Shopping for the Finest Japanese Products No. 4 Komaruya Sumii Sakyō-ku, Kyōto
Continuing a tradition of exquisite craftsmanship and maintaining the history behind one of the most iconic symbols of summer in Kyōto.
Nothing speaks of summer in Japan more than decorative bamboo and paper fans known as uchiwa. The increasingly common plastic-framed uchiwa just can’t hold a candle to the exquisite form of a traditional uchiwa, hand-crafted from bamboo and washi paper. Not only are they beautiful to look at, they impart a lovely, soft breeze that helps make the Kyōto summer just that bit more bearable.
The geiko and maiko of Kyōto’s “kagai”, or geisha districts, continue to maintain the custom of visiting the premises of their patrons and presenting them with hand-crafted fans known as Kyōmaru uchiwa. Rather like a calling card, these uchiwa feature a crest on one side and the name of the geiko or maiko on the other. All Kyōmaru uchiwa are made by Komaruya Sumii, a long-established business located just south of Okazaki Park and the Heian Shrine, in the elegant Okazaki district of Kyōto.
As much as we take uchiwa for granted these days, this traditional symbol of the Kyōto summer can be traced back directly to Komaruya Sumii, a business that continues to create a range of traditional Kyōto uchiwa, including the Kyō-uchiwa formerly used by the imperial court, and Fukakusa-uchiwa, made from bamboo grown in Kyōto’s Fushimi Fukakusa area.
The Sumii family’s history of making uchiwa for the imperial court can, in turn, be traced back to the late 1500s. While uchiwa these days are associated with ordinary folk, they were formerly a symbol of power and authority used by the nobility and high-ranking government officials, who would use them to conceal their faces in public, as a mark of dignity.
The iconic Fukakusa-uchiwa originated when the emperor of the time directed the Sumii family to begin making fans from the bamboo that grew prolifically in Fushimi Fukakusa. The Fukakusa-uchiwa is made from a single piece of bamboo, the upper part finely split to form the “ribs” of the fan, while the lower part becomes the handle. Being constructed from just one piece of bamboo, these uchiwa are particularly sturdy. Their popularity spread throughout the country during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), when the use of these paper fans became widespread among the common people.
In the wake of this popularity, the Sumii household created a new flagship product, Kyōmaru-uchiwa, combining the “Kyō” from “Kyōto” and the “maru” from “Komaruya”. These are the fans that the geiko and maiko of Kyōto present to their patrons, but Komaruya Sumii can hand-paint ordinary customers’ names on the uchiwa instead, to create souvenirs and presentation items. At 3,300 yen per fan with a paper slip cover, and an optional 330 yen extra for a presentation box, Kyōmaru-uchiwa make a fabulous personalised souvenir of Kyōto.
Komaruya Sumii, Okazaki, Sakyō-ku, Kyōto
Address: 91-54 Okazaki Enshōjichō, Sakyō-ku, Kyoto
Main website (in Japanese): http://komaruya.kyoto.jp. Simple website in English: http://184.108.40.206/english/index.html
Hours: 10:00 – 18:00
Closed: Sundays and public holidays.
Nearest station: 5 minutes on foot from Higashiyama Station, Kyōto City Tōzai subway line.
Judy Evans is a high school teacher of English and Japanese, and a Japanese-English translator. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Japanese and Art History and has studied production horticulture and landscape design. Judy has a keen interest in the internet environment and has administered websites for a number of organisations. She lives on a small farm in rural New Zealand and is a frequent visitor to Japan.