When it rains, it pours. And in Japan, it pours a lot. On average, Tokyo is said to have 135 days of rain a year. In a country where showers always seem to be on the horizon, what better way to invite some sunshine into your life than with an umbrella that can make a statement? Even if you're not into fashion, when it comes to a quality umbrella that will outlast the storm, there's no better place to look than Japan. Let us explain why.
The Dreaded Fifth Season of Japan
Every year from early June to late July, chilly northern air masses clash with warm, lofty southern breezes to create the phenomenon known as "tsuyu," translated into "the rainy season" in English.
Tsuyu is a bit different than that of a typical monsoon season found in other parts of the world such as Southeast Asia. Instead of turbulent periodic downpours of unrelenting rain, one can expect infrequent, unpredictable, and inexpedient showers that start and stop all day, every day.
So, how do you know if you’ll need an umbrella or not for the day? That’s right—you don’t. That's why your typical Japanese person brings an umbrella everywhere they go.
And with a reputation to uphold for sitting on the cutting edge of both the fashion and invention worlds, Japan has found a way to make a simple canopy of water-resistant cloth, a statement piece as well as a technological marvel.
The History of the Japanese Umbrella
Umbrellas first made their way to Japan from China during the Heian Period (794-1185). Known as "kinugasa" due to their use of cloth fabric, they were mainly used by the wealthy and powerful to protect one's skin against the sun's harsh rays. Red was the color of choice as the spiritual significance of the color was said to ward off bad spirits and invite luck.
It took until the Edo Period (1603-1868) for the umbrella to gain ubiquity. Technological advancements allowed them to be produced en masse to the extent that even most commoners could afford them. They could also be embellished with intricate designs of flowers, patterns, or even scenery—a feat unseen several hundred years back—further popularizing them as fashion statements.
The umbrella had become a staple in the Japanese lifestyle, and it was here to stay.
A Modern Umbrella for Modern Japan
Times change, things change, and trends change.
With the introduction of the Western-style umbrella in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), which could be decorated in all sorts of ways your typical Japanese umbrella couldn't, the Japanese umbrella slowly fell into obscurity. Today, it can be found within its niche in Japanese culture, being used in places such as Japanese tea ceremonies and geisha performances under the name "wagasa."
Not wanting to face the same fate, many Japanese umbrella makers took the Western-style umbrella by the handle, pouring their knowledge, creativity, and skills into it. The result? "Kasa," the Japanese umbrella that embodies the innovation and ingenuity of Japan today.
Sleek, carefully balanced, refined. The Japanese umbrella of today is not only lighter, but more versatile, able to be used both in the sun to protect the skin from harsh UV rays as well as in the rain. It is also even more fashionable, coming in so many colors, patterns, and styles that it's not uncommon to spend hours choosing the perfect umbrella for you.
Invest in Quality
A good umbrella is an investment.
Sure, you can get a cheap plastic umbrella for less than the price of a cup of coffee, but how long will it last? After a few uses and a gale or two of wind, chances are it will break, rust, or be so full of holes that you might as well put a kitchen colander over your head and call it a day.
On the other hand, a good umbrella can last years.
And with its rich history in umbrella production, rainy climate, and high position in the fashion world, Japan stands out as one of the best countries to buy an umbrella of impeccable quality and style.
But where do you start and from where should you buy?
Take a look at two of our favorite Japanese umbrella artisans and see for yourself the difference that a good umbrella can make.
WASHINO PRINT FACTORY
If you’re looking at finding a Japanese umbrella that combines the performance of the contemporary with stylistic flourishes of tradition, then look no further than WASHINO PRINT FACTORY.
Founded in 1930, this is the only hand-printed umbrella producer still left in Kyoto today. Back in the day, Kyoto used to have a thriving crafts, dyeing, and textile culture. However, due to industrialization, war, and mass production, the industry in Kyoto is merely a remnant of what it once was in the present.
Today, WASHINO PRINT FACTORY carries this cultural legacy of handmade umbrella artisanship with pride and continues to make high-quality products that are not just voguish, but exemplify peak performance.
One example is the Purple Zebra Print parasol which is equal parts classy and bold. Another chic choice would be the Star Pink version that blends the traditional Japanese red with streaks of a popping pink. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
WASHINO PRINT FACTORY PARASOL ZEBRA PURPLE
WASHINO PRINT FACTORY PARASOL STAR PINK
Maehara Koei Shoten
For something a bit less flashy, Maehara Koei Shoten might be up your alley.
Established in 1948 in Tokyo, with a reputation for quality and standards higher than Tokyo Skytree, the skills of Maehara Koei Shoten are so well renowned that at one point, they were even the preferred umbrella maker for the Japanese Imperial Household Agency!
Luxurious and elegant, lightweight and durable, these umbrellas are sure to last for years to come. But with their vast selection of debonair products, it can be difficult to pick out a personal favorite. Some special pieces that stand out, however, would be the Imperial Household Agency Purveyor “Gentleman” and the Gentleman Umbrella Trad 08, both of which are timeless in design.
MAEHARA KOEI SHOTEN IMPERIAL HOUSEHOLD AGENCY PURVEYOR "GENTLEMAN" UMBRELLA PINDOT FOLDING (BLACK)
MAEHARA KOEI SHOTEN GENTLEMAN UMBRELLA TRAD 08 (DARK BLUE)
A Lifelong Companion
Rain or shine, an umbrella is just as essential to your outfit as your shoes, your bag, or even your wallet. Even if the skies are clouded and all is gray, you can still light up the town with your impeccable sense of style and an umbrella that says “nothing, not even rain, can get in my way.” And if you go with something handmade and of quality, it'll stay by your side for years to come.