Fanciful Fun with Fans

Grip Enhancers (Menuki) with Wasps and Fans
Artist not known, Japan
mid-1800s, Edo period

In this lesson children will play with fans, make fans, and have fun imagining they are wasps with fans, all inspired by the Grip Enhancers (Menuki) with Wasps and Fans. They will use their powers of observation, artistic skills, and imaginations in varied ways throughout the lesson.

Intended Age Group
Early childhood (ages 3-5)
Standards Area
Visual Arts
Lesson Length
One 30 minute lesson

Students will be able to:

  • use their imaginations to inspire movement;
  • carefully examine and identify small details in the object;
  • feel comfortable drawing using different color crayons; and
  • use fine motor coordination to fan-fold a piece of paper (older students).


  1. Warm-up: Show children how to open and close the fans you’ve provided. Allow them to open and close the fans, and fan themselves with them. Play some music and allow them to dance around with the fans.
  2. Show students the pictures of the Grip Enhancers (Menuki) with Wasps and Fans. Ask them if they can see the fans. Have them trace the outline of the fans with their fingers on their copies (or on the projection of the image). Ask them what kind of bug they see on the fans (a wasp). Make sure all the students know what a wasp is. What color are the wasps? What color are the fans? Can they see any gold on the fan? Do the objects look like something special? How can they tell?
  3. Have the children buzz around the room like a wasp. Then have them imagine that they are wasps holding a fan. Let them buzz around like wasps holding their fans, making buzzing sounds. Encourage the students to focus on what they would sound like and how they would move if they were a real wasp with a fan.
  4. Give children plain white sheets of printer/photocopy paper. Allow them to draw with crayons or colored pencils on the sheet. Say that they have to use at least four colors.
  5. When they finish, show them how to fan-fold the paper (if they are old enough) or do it for them. Have them show a friend their fan and talk about what they’ve drawn. To finish the lesson, let them buzz around like wasps with their new fans.


  • Assorted music and CD/MP3 Player
  • One folded fan for each child
  • 2-3 sheets of printer/photocopy paper for every student (construction paper can be too thick)
  • Assorted color crayons
  • About the Art section on Grip Enhancers (Menuki) with Wasps and Fans
  • One color copy of the grip enhancers for every four children, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards
  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
21st Century Skills
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Self-Direction

Grip Enhancers (Menuki) with Wasps and Fans

mid-1800s, Edo period

Artist not known, Japan

mid-1800s, Edo period

1.563 in x 1.688 in

Gift of Julie Seagraves and Richard Kimball, 1986.468

Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2011. All Rights Reserved.

About the Artist

These menuki [meh-NEW-key] were made in the mid-1800s during Japan’s Edo period, a period of over 250 years of peace. Menuki, or sword grip enhancers, were accessories that accompanied a sword and helped a samurai’s grip and hand placement on the sword. Originally, the pieces like these were made by the same artisans who made the sword blade, but by the Edo period, many of these accessories were made by a separate specialist or group of specialists. We don’t know the name of the metalsmith who made these menuki, but it is clear that he had extensive knowledge of how to work was very skilled in working with multiple metals and knew how to create detailed sculptures on a small scale. He made the grip enhancers out of gold, silver, and a metal called shakudo [shah-coo-DOE], which is an alloy (mixture) of gold and copper, and is black colored. Each metal or alloy melts at a different temperature and some metals are easier to shape than others. Such knowledge was only part of what the craftsman had to know in order to make one of these small metal sculptures.

What Inspired It

The craftsman who made these grip enhancers must have wanted to delight the samurai, or warrior and member of the Japanese military aristocracy. The craftsman included many tiny details—details so small they seemed marvelous. Grip enhancers were part of a sword’s fittings. The fittings included the hilt (handle), the scabbard (blade cover), the tsuba (sword guard), and menuki (grip enhancers). Grip enhancers came in pairs and they needed to be small and because they had to fasten onto the sides of the sword hilt, or handle. They were held in place and partially covered by silk braiding that was wrapped around the hilt and over the grip enhancers. Initially, grip enhancers were used to cover bamboo pins (like small pegs), which went through the handle and held the sword blade firmly inside the handle. They also created bumps on the handle that allowed the samurai to get a firmer grip. Eventually, however, they became more important as decoration, and though they would eventually be covered up by a silk cord that wrapped around the hilt, the artist still had to impress the samurai buyer with his miniature sculptures.

A samurai warrior often had several pairs of grip enhancers and each pair signified something about his values and interests. Even though these small art works were almost hidden from view, the owner would know that underneath the silk braiding, there were grip enhancers symbolizing something important to him.

A diagram of a samurai sword’s fittings:

Samurai Sword Fittings Diagram

Another pair of grip enhancers in the Denver Art Museum’s collection:

Grip Enhancers (Menuki) With Rats

Two examples of sword guards in the Denver Art Museum’s collection:

Sword Guard with Plum Blossoms and Snowflakes

Sword Guard of Bamboo and Tiger



We believe the insects on these grip enhancers are wasps, but they could be another flying insect. Though we have not found any specific reference or meaning assigned to the symbol of a wasp, the fact that they are a stinging insect may make them appropriate for a samurai warrior. The two insects are posed differently–the wings of one wasp are separated while the wings of the other overlap.


During the Edo period, it was common for educated men and women to carry fans. The artist decorated the fans by incising, or cutting into the metal, to create plant designs.


These grip enhancers are made of shakudo, a gold and copper alloy which can be treated to get a purplish-black surface color. The insects are covered with a thin layer of gold. Gold is a malleable metal, meaning it can be hammered into very thin sheets and then shaped by the artist.


These grip enhancers are each 1 3/16” long. It takes great skill to work on such a small scale. Notice the tiny details on the insects–the eyes, antenna, segmented abdomen, and detailed wings.

Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.

The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.