Someday I want to expand The Bead to sell even more beauiful things. The other day when thinking about this -- whether I should add handcrafted papers of exquisite gold and blue, for giftwrapping, or softly painted silk fabric, or exotically scented salt scrubs for do-it-at-home spa days -- I ran across this photograph of a traditional Japanese fan, and I thought this might be something to consider.
My mother started collecting fans for me when I was about five years old. She decided she wanted me to have a collection of something I would appreciate later, and felt if she started when I was young and bought just one fan a year, it would turn into something amazing someday. Since she couldn't afford much, she set her sights on simple and inexpensive traditional fans. Mom traveled for work at least once a year, and she could almost always make a quick side trip to a gift shop.
Over the years, those quick trips yielded an enormous variety of fans for a growing girl: fans of rice paper, lace, bamboo, bone, silk, feathers, and more. I am 34 years old now, with a collection of about 100 fans. A few years ago, my father made me a handcrafted wood and glass case to store the fans in, so many are displayed there, but they are elsewhere throughout the home I share with my husband, two dogs, and two cats. They are in frames, tacked to walls, and tucked into long thin fan boxes and stored in tall stacks in our closets.
I'm happy my mom chose fans for me. I don't think I'm a stamp or coin or post card kind of girl anyway. Fans are romantic; like flowers, they have their own language, and most often it has been a language of love. Traditional Japanese fans such as the one shown here originated in Kyoto in the 7th century. They were handcrafted in a ten-step process by highly experienced craftsmen. This type was often sent by lovers, with messages and poems written on the paper as a show of affection. Some devoted Buddhists also wrote important paragraphs of the Sutras onto the fans. In the Victorian period, fans were used to communicate unspoken messages across a room, for example:
The fan placed near the heart: "You have won my love."
Fan opened wide: "Wait for me."
Half-opened fan pressed to the lips: "You may kiss me."
Fanning slowly: "I am married."
Fanning quickly. "I am engaged."
Hiding the eyes behind an open fan: "I love you."
Half-opening the fan over the face: "We are being watched."
Twirling the fan in the right hand: "I love another."
It's nice to think that in such a repressive environment, women found a way to convey their true feelings. For much of the nineteenth century and well into the early decades of the twentieth, women were expected to conduct themselves in an even-tempered manner. A woman's behavior, especially in public, was expected to be gracious, courteous, and respectable. Any demonstration of the contrary was frowned upon. Vocally rejecting a suitor was deplorable, even if a woman believed him to be unacceptable. Worse yet, flirting with a desirable suitor was equally appalling. So, while in attendance at a ball or other social gathering, what was a woman do to when faced with numerous men, all vying for her attention; how was she to express or communicate her "choice" or "choices" without violating those stifling rules of etiquette? Visual clues would have been all she had, without the fan.
One last interesting note; some have wondered how, if the language of the fan was a secret, did young women learn the meanings of the various silent gestures? If such a language really did exist (some historians have argued that it did not), the language of the fan was likely passed down from woman to woman. In this way, it not only offered a bit of freedom despite the oppressive Victorian 'etiquette', and also created a bond between generations of women.
Back to beads and gems in my next post, but for now, here's a very special beaded fan --
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy The Language of Mourning.