Uchiwa is a flat, round, paper fan with a bamboo handle used for cooling oneself or fanning a fire.

This traditional bamboo-based round fan dates back to the early Edo Period (17C) when a number of groups of travelers visiting the Kotohira Shrine to pray bought it as a souvenir. In the middle of the Edo Period, uchiwa-making was dispersed as manual homework among lower-class retainers of the Marugame fiefdom, as there were necessary materials available in Shikoku, e.g., bamboo in Ehima Prefecture and paper in Kochi Prefecture.

Around the end of the Edo Period, the annual production of uchiwa in Marugame went up to some 800,000, which made Marugame the No. 1 production site in Japan. Uchiwa production showed a significant increase even after the Meiji Restoration, and soared to as many as 120 million fans in its peak year during the late 1950s.

The subsequent development of technology, however, changed uchiwa production dramatically. The uchiwa was gradually replaced by more efficient electric fans and air conditioners. The manufacture of cheap plastic-based fans got started in 1967. While the traditional uchiwa faded away, its replacement plastic one has survived as a free handout item. As a result, production of the traditional uchiwa has plummeted.

The manufacturing of the traditional uchiwa has been transferred to China, where it is made using Chinese materials and Chinese labor, and re-exported to Marugame. The traditional uchiwa is no longer made in this city.

Changes in industrial history similar to the manufacture of uchiwa are seen in other products, such as textile goods, furniture, Buddhist altars, electronics parts and computer software. In a wide range of industries, the demand for Japanese labor is decreasing steadily.

While using a traditional round bamboo-based fan, you cannot help but think that the development of modern technologies is somewhat contributing to the increase in the Japanfs high unemployment rate.