Cypress Fan

  • Muromachi period, 14th to 15th century
  • Wood with pigments
  • Length 40.0 cm
  • Important Art Object

The Japanese word for folding fans, ōgi, originates from the term ogu, to revere, and since ancient times fans have been regarded as objects that were the abode of divine spirits. In the summer, fans could be used to fend off harmful insects, plagues, and other calamities. This function led fans to be viewed as objects providing divine protection and promising a good harvest. This large fan here, its leaves forty centimeters long, is made of twenty-seven pieces of cypress wood. The artisan applied the colors directly onto the wooden surface, rather than over a white ground, a feature shared by some cypress fans that were handed down as sacred treasures in Kumano Hayatama Taisha shrine and its sessha auxiliary shrine Asuka Shrine. These fans were made on the occasion of rebuilding the shrines in 1390 (Meitoku 1) and this example probably dates to around the same time. The front side of the fan depicts a shoreline with pine trees and blossom petals in red and white. The back side is adorned with distant mountains and autumn leaves. Both sides are decorated with clouds in gold and silver leaf on mica, in addition to thin strips of silver (noge). Since the wood was not covered with the customary white ground layer, the white color included in the petals and water is particularly appealing.