Close to the famous Kyoto geisha district of Gion can be found Ogiya Hangesho, a traditional fan maker and dealer. In this former geisha house now functioning as art gallery and repository of fan-related knowledge, owner Kimiko Nishino gave me a glimpse of an earlier era.
Folding fans were invented in Japan around the 800s, originally for the nobility to hide their faces. They were exported to China and later used by the European royalty, but their design evolved to western taste with the addition of feathers and other materials. Nisino tells some amazing stories about how their design and usage have changed over time.
One kind of fan on display are dance fans, which portray the same design on both sides. These fans are used in buyo, the traditional Japanese dance which forms part of the geisha’s traditional repertoire, and which can be seen in daily performances at Gion Corner theater.
Decorative fans have different designs on each side, such as spring on one side and autumn on the other. Apart from seasonal themes, images can represent tigers, festive subjects, or stories from the Tale of Genji, for example. Ogiya Hangesho can even produce designs of your own choosing, made of paper or fragrant kinoki (Japanese cypress). Visitors of all ages can also join a fan-making workshop to learn some of the secrets of the trade.
We are led upstairs to the tatami room of this traditional Japanese geisha house to play tosenkyo, a game played by people of all echelons during the Edo Period (1600-1868). The game—rather like darts with a fan, with points awarded based on where and how the fan lands—was the subject of intense betting until banned by the government. While non-Japanese speakers can appreciate the game’s visual beauty and joy, an intermediate speaker will be able to enjoy the experience on a much deeper level.
For seekers of heirlooms, collectors of fine art, or enthusiasts of Japanese culture, Ogiya Hangesho will reward a visit.
Tosenkyo (reservations required):
- Basic price: ¥2,500
- with matcha tea and sweets: ¥3,150
- with a bento-box meal: from ¥5,500
- with a maiko as your opponent: from ¥20,000
Fan workshop (approx. 90 mins):
- Summer fan painting: ¥2,500
- Dance fan painting: ¥3,800
- Simple stamping: ¥500
440-13 Nishigomon-cho,Matsubara-sagaru, Shin-miyagawacho-dori, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto. Tel: 075-525-6210. firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com (for fan workshop). Nearest stn: Gojyo-Keihan. www.hangesho.com/eng
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