Tessen: Wikis


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A tessen (iron fan) on display in Iwakuni Castle, Japan

A war fan is a fan designed for use in warfare. A number of war fans were used in Japanese feudal warfare, of varying size and material, for different purposes.

One of the most significant, and perhaps most interesting, uses was as a signalling device. Signalling fans came in three varieties: a tasseled pom-pon, a solid iron fan, or a wood and paper one, very similar to the gunbai used today by sumo referees. The commander would raise or lower his fan and point in different ways to issue commands to the soldiers, which would then be passed on by other forms of visible and audible signalling.

The art of fighting with war fans is tessenjutsu.


Types of war fan

  • Gunsen (軍扇 ?) were folding fans used by the average warriors to cool themselves off. They were made of bronze, brass or a similar metal for the inner spokes, and often used iron for the outer spokes, making them lightweight but strong. Warriors would hang their fans from a variety of places, most typically from the belt or the breastplate, though the latter often impeded the use of a sword or a bow.
  • Saihai (采配 ?) were tasseled signalling fans which would be used by a commander to signal troop movements.
  • Tessen (鉄扇 ?) were folding fans with outer spokes made of iron which were designed to look like normal, harmless folding fans or solid clubs shaped to look like a closed fan. Samurai could take these to places where swords or other overt weapons were not allowed, and some swordsmanship schools included training in the use of the tessen as a weapon. The tessen was also used for fending off arrows and darts, as a throwing weapon, and as an aid in swimming.
  • Uchiwa (団扇 ?) were large iron fans, sometimes built on a wooden core, which were carried by high-ranking officers. They were used to ward off arrows, as a sunshade, and to signal to troops.

War fans in history and folklore

One particularly famous legend involving war fans concerns a direct confrontation between Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin at the fourth battle of Kawanakajima in 1561. Kenshin burst into Shingen's command tent on horseback, having broken through his entire army, and attacked; his sword was deflected by Shingen's war fan. It is not clear whether Shingen parried with a tessen, a dansen uchiwa, or some other form of fan. Nevertheless, it was quite rare for commanders to fight directly, and especially for a general to defend himself so effectively when taken so off-guard.

Minamoto no Yoshitsune is said to have defeated the great warrior monk Saitō Musashibō Benkei with a tessen.

Araki Murashige is said to have used a tessen to save his life when the great warlord Oda Nobunaga sought to assassinate him. Araki was invited before Nobunaga, and was stripped of his swords at the entrance to the mansion, as was customary. When he performed the customary bowing at the threshold, Nobunaga intended to have the room's sliding doors slammed shut onto Araki's neck, killing him. However, Araki supposedly placed his tessen in the grooves in the floor, blocking the doors from closing.

The Yagyū clan, sword instructors to the Tokugawa shoguns, included tessenjutsu in their swordschool, the Yagyū Shinkage-ryū.

War fans outside Japan

Fans are also used for offensive and defensive purposes in the Chinese and Korean martial arts. They are called "铁扇" (tiě shān, literally "steel fan") in Chinese, and "부채" (buchae) in Korean.

In popular culture

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Kyoshi Island Warriors from this animated series use metal fans as their primary weapon and even utilize retractable fans as wrist shields.
  • Code Lyoko: In the animated series the character Yumi Ishiyama uses war fans as her weapons.
  • Dynasty Warriors: Several playable characters in this video game franchise wield war fans in battle.
  • Fatal Fury and King of Fighters: In these video game series wooden-paper fans are used for combat by the ninja girl character Mai Shiranui.
  • Fushigi Yūgi: In this manga and anime series, one of the seven Suzaku seishi, Tasuki, uses a metal fan that can emit flame.
  • Guilty Gear X: Tessen is the weapon of Anji Mito of this video game.
  • InuYasha: Kagura from this manga and anime series wields a fan to use her powers.
  • Juken Sentai Gekiranger: Retsu Fukami/GekiBlue uses a special war fan after learning Fierce Beast (GekiJū) Bat-Fist from Fist Sage Bat Li.
  • Kim Possible: In this cartoon show, Yori wields a pair of Tessen in the third season episode "Gorilla Fist."
  • Mini Ninjas The Fart Boss Windy Pants uses a fan to waft fart clouds towards the character.
  • Mortal Kombat: Another female ninja character, Kitana of this video game series, uses sharp metal fans for fighting.
  • Naruto: Temari from this manga and anime series fights with a giant fan with three purple circles. The family crest of Sasuke Uchiha is a stylized uchiwa (this may be a pun based on the fact that the hiragana character for 'ha' is sometimes read as 'wa').
  • Samurai Warriors: In recognition of the aforementioned conflict at Kawanakajima, Takeda Shingen wields a dansen uchiwa in the first of this video game series. In Samurai Warriors 2, Ishida Mitsunari also wields a tessen.
  • Shadow Hearts: Covenant: In this video game a fortune teller by the name of Lucia also uses war fans for fighting and keeping her cool.
  • Soulcalibur III: In this video game, certain classes in Character Creation Mode can equip war fans.
  • Super Mario RPG: In this video game, one of Princess Toadstool's weapons is a War Fan.
  • The Last Samurai: In this film one of the samurai is briefly seen practicing with a war fan before the final battle of the movie.
  • Utawarerumono: Hakuoro, the masked protagonist of Utawarerumono, using it in all battles he participates in as both a tool of command, and as a combat weapon.

See also


  • Ratti, Oscar and Adele Westbrook (1973). Secrets of the Samurai. Edison, NJ: Castle Books.

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