem calligraphed on it might be gifted to a lover.  

Below are photos of a hiogi from the 14th-15th century in the collection of the Miho Museum. The cypress slats are 40 cm in length and bound together with silk cord. Both sides of the fan are decorated with mica and “glitter” cut from gold and silver leaf as well as painted seasonal motifs. According to the museum, the cord is later than the original fan.

Photos courtesy of the Miho Museum, Shiga Prefecture, Japan.  http://www.miho.or.jp/booth/html/artcon/00001861.htm

The Miho hiogi is made of 27 slats, each 40 cm (15.75 inches) in length. This may seem rather large for a fan, however, ladies of the court used them as much to hide their faces from strangers as much as to cool themselves.

Hinoki cypress is native to Japan and not readily available. Basswood is sold in sheets as thin as 1/32” and was easily cut to size with an X-acto knife. I cut my slats 5/8" x 16" and kept cutting until I had enough to form an arc of the appropriate size when laid out. I ended up with 54 slats in the final fan. I could have gone wider, but I liked the more delicate proportion of the narrower slats. It's always a good idea to cut a few extra in case of splitting or breakage. 


 Slats were aligned, marked and then carefully pierced for lacing with a needle: two holes about an inch from the top, one an inch from the bottom. After the holes were pierced, beading wire was threaded through the bottom hole and tightly tied off at each end to form a pivot joint. A steel rivet of sufficient length would be ideal, but my metal working skills are nonexistent.

Rough edges were sanded. Two parallel courses of thread were sewn through the upper end of each slat and tied off.

For painting, the fan was spread out on a flat surface, making certain that each slat was evenly aligned, then taped down. (See photos at head of article. Yes, I taped it to the coffee table. It's a $19 IKEA special. Don't do this to nice furniture.)

Depending on the decoration you choose to apply, you may want to remove the upper lacing and spread your fan slats after painting to prevent the slats from getting stuck together. Once dry, simply re-lace the top holes.

To provide additional stability, I opened the fan, checked the slat alignment one last time, then put a small drop of white glue on each left-hand top hole in each slat. This keeps the thread from slipping too far and letting the slats fall out of alignment during regular use.


Midwest Products Co. Store Locator:  https://midwestproducts.com/apps/store-locator  

Item# 4401W is a basswood sheet 1/32" thick x 4" wide X24" long. https://midwestproducts.com/products/1-32-x-4-x-24-bass-wood?_pos=10&_sid=efc0011e0&_ss=r&variant=702412467


Hutt, Juliana and Alexander, Helene. Ogi: A History of the Japanese Fan (Dauphin Publishing Ltd., London, 1992) ISBN-1-872357-08 3. 

Morris, Ivan, translator. The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (New York, Columbia University Press, 1991) ISBN 0-231-07337-2. 

Morris, Ivan. The World of the Shining Prince (Kodansha Globe, 1994) ISBN 1-568-36029-0 

Hiogi, Muromachi period, Miho Museum, Shiga Prefecture, Japan. http://www.miho.or.jp/booth/html/artcon/00001861e.htm 

Hiogi, archaeological dig near Nitta, Aomori Prefecture, Japan. http://www.komakino.jp/h16-ao-nitta-gensetu/h16-ao-nitta-gensetu.html 

Hiogi, date unknown, Sugino Costume Museum, Tokyo, Japan.  http://www.costumemuseum.jp/french/collection/j_komono/jk638.html

Copyright 2008, Lisa A. Joseph

No HOBBY LOBBY products were used in these projects.