Today the rain came. Thanks to typhoon Malakas, all of Japan is getting a drenching.
Rain isn’t uncommon here. In fact, it rains a lot. And because of that, Tokyo is known as the umbrella capital of the world. Everyone here owns an umbrella. They have elevated umbrella ownership to an art form. When it rains, the masses turn into masses of umbrellas. I even saw a lady tonight riding a bicycle with a child seat in front, and another in back, and the child in the back was holding – yep, an umbrella in motion.
Most people – particularly businessmen – have dignified black umbrellas. Or stately royal blue. Some even have rich hunter green bumbershoots. And of course, there are the ubiquitous transparent umbrellas that you can buy for 300 yen at any convenience store.
I, on the other hand, don’t conform to conventional umbrella wisdom. When the big rains come, I pull out my secret weapon – the Big Red Umbrella.
It’s not that I don’t stand out enough in this mostly-Asian section of Tokyo. But with my Big Red Umbrella, I am truly hard to miss. I think it may be the only umbrella of its kind in Tokyo…and perhaps all of eastern Asia.
It isn’t that I’m trying to be a rebel or anything. It’s just that this is the only serious umbrella that I own. It is, as the name implies, Big. And heavy-duty, so it resists the winds that often come with the rain. It keeps me dry(er) and serves me well. Even if it does make a fashion mis-statement.
As far as I know, deploying a red umbrella isn’t a major social faux pas in Japan. It’s not like the umbrella equivalent of having a scarlet “A” emblazoned on my forehead. It’s just – distinctive – in a culture where being distinctive isn’t always desired.
One day, I may invest in a truly dignified, culturally compliant kasa. But for now, I’ll risk being a fashion outcast and stay a little dryer – with my Big Red Umbrella.
Yes… The rains came… and it is still raining tonight. And what HE says is true. In the rain, Tokyo becomes a sea of umbrellas. Everyone has an umbrella… rarely do you see people even sharing an umbrella. Small children dutifully follow their mothers carrying their own child-size umbrellas. School-children run along the sidewalks under their own colorful umbrellas, and even bicycle riders — steering one-handed (!) ride by under umbrellas.
I, myself, have my trusty Totes (brand) super-compact, purse-size umbrella that I purchased years ago at Target in the US. That umbrella has gone many places with me, and has served me faithfully through many a surprise rain shower. It is not super sturdy as that Big Red Umbrella my husband carries… in a sudden gust of wind, it will inevitably turn inside out… but the greatest advantage of my little collapsible umbrella is its compact size, allowing me to carry it everywhere so that I am never without my trusty umbrella.
You see… here in Japan, umbrellas can be used for more than protection from the rain. In the summer, some (mostly women) use those handy umbrellas for shade. Tokyo, with its unbearable heat and humidity begs one to seek shade wherever it can be found. I also have tried using my trusty $8-from-Target umbrella for protection from the intense Tokyo sunshine, but alas… it is not the proper kind. Yes… it will protect me from the sun, but, I have found, because of its black color (with polka-dots… lol) it tends to absorb and concentrate the heat from those rays of sunshine. Under my umbrella, the sweat pours down my face.
Japanese women have special sun umbrellas that have a silver metallic coating on the inside to prevent the heat from penetrating to the user. Expensive… yes. Compact… not so much. But… multipurpose and protective from both rain and sun.
In the US, a lot of people refuse to carry umbrellas, preferring to dash through the rain from place to place without. But here in Tokyo, umbrellas are a necessary accessory to everyone’s wardrobe.