EYEVAN × KYOTO interview 05
“We are still here because we’ve kept changing”
Kyo-Uchiwa Aiba 10th generation, Mr. Satoshi Aiba (Founded in 1689 / Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-city)
The origins of uchiwa (a Japanese hand fan) can be traced back a long way. Originally, they were not meant to be fanned to keep out the heat. Also, until a decade ago, uchiwa wasn’t an item to be purchased, but a gift supported by Japanese gift-giving culture. Nowadays, the living environment is too well-developed, which makes it cool in the summer and hot in the winter. If this is the case, there is a type of hand fan called a “Watermarked fan (Sukashi-uchiwa)”. It was born out from a playful desire, which cool down by looking at the hand fan instead of fanning. Although, we knew nothing about uchiwa. We interviewed Mr. Satoshi Aiba, the 10th generation, owner of “Kyo-Uchiwa Aiba”, a company that makes “Watermarked uchiwa,” asking about uchiwa.
The Origin of the “Uchiwa”
A hand fan to drive away evils
Uchiwa was originally something completely different. The first, they were used as a “shading (kazashi)”. Uchiwa was held out to not expose the princess’s face to the people. When she moved her body, she shaded it so that people couldn’t see. They were used for such deities, and the name of uchiwa was derived from the meaning of “driving away (Utsu in Japanese) ” evils.
Materials and even objectives can be changed
On the other hand, in the southern system, large leaves grow in the south. They seem to have been used to catch the rain or to get rid of insects, and fanning. The uses of uchiwa today are close to this way. In the Edo period (1603-1867), they were sold at the gates of shrines or temples, as a celebration of new chapter of life. Thus, the materials and purposes of uchiwa have changed over time.
About “Watermarked fan (Sukashi-uchiwa)”
Cool down by looking at the hand fan instead of fanning
My father started making watermarked fans. Inspired by the “Water fan (Mizu-uchiwa)” of the Edo period (1603-1867), and the concept was to cool down inside the house by looking at, not fanning. At first, we started selling from the art department of Takashimaya department store in Kyoto, with no intention of doing business or expanding sales. After a few years, people started talking that they sell “an interesting thing”. I believe that at that time, in fact, there were more mass production products than ever, and it was just a coincidence as there was nothing else to offer there.
My strongest desire is being as a craftsman
Today, the appreciation of the seasons has been lost due to the over-arranged living environment. It’s cool in summer and hot in winter. We tell people that “think of it as something that will never die and display it.” We have developed our products to “gifts” or “part of interior design” and now we are developing it as “fashion” like glasses. We won’t go into the “food area”, but we are sure that there are still other fields to explore. But I am a craftsman by nature, and now I have to think about creating culture in this kind of life. I wonder why uchiwa still exists. Glasses are essentials in life, which is different from uchiwa, and I envy the fact.
Spring flowers were not used for Uchiwa
Spring flowers were not used for uchiwa, for example, now I decorate uchiwa with cherry blossoms but if my father were alive, he would have said that “there are no spring flowers on uchiwa.” The reason is that people want uchiwas is because they want something to cool down, so “winter snow bamboos” can be decorated on uchiwa. But in fact, like women’s clothing, spring flowers are in pastel colors which are warm colors. So to show spring flowers in summer is too hot. Therefore, decorating uchiwa with spring flowers was not allowed at that time.
“We are making something to cool down, so keep your shoulders relaxed”
Actually, I haven’t brought my son back here yet. It doesn’t matter if he takes over the business or not, I just keep doing it because I have to continue until I dies anyway. After all, it’s hard when you think as it’s something you have to do. If you think that way, you are not fully alive. So far, quality has been improved by the wave of mass production. We often say that “some are wise, and some are otherwise”, and we are “wise”. My father once said to me that ” we are making something to cool down, so keep your shoulders relaxed. ” I still remember, as I found myself going to the other way, and this leaded me to the right direction.