Looking back at the history of Japanese tradition and Japanese umbrellas

History of Japanese umbrellas history

Japanese umbrellas are a part of Japan's traditional culture, but we decided to find out when and how they first started.
(Please note that the history often differs depending on the source)

1. history and culture

The exact time when Japanese umbrellas were introduced to Japan is unknown.
It is believed that umbrella culture was introduced along with Buddhism from Korea during the Kofun period, around the time of Emperor Kinmei (509-571).
Umbrellas at that time were called ``kinugasa'' (cover) or ``tengai'' (canopy). A cover made of silk or other cloth that leaves it open and cannot be closed. It was used as a modern parasol, as a talisman against evil spirits, and as a symbol of authority, held out to people of special status.

Image of a Japanese umbrella from the Asuka period

There are also theories about the era when Japanese umbrellas that could be opened and closed, like modern Japanese umbrellas, appeared. It is thought that umbrellas with a structure similar to modern Japanese umbrellas were produced at least during the Kamakura to Azuchi-Momoyama period. A closed umbrella is depicted in the ``Ippen Sei-e'' from the Kamakura period.
During the Edo period, the division of labor became widespread in the production of Japanese umbrellas, and it seems that Japanese umbrellas became popular among ordinary people as a daily necessity.

At the end of the Edo period, in 1859 (Ansei 6), imports of Western umbrellas began in earnest. Although the amount of imports increased year by year, the production of Japanese umbrellas was still going strong. At the time, Gifu, a major producer of Japanese umbrellas, produced more than 1 million Japanese umbrellas a year.
Japanese umbrellas, on the other hand, also began to be exported. There is a record that parasols were exported to England in 1872 (Meiji 5).

Around 1950 (around 1945), Japanese umbrella making in Gifu reached its peak. It boasted an annual production of over 15 million bottles. However, after that, Western umbrellas became more popular, and demand for Japanese umbrellas rapidly decreased.

2. modern Japanese umbrella

Nowadays, the domestic production of Japanese umbrellas is several thousand per year. Compared to the peak period, production volume and the number of craftsmen have decreased significantly. However, even though the production of Japanese umbrellas has decreased, craftsmen continue to produce them using the same structure and manufacturing methods as in the past.
It is familiar to people as an essential and important part of Japanese culture, including festivals at temples and shrines across the country, and traditional performing arts such as Kabuki and Bunraku.

Image of Kabuki and Japanese umbrellas

Have you ever seen Geiko and Maiko using Japanese umbrellas on a daily basis at tourist destinations such as Tokyo and Kyoto? Japanese umbrellas play a role in the traditional Japanese landscape.

Image of Maiko and Japanese umbrella

Although the number of situations in which Japanese umbrellas are used in daily life has decreased, there are still situations in which they are used that are unique to modern times.

There is a quiet boom in photography using Japanese umbrellas for illuminations, weddings, Shichi-Go-San festivals, etc. Performances using Japanese umbrellas on live music stages are very impressive and cool. Since they have appeared in anime and game works, individuals of all generations can be seen buying Japanese umbrellas.
The number of new Japanese umbrella fans is increasing as young craftsmen create Japanese umbrellas with new designs and those that reproduce old techniques.

Image of coming-of-age ceremony and Japanese umbrella

3. The future of Japanese umbrellas

The wonderful culture of Japanese umbrellas that we want to inherit. However, there are challenges to doing so.
With a production volume of several thousand pieces per year, there are issues such as low demand → fewer people to grow and make materials → fewer people to make them → aging of current craftsmen and labor shortages.

There is a danger that we will no longer be able to obtain materials such as Madake, which is used for the bones of Japanese umbrellas, and Egonoki, which is used for the potter's wheel, which is the part used to open and close umbrellas. In the past, craftsmen related to Japanese umbrellas were active all over Japan. Nowadays, only a part of Gifu can stably produce Japanese umbrella parts and traditional Japanese umbrellas in large quantities.

It is difficult for the average person to tell the difference between simple and simple umbrellas made overseas as "Japanese umbrellas", but when you hold a Japanese umbrella packed with Japanese technology in your hand, you will notice that every part has been carefully designed. The beauty of the craftsmanship and the durability are different.
In order to preserve the ``elegance'' of Japanese umbrellas, I hope that as many people as possible will become familiar with Japanese umbrellas.

Additionally, the project to support Japanese umbrella craftsmen and materials has a system in which many people can get involved.
We conducted training for Japanese umbrella craftsmen through crowdfunding, and new craftsmen were born.
An annual project has begun in which people involved in Japanese umbrellas and supporters go beyond the production areas of Gifu and Kyoto to gather together to plant and harvest Egonoki, a tree used for the potter's wheel, the part that opens and closes Japanese umbrellas. became.

Four. Where can I buy Japanese-made Japanese umbrellas?

Wagasa CASA, Gifu Prefecture's only Japanese umbrella specialty store, is a Japanese umbrella select shop located in Gifu City. Gifu City is the top producer of Japanese umbrellas in Japan, and is a city steeped in tradition and technology.
At our shop ``Wagasa CASA'', we sell selected Japanese umbrellas with beautiful designs and functionality in order to spread the appeal of Gifu Japanese umbrellas.

Japanese umbrella CASA store

Japanese umbrella CASA

500-8009 29 Minato-cho, Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture
Nagaragawa Teshigoto Machiya CASA 1F
Business hours: 11:00-18:00
Closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays https://wagasa.shop

Five. summary

We have introduced the history of Japanese umbrellas.
If you have never held a Japanese umbrella in your hands, we hope you will come to Gifu and experience the real thing and get a feel for the time, thoughts, and techniques that have been associated with it.
I'm sure you'll look forward to the day you use your umbrella.

Maiko holding a Japanese umbrella and Kawaramachi, Gifu

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