On my trip to Kyoto earlier this month, I was faced with a rather rainy forecast. So, turning to the internet and my trusty research skills, I tracked down this article on a fan shop in the Miyagawa-cho neighborhood of Kyoto that taught visitors an age-old fan throwing game. So, with umbrella and good friend/frequent travel companion Felicity (of Where Next Japan) in tow, I set off to learn the fine art of tosenkyo.
We were greeted warmly at Hangesho, a fan shop that might be relatively new to their current premises (10 years) but the family behind it has been working in the fan trade for over a century. Proprietor Kayako Yoshio led us to the second floor of their beautiful machiya (traditional townhouse) where we seated ourselves on opposite ends of a red carpet that stretched the length of the room.
Kayako explained the game and its rules and Felicity and I took a few practice throws. Despite the tendency to want to fling the fan like a Frisbee, we eventually got the hang of the gentle forward gliding technique and the game began in earnest.
If you have never tried it (and really, who has??), tosenkyo is addicting. One of us would get on a good run of points and then the next few throws would yield zero or even negative results. Each match went for ten rounds and with space on the scoring sheet for four matches, we took advantage of the rainy day and our lack of schedule to play as much as we could. At the end, we convinced Kayako to give us a “professional” demonstration, which she graciously did (turns out some of our higher scores actually mirrored her attempt) before she served us green tea and a fan-shaped sweet at the end.
Downstairs, it’s worth lingering to explore the collection of fans the shop sells. Apparently, each piece of the fan (the bamboo frame, the painted paper, the threads joining them together) is produced by a separate craftsman, with one final workshop assembling the entire product. There are fans with different seasonal decorations on both sides, fans with traditional motifs and even modern-style fans.
Despite their English website, no one at Hangesho really speaks English. However, they happily welcome international visitors (and kids, too!) and will either make do with hand motions or encourage you to bring along a volunteer guide or Japanese-speaking friend. A regular tosenkyo experience costs ¥2500 per person and you get to keep your fan. If you want to make your experience even more memorable, you can arrange to play against a maiko (apprentice geisha). It’s a higher fee, of course, but a VERY unique and personal experience.
Make reservations via phone or email … or book one of my itineraries and let me do the legwork for you. It’s a game really worth trying if you’re in Kyoto!