Tessen War Fan with Asano Kamon, Japanese Master

Japanese master

Tessen War Fan with Asano Kamon

19th century


A warrior’s fan with bamboo, reinforced at the ends with metal rods. Decorated in red, black and gold with the Asano clan family crest, the crossed falcon feathers.

The tessen, literally meaning “iron fan” in Japanese (鉄扇,てっせん), was a deceptively ordinary item that served as a weapon for the samurai class. More than just a cooling implement, the tessen could be a concealed weapon or a last line of defense.
The appeal of the tessen lay in its discreet nature. Samurai sometimes weren’t allowed to carry swords in certain situations, such as during formal visits or in entertainment districts. The tessen offered a concealed weapon that could still be surprisingly effective. A martial art, tessenjutsu (鉄扇術), developed around the use of the tessen, with techniques for offense, defense, and even using the fan for swimming.

The Asano clan (浅野氏, Asano-shi) was a significant samurai family in Japanese history. Descendants of the prestigious Minamoto clan, ultimately tracing their lineage back to Emperor Seiwa (850-881), the Asano rose to prominence during the tumultuous Sengoku period (1467-1603).

Emerging as a branch of the Toki clan, the Asano established themselves as daimyō, or feudal lords, controlling various domains throughout Japan. The primary branch ruled the strategically important Aki Province with Hiroshima Castle as their seat, solidifying their power during the Edo period (1603-1868). This branch of the Asano enjoyed relative stability and prosperity throughout the Edo era.

However, the Akō Domain, a smaller Asano branch located in Harima Province, holds a more dramatic place in history. Here, Asano Naganori, the domain lord, was forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) after a public altercation with a high-ranking official of the Tokugawa shogunate. This event, known as the Ako Incident (1701), sparked the legend of the Forty-seven rōnin. Disgruntled by their lord’s fate and seeking revenge, Naganori’s former retainers, now masterless samurai (rōnin), embarked on a daring plan. After waiting patiently for years, they successfully raided the official’s residence, fulfilling their vengeance. Though condemned to seppuku themselves, their story became a powerful symbol of loyalty and warrior spirit (bushido) in Japanese culture.

The Asano clan’s legacy extends beyond the tale of the 47 ronin. The Hiroshima domain continued to play a significant role in Japanese politics until the Meiji Restoration in 1868, which marked the end of the feudal system. Even after the abolishment of the daimyō system, the Asano transitioned into the new nobility structure.


Private collection, Japan
Private collection, Zürich

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