The 82nd feature exhibition

Stage props: Ohgi (fans)
May 31 (Tue), 2022 ‐ August 28 (Sun), 2022

This museum exhibits ukiyo-e woodblock prints produced in Osaka in the Edo period. Many of the ukiyo-e prints made in Osaka were portraits of kabuki actors performing on stage around Dotombori area.
Portraits of actors are focused on performing actors but stage props, costumes and props are also depicted colorfully in detail, telling us how gorgeous kabuki stages are. Costumes and props in particular, are adopted in conformity with the characters’ classes, creating an atmosphere.
In this feature exhibition, we focus on ‘fans’ among other things. Fans in kabuki plays are used not only to create the cool breeze but also to represent a cup, a cover over the mouth, a signaling device of warlords and many other things. Please enjoy finding the various roles of fans in kabuki plays.

Drawn by Shibakuni
Portrait of Arashi Kitsusaburo playing in a kabuki play “Chinzei Hachiro”.

Ohgi as a hand-held prop
While ‘dansen’, Chinese fan, used in ceremonies during the Nara period, was introduced from China, ‘ohgi’, Japanese folding fan, is said to have been invented in Japan around the Heian period. Ohgi was exported to China and then made their way to Europe.
Ohgi is used to create the cool breeze to beat the heat, but in kabuki plays they also have a role to symbolize the historical background of the play. Ohgi also shows the class and social status of its holder. Please look at ukiyo-e prints carefully to find which character holds what kind of ohgi.

it is a general term for a folding fan made of stacked flat wood sticks. Hi-ohgi was also used in ceremonies. In kabuki plays, hi-ohgi often belongs to the nobility, such as in “Imoseyama onna teikin” which is set in the Heian period.

it is a fan used by men and women when dancing. It represents a cup when unfolded and sword when folded; it can be anything.

it is a small fan with gold on the front side and silver on the other side. It shows that the holder is a high-class woman.

it looks slightly open even when folded. It shows that the holder is a high-class person. It ranks next to hi-ohgi in a ceremony, and often used in matsubamemono (kabuki play that is created from Noh and Kyogen) or jidaimono (kabuki play that features a historical plot) such as “Sugawara denju tenarai kagami”.

it is a fan that warlords use in wartime as a signaling device. Hinomaru (the circle of the sun, which is drawn in a center of the Japanese flag) is drawn with gold or vermilion color on the front side.

Warload Takeda Shingen is said to have defended Uesugi Kenshin’s sword with the iron gunbai-uchiwa at the battle of Kawanakajima. Gunbai-uchiwa is also used by umpires in sumo wrestling.
Gunbai-uchiwa is also called To-uchiwa (Chinese shape fan). It was used to communicate commands to their troops. On gunbai-uchiwa the divination and Chinese philosophy yin-and-yan are written in order to tell which place is the best to take up a position in the battle.

Ohgi in kabuki plays
Ohgi is more than just a stage prop, it deeply connects with the play or performance. Here are some examples of ohgi playing an important role in a play.
In chapter ‘Yugao’ of kabuki play “Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji)”, there is a scene that Hikaru Genji sends a poem to Yugao with a bottle gourd (yugao in Japanese) placed on his ohgi. Thus, ohgi can send a poem or emotions. In kabuki play “Keisei tsukushino tsumagoto”, Miyuki, a young woman, throws ohgi with a poem about morning glory written on it to Asojiro, the lover, who is on a small boat when she faces unexpected farewell with him.

Ohgi also symbolizes the barrier. By placing ohgi in front of themselves when greeting or speaking, respectful atmosphere is created. In kabuki play “Ichinotani futabagunki” Yoshitsune confirms the decapitated head of enemy’s warlord holding ohgi in his hand and looking the head through the gap of the unfolded ohgi, which is an official way to do it. This shows that ohgi makes a barrier between Yoshitsune and the decapitated head. Also, in “Kanadehon chushingura”, Oboshi Yuranosuke hides his face with his ohgi when he speaks his mind. Here also ohgi is used as a barrier.
In “Yotsunoumi Tairano yozakari”, Taira no Kiyomori waves his ohgi as he tries to call the sun back in order to complete the construction of Itsukushima shrine. In “Hikosangongen chikaino sukedachi”, Osono swings up her ohgi as she encourages the journey of revenge. The gesture of holding up an ohgi describes that they are sending their emotions along with the cool breeze.

Ohgi patterns
Ohgi is also called ‘suehiro’ (become wider toward the end). The shape is regarded as a sign of prosperity or good omen. Some kabuki costumes have ohgi patterns. Ohgi pattern is deemed gorgeous, being reminiscent of the Heian nobilities.

Family crest of Onoe family is a stacked ohgi with kashiwa mochi on them. It was said to originate from the episode that Onoe Kikugoro I was given kashiwa mochi placed on ohgi from his patron and received it with his ohgi.