Friday, June 29, 2012

Rainy Season

In June 2006 I boarded a plane and set off for my one year adventure in Japan.  6 years later my Japanese is still shaky and there is an aisle in the supermarket filled with bags of dried fish and unidentified slime that I still run past in confused horror but I can slurp ramen like a pro, sit seiza on hard floors for hours and tie my own obi.  One skill I am yet to master however is the umbrella.

June in Japan is Rainy season.  I discovered this my first weekend here when I went for a walk around Niigata.  Half way through the day the heavens opened and the city bloomed in a rainbow of umbrellas.  Everyone from the smallest child to the oldest hunchbacked granny produced an umbrella out of thin air and went on their way.  I spent the train ride home soaked to the bone, dripping all over the carriage while being stared at by my mortified fellow passengers.

I should have expected as much as the umbrella has been a symbol of Japan since the west has known about its existence.

With such a long history of umbrella use it is not surprising that the Japanese have become masters in the art of umbrella.  Not only have they found ways to carry an umbrella without anyone knowing it is on their person,

but they have developed a myriad of one handed skills including cycling while holding an umbrella in typhoon like winds or freezing snow storms.

In fact I am inclined to believe that the Japanese continue to use chopsticks purely so they are able to eat while holding an umbrella should the need ever arise.

While this may be handy in everyday life I don't think the Japanese have truly grasped the potential of this skill.  Instead of complaining that Mongolians are taking over the sport of Sumo (because they are much, much better at it) I think the Japanese should go forth and find a sport of their own to conquer and I have found the perfect replacement.  Umbrella Bicycle Jousting.

An official sport at the Chap Olympiad in London Bicycle Jousting is screaming out for a Japanese champion.

On top of their one handed proficiency the Japanese have done what they do best and made a mundane object much, much cooler.

an umbrella that looks like a samurai sword 

 Cut outs so you don't walk into things

 Wheels so lazy children can pull the umbrella along behind them made extra funky by the fact the wheels leave smiley faces on the pavement

An umbrella with a calligraphy paint brush on the end so you can write things on the pavement with your umbrella run-off water.

 Little umbrellas for your shoes!

An umbrella with a built in cup holder

My favourite has to be the umbrella hat.

I know what you are thinking: "the Japanese didn't invent that".  I know, you would think it was someone who looks a lot like the guy in the picture above or maybe a dapper English gent trying to keep his pretty bowler hat dry...

...and I thought the same until I stumbled upon this really old Japanese guy who proves that the Japanese patented the umbrella hat long, long ago.

And like all good Japanese things it has been taken to the extreme and found its way on to the catwalks of the world.

And what do you wear with your umbrella hat?  An umbrella dress of course!

So for everyone stuck in the middle of this horrible rainy month I say take the opportunity to don a funky umbrella hat and think of the super tasty rice that comes after the rain :)

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