Art of Asia
- Edo period, an introduction
- Tea bowl with dragon roundels
- Scenes from The Tale of Genji
- Genji Ukifune
- Dog chasing
- A portrait of St. Francis Xavier and Christianity in Japan
- Ogata Kōrin, Red and White Plum Blossoms
- Hon’ami Kōetsu, Folding Screen mounted with poems
- Archery practice
- The evolution of ukiyo-e and woodblock prints
- Utagawa Kunisada I, Visiting Komachi, from the series Modern Beauties as the Seven Komachi
- Hokusai, Under the Wave off Kanagawa (The Great Wave)
- Beyond the Great Wave — Hokusai at 90
- Hokusai’s printed illustrated books
- Hokusai, Five Beautiful Women
- The Floating World of Edo Japan
- Hunting for fireflies
- Street scene in the pleasure quarter of Edo Japan
- Courtesan playing with a cat
- Courtesans of the South Station
- An introduction to Kabuki theater
- The actor Ichikawa Danzo IV in a Shibaraku role
- Fire procession costume
- Arrival of a Portuguese ship
- Matchlock gun and pistol
- Military camp jacket
- Military leader's fan
- An American ship
- The steamship Powhatan
- Conserving the Gan Ku Tiger scroll painting at the British Museum
Military leader's fan
What is the function of this object? Who might have used it?
In Japan military leaders used various implements, including flags, banners, and fans, to direct the movement of their troops. The object shown here is a signal fan (gunbai) whose shape suggests the cross-section of a gourd. As objects used by military leaders, it is an insignia of the owner’s rank.
In addition to its use in directing troops, the military fan could also afford protection from arrows, wind, or rocks, as well as shade the samurai’s eyes from the sun. Fanning was thought to pacify evil spirits, but it was also of practical value, to cool the warrior during hot and humid summer months. Metal fans could also be used in combat, in parrying attacks or as a blunt weapon. Fans were also used in camp as a handheld tray for the presentation of gifts, and for certain ritual gestures.
How were they carried?
When not in use, fans were suspended from a ring, typically attached either at the waist or breastplate.
What is it made of?
This signal fan resembles a flat paper fan made for civilian use, but instead of paper it is constructed of bronze and other metals. A tasseled carrying cord is attached at one end.
How is it decorated? What does this decoration mean?
This bronze fan is decorated at the top with a sun and crescent moon, visible through scudding clouds. The moon and sun represent the negative (yin) and positive (yang) forces in Taoist cosmology, an important belief system consulted in planning battle strategy in China as well as Japan. Together, the moon and sun indicate the power of the cosmos; on an item such as a war fan they signify the all-encompassing military power of the owner.
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