Made-to-order traditional Japanese umbrellas
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Wagasa, translated directly as “Japanese umbrella,” are bamboo-frame umbrellas topped with an oil-coated washi canopy. These beautiful and light traditional umbrellas are water repellent, open and close smoothly, and are made with impressive handcrafting technique.
Wagasa have been made in the neighborhood of Yodoe-cho in Yonago, Tottori Prefecture for over 200 years. Though these once daily necessities are seen less and less with the spread of Western-style umbrellas, wagasa still play an important role in Japanese culture. This is especially true in Tottori, which can be observed during the prefecture’s annual Shan Shan Festival, where as many as 4,000 people perform a traditional umbrella dance in a lively and colorful parade.
Clouds blow into Tottori from the Sea of Japan only to gather along the slopes of the Chugoku Mountains. There is so much rain and snow in Tottori that there is a local saying, “You can forget your lunch box, but don’t forget your umbrella!”
Yodoe-cho has an abundance of high-quality bamboo, and thanks to the windy, rainy and snowy climate, wagasa made here are particularly durable. The wagasa canopies are made of Tottori’s prized traditional Japanese paper, Inshu washi, which is pasted to the frames and oiled. In the past, thousands of oiled wagasa could be seen on summer days, drying in the sun at the nearby seashore.
Wagasa craftswoman Arisa Hasegawa has been crafting wagasa for 15 years. After apprenticing under a wagasa craftsman through the Yodoe Japanese Umbrella Lore Museum, she opened her own wagasa studio, Wagasa Hatsune, crafting traditional umbrellas with a contemporary flair. In the past, when wagasa were more common, studios would have multiple craftspeople who divided the work. Operating her business on her own, Hasegawa sources the bamboo ribs for the wagasa canopies from other craftspeople, carrying out the rest of the crafting process herself.
The feel of a wagasa in-hand and the pitter-patter sound of rain on its canopy is very relaxing. With their natural materials and beautiful designs, wagasa bring brightness to even the greyest of days.
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