A Guide to the Traditional Japanese Craft: Edo-Sensu Fans

Tokyo’s “Edo-Sensu” are a variety of Japanese folding fans that stand alongside Kyoto’s “Kyo-Sensu” as a traditional Japanese craft. With more than 300 years of history, the fans were heavily influenced by Edo’s (the old name for Tokyo) fashionable culture and often feature more stylish designs. Also, another characteristic of the fans is that most are one-off pieces, as each fan is made by a single craftsman. This article will go into the history and unique features of the Edo-Sensu fan, as well as introduce some carefully-selected examples that can be purchased!

History of the Edo-Sensu Fan

Folding fans first appeared in Japan some 1,200 years ago in Kyoto. Since then, the fans have flourished as they spread throughout Japan and even overseas as “Kyo-Sensu.” On the other hand, folding fans were not made in Edo (present-day Tokyo) until the middle of the Edo period (1688 – 1704). It is said that a fan craftsman from Kyoto moved to Tokyo’s Asakusa and began selling fans within the grounds of Sensoji Temple, thus starting the craft of Edo-Sensu fans. 

From then on, in contrast to the elegant and traditional designs of Kyo-Sensu, Edo-Sensu fans were designed to fit the trendy culture of Edo and were widely used by people of all classes.

Related articles:

▶ A Guide to the Traditional Japanese Craft: Kyo-Sensu Fans

▶ The Complete Guide to Traditional Japanese Crafts

Characteristics of Edo-Sensu Fans

The biggest characteristic of Edo-Sensu fans is that—unlike Kyo-Sensu fans—they are made by a single craftsman, who performs each of the 30+ steps in the crafting process by themselves. For this reason, mass-production is difficult, and many fans are one-off creations. In general, Edo-Sensu fans tend to be heftier with thicker skeletons.

In addition, the influence of Edo’s fashion-loving culture led to many simple designs, and some of the classic Edo-Sensu fan designs include intricate repeating patterns, geometrical shapes, and paintings of lucky animals or symbols.

The satisfying snapping sound of a fan flipping open is also unique to Edo-Sensu.

Edo-Sensu Fans Today

As mentioned above, all 30+ steps in the creation process of Edo-Sensu fans are completed by a single craftsman. Today, it is said that only two people continue to make the fans in this way, doing each step in the process alone. One of those people is a craftswoman named Yoshiko Fukatsu (shown in the photo above). 

Many traditional Japanese crafts suffer from a lack of apprentices available to carry on the craft, and Edo-Sensu is no different.

Despite this challenge facing the craft, people like Yoshiko Fukatsu continue to make exceptional fans one-by-one, in the fashionable Edo-Sensu style.

Featured Products

[Hand Fan] Woman’s Zodiac Folding Fan | Edo Folding Fans

This Edo-Sensu fan features a cute design of a baby monkey. It makes for a great little accent to an outfit.

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[Hand Fan] Woman’s Zodiac Folding Fan | Edo Folding Fans

This Edo-Sensu fan features a horse painted in “sumi” (black ink). The simple design can be easily matched to many different outfits. 

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[Hand Fan] Woman’s Astringent Fan | Edo Folding Fans

This simple and polished design is very typical of the Edo-Sensu style. The paper has been treated with a traditional technique: painted with countless layers of juice from a “shibu-gaki” (astringent persimmon) to give it a rich tone and luxurious touch that can’t be replicated with artificial products. 

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[Hand Fan] Woman’s Astringent Fan | Edo Folding Fans

Though similar, this Edo-Sensu fan has a slightly lighter color than the previous fan. Back in the Edo period, people enjoyed such slight variations as an expression of style. This is a masterpiece for those with an appreciation for the craft.

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[Hand Fan] Folding Fan Tea Rack Set Cloud | Edo Folding Fans

This is a decorative fan that features a different design on the front and back. Slightly different from a handheld fan, this fan is inlaid with gold and can instantly add an air of elegance to a room. 

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[Hand Fan] Cosmos Shiratake 195 | Edo Folding Fans

In classic Edo-Sensu style, this gem of a fan respects tradition while simultaneously featuring a modern design. The design painted on the fan is a cosmos flower, introduced to Japan as recently as the end of the 19th century. The fact that only one of the flowers is blooming in the simple design also speaks to the Edo-Sensu sensibility. 

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[Hand Fan] Men’s Arabesque Arabesque Bamboo | Edo Folding Fans

This men’s Edo-Sensu fan features a traditional arabesque pattern. Like a growing vine, the pattern represents the connections of a prosperous and growing family. The fan can also make for a fine decorative piece.

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▶ Click here to browse more beautiful Edo-Sensu fans items!

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Related articles:

▶ The Many Examples of Japanese Craftwork

▶ A Guide to the Traditional Japanese Craft: Kanazawa Gold Leaf

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*These products may not be able to be shipped to certain countries. Please see the retailer’s website for more information.

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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