Tuesday, March 22, 2011

humanizing the quake (chiba)

Southeast of Tokyo is Chiba prefecture, which takes up the whole of the Boso Peninsula. It is known for having fine weather year-round, and this is one reason why bamboo grows well there, and in so many varieties. Bamboo has many practical and ornamental uses, one of which is as the framework of uchiwa (round, flat, hand-held fans).

Some of the best uchiwa in Japan are said to be made in the Tateyama region, near the southernmost tip of the peninsula. They are made by cutting bamboo tubes into narrow splinters which are then splayed out in the radial shape of a fan. Washi paper is pasted over both sides of this bamboo frame.

I prefer uchiwa to the sensu (folding fan) that Western tourists often purchase as souvenirs of their Japan travels. I find that the flat fan produces a heftier breeze than the folding fan, while causing less of a strain on the wrist. Their usefulness extends throughout the year, regardless of season. We flap them over hot sushi rice to bring out the gleam of the individual grains. We use them to help get wood fires burning and charcoals glowing. I even have some small blank ones to use for painting on, etegami-style, and sending through the mail as greeting cards.

They can be used for cheering at sports and music events, as trays for serving dainty confections to go with tea, or as mats on which to place an arrangement of flowers. These days, cheap plastic-framed uchiwa, printed with corporate advertising, promotion of a cause, or announcement of a public event, are passed out at busy pedestrian crossings with the sure knowledge that few will refuse them, because everyone knows how handy uchiwa are.

(This is where I deleted a paragraph about how if the people of Japan ever needed to exercise this quality of versatility, it is now. I hoped you would make the connection on your own.)

The attached image was painted across two washi postcards. The poem quoted on the etegami is from the Kokin Wakashu, a Heian era anthology of waka poetry (905 AD). I believe the poem refers to the birth of the poet's child, and is written in tenderness and hope, rather than in despair.


  1. Nice! Tateyama is know for it's Boshu uchiwa and awesome strawberries. C'mon down!

  2. Hello from #LitChat on Twitter. I'm so glad I asked for your link and learned more about your marvelous self! I think we have had a few exchanges during previous chats, but I had no idea you are an artist as well as a writer.

    This old dog has finally learned a new trick this year, learning to make Artist Trading Cards, somewhat like the etegami you so beautifully illustrate in this blog. I'll have to check out your mailart blog also, as I see that listed in the ATCs for All website where I trade cards.


  3. "Catnap" magnet received with thanks.

  4. Debbie, thank you for this series on humanizing the quake. I'm learning many interesting things about the culture of Japan, and about the area of Japan I never visited as a boy. The posts remind me of those things that make us all human, and that define a community. Those are the qualities that help us weather adversity.

  5. This is just beautiful. It reminds us to look for the beauty even in dark times.

  6. Hi Debbie,
    I've been following the series of "humanizing the quake" with great interests; I felt like a tourist, travelling from one prefecture to another. Thank you for your precious explanation, accompanied by your gorgeous etegami!

  7. Debbie, your creativity is amazing, every day a new etegami, all so beautiful and deep. Each time something beautiful to look at, something interesting to learn, something meaningful to think about.

  8. really lovely. And yes, the connection was made.♥