Japanese hand fans are an important symbol in Japan. They were used by warriors as a form of weapon, actors and dancers for performances, and children as a toy. In Japan, fans are given to others as presents and serve as trays for holding gifts. You would also find them sometimes used in religious ceremonies and events.
The Japanese believe that the top of the handle of the fan symbolizes the beginning of life and the ribs stand for the roads of life going out in all directions to bring good fortune and happiness.
Hand fans have a long history in Japan. The legends tell us that Japan was the homeland of the modern-day folding fan; evidence tells us that as early as the 6th century A.D. in Fukuoka, a wall painting of a burial mound showed drawings of fans. These were very similar to the Chinese-style ceremonial fans that we see.
The Japanese fan was influenced greatly, and obviously modeled on, the oriental hand fans of the Han Dynasty in China. In the early days, there were two types of Japanese fans, the tuan shan "round fan" and the bian mian "screen fan." The latter was any rigid fan which could be conveniently held in the hand.
Traditionally, the Japanese fans were like the Asian hand fans, made of feathers or silk stretched over a round or oval frame. Larger-sized fans made for ceremonial purposes were mounted on a long pole and used by attendants in the ceremonial support of high officials at important functions or processions.
Today, in traditional situations, Japanese fans play an important role. Many ladies still like to use hand fans as a means of keeping cool in the hot weather and for performance purposes. Over the past few years the folding fans have also become a popular wedding and shower favor, providing guests with a practical and fun gift.