Invented by the Japanese – the plastic umbrella
When thinking of a unique umbrella invented by the Japanese, the most famous example would be the clear plastic umbrella. Cheap and available at any convenience store so you can get one anywhere you go, they apparently fly off the shelves whenever it suddenly starts raining. As one of their special features, these transparent umbrellas won’t block your vision, so they can be used safely on the streets.
Making use of this feature of providing clear visibility, there are also premium plastic umbrellas such as the “Shin Kateru” plastic umbrella used by election candidates (5,000 yen excluding tax) and the “Yen You” plastic umbrella made for the Imperial household (8,000 yen excluding tax). In both cases, they were made so that even on rainy days, you would still be able to see the faces of the people. Only premium umbrellas are specially made with features such as a glass fiber structure making it stronger than the cheap ones, a valve so air doesn’t get inside and designs that ensure they won’t easily blow away in the wind. Although they’re used by members of the Imperial household as well as Japanese politicians, you can of course buy them too.
Premium clear umbrellas
Traditional Japanese Umbrellas “Wagasa / Bangasa”
In Japan, traditional umbrellas are referred to as “Wagasa”. In contrast with typical Western umbrellas which are mostly made of either cloth or plastic, Wagasa are surprisingly made from paper. You might be thinking “how could you possibly make an umbrella out of paper?”, but this is achieved by steeping strong Japanese paper in oil which makes it waterproof. Wagasa are handmade individually one by one from natural elements such as Japanese paper and bamboo. Although the use of Wagasa has declined since the spread of Western umbrellas, they are still used today in the performing arts such as kabuki and dance, traditional ceremonies and tea ceremonies. Some famous types include Kyowagasa from Kyoto, Kanazawa Wagasa and Gifu Wagasa.
Thin and with gorgeous designs, Wagasa look absolutely beautiful with their colorful patterns and pictures such as the “Janome” which is like a bull’s-eye. There is also a type of Wagasa with a thicker than normal bamboo handle known as a “Bangasa”, which is useful for work purposes such as at Ryokans, and they are mainly used by men. The umbrellas that are used by samurai in Japanese movies and serial dramas are Bangasa.
How to make a Japanese umbrella.
The making of a Japanese umbrella is divided into separate tasks. The first step is making the frame.
Pass string through the holes in the ribs before the ribs are neatly sorted out.
Paste the Japanese paper onto the frame with starch to fit the size of the umbrella.
Paste the Japanese paper on each part and let the starch dry overnight. Fold the Japanese paper to make creases.
Apply a coating on the frame when it begins to look like an umbrella. (Pigments should be used if you are making a coarse oilpaper umbrella.)
In order to make the fully constructed umbrella waterproof, coat it with a plant-derived oil known as linseed oil and leave it under the sun to dry.
It takes one week to dry in the summer, and two to three weeks in the winter.
Once the drying is finished, the umbrella is complete. Some umbrellas are made to look glamorous with colorful strings attached inside as decorations.
The umbrella evolved? Focusing on unique design and function
Another product that is gaining notoriety for turning the umbrella concept on its head is the upside down umbrella known as the “UnBRELLA” invented by product designer Hiroshi Kajimoto. As you can see from the photo, the inside of a regular umbrella becomes the outside, and the outside is now the inside. By making it this way, when you fold the wet umbrella, the part that is wet is now on the inside, so your clothes or bags won’t get water on them. Also, when you close the umbrella it stands by itself, so with features like these that solve traditional issues with umbrellas, it’s a design that is currently gathering a lot of attention.
Stopping you from bringing your wet umbrella indoors is also good Japanese hospitality?
If you brought your rain soaked umbrella into a store, the floor would get slippery and wet which is dangerous right? Although many stores and shops have umbrella stands or give out plastic bags, at department stores and other major retailers, they provide machines which cover your umbrella with plastic automatically. This automatic umbrella plastic bag sheathing machine is known as “Kasapon”. All you have to do is insert your umbrella in the slot and pull forward, then your umbrella will be wrapped in plastic and you won’t get the floors or your clothes wet. Developing such a machine to solve this inconvenience for customers could also be considered as another example of good Japanese hospitality.