Speaking of umbrellas, I’ve just remembered something. The Japanese love umbrellas. In fact, one could say that many of them have a downright fetish for them. Show me a Japanese with a horrible umbrella, and I’ll show you an Englishman with a beautiful one.
Unlike the English, who either have a black umbrella or even worse, one of those stumpy plaid ones you can find stacked by the checkout at boots, the Japanese always have an interesting one.
And we’re not just talking about the traditional stuff – those beautiful paper ones skillfully painted with wonderful colours. I’m talking about the ones you can find in any city in Japan, above people’s heads in the street.
When the rains come down in Japan, the coolest umbrellas go up. Even my local Japanese discount shop has a find – simple wooden umbrellas in a wonderful array of colours. Pretty decently made (I’ve had mine for 3 years already), and at an even more decent price ($3), you can imagine the choice and range they have in Japan itself.
One of my aunts has admitted to an umbrella fetish (brought about by several trips to Japan), and will attest to the Japanese’s championing the umbrella prize – in terms of aesthetics most of all.
On to the traditional paper umbrellas. The manufacturing of Wagasa began in the Kano district of Gifu City in the middle of the 18th century to stimulate local industry.
The traditional Japanese umbrella, considered an art form in Japan, uses only natural materials and, requiring several months to undergo the various separate processes that are needed for completion, the skilled hands of a dozen seasoned craftworkers contribute to the finished item.
As well as the usual type of rain umbrella, Gifu Wagasa also come in various other types including large red outdoor parasols that are used to provide shade on outdoor occasions like tea ceremonies, and smaller ones for dance performances.