Wagasa “和傘”: The Japanese authentic Umbrella

The Wagasa, written 和傘 in Japanese are traditional umbrellas made of Bamboo, oil and Japanese paper. Handmade, the Wagasa have been introduced in Japan from China during the Heian Period [794 – 1185]. However, at that time umbrellas looked more like a straw hat and a cape. It is only during the 14th Century that they started looking like nowadays umbrellas. The principle of bamboo and paper umbrellas first originated in China but became extremely popular toward wealthy Japanese Noble especially during the Edo period [1600 – 1868]. It is only after the Second World War that Japanese umbrella started to disappear to the profit of Western umbrellas made of synthetic materials. Nowadays, the number of craftsmen using the ancient, handmade technique of production is very limited in Japan.

Wagasa are made of renewable material making them environmentally friendly but they also possess the simple, elegant beauty of the ancient Japan. Today when buying a Japanese umbrellas most people only expose it as a piece of art, however, they are also durable and with sufficient care can last about 20 years, reparation can also be made to the paper. Not only for rainy days, they can also protect from UV rays during summer.

Mainly produced from Japanese paper, bamboo and string, it is sufficiently solid but does need special care. Especially for the paper that may break in case of impact. The oil that covers the umbrella gives the paper a supplementary strength however with time it will become rigid and easier to break that is the sign the paper has reached its limit thus you need to have it replace.

Wagasa parasols are not coated with oil and are weak to the rain but on the other side the paper remains flexible and last longer.

The Wagasa are different from western umbrella in many aspects:

  • The number f ribs is usually between 30 to 70, way superior to a western umbrella.
  • When fold the biggest surface of the umbrella is inward so that when wet it won’t degrade one’s kimono or other people’s clothes.
  • It is made to be carried from the top of the body where a string or a leather handle is attached.
  • Since it is carried from the top the bottom of the stick is often reinforced on high quality umbrellas to avoid deterioration.
  • It is often possible to open it in two position, two third open and completely open.

Wagasa’s paper is coated with oil to make it waterproof, at the same time, the coated paper becomes more solid. On the contrary, some Wagasa parasols are not coated with oil and thus they cannot be use during rainy days but only to protect from the sun.

The Bangasa umbrellas are usually bigger and thicker, with more ribs they tend to be heavier so they are mostly used by men. The colors are also simpler, however there is no restrictions and women can also use Bangasa. Another type of Wagasa is the Janome Kasa, on the contrary they have less ribs and are lighter while colors can be very varied. These are mostly use by women.

The production process of Wagasa is completely handmade and takes a long time:

  1. Prepare the material (bamboo, Washi paper, lacquer…)
  2. Build the frame around a wooden core to create the structure
  3. Match the size of the Washi paper to the structure
  4. Attach the paper covering to the bamboo structure with glue and let it dry
  5. Painting and lacquering of the Washi paper
  6. Coating of the paper with linseed oil to make it waterproof
  7. Drying of the coating during 4 to 15 days
  8. Threads stitching and final decoration

Each part of a Japanese umbrella has a name and a function. For instance, the Nokizume (see picture below) are the parts of the ribs sticking out from the umbrella, these are often lacquered in red because of an ancient Japanese tradition. Indeed, at the beginning the very first umbrellas were only used by the Imperial family and aristocrats and they were said to be magical object that could protect one from evil spirits and bad events, from this belief come the red color that was said to help prevent bad things to happen.

To preserve your Wagasa and insure its longevity you should store it untied and loosen in a well ventilated, dark place. It is also important to dry it well, for instance with a towel, after using it. It is best to let it open in a dark place until it is completely dry. Once dry, you can close it loosely and store it in a dark, well-ventilated place.It is important not to let the Wagasa in the sun to dry since the colors and patterns might tarnish.

Finally, it is possible to have your Wagasa umbrella repaired but, depending of the state, the reparation cost might be higher than the cost of a new umbrella. The number of artisans being able to do this reparations is also very limited. When the ribs of the umbrella re broken, it is then impossible to repair it.

Hakone Zaiku

Hakone Zaiku reffers to a type of wood marquetry from Hakone in the Kanagawa Prefecture. The Hakone zaiku, or Hakone marquetry has been produced in the region for hundred of year, it is a very old tradition of woodcraft in Japan.

The Hakone Marquetry combines geometric patterns that can be up to fifty different pattern on one item. There is hundred on combination possible from a few classical pattern of Hakone Zaiku thus many products can be done.

After being meticulously selected the wood is then sawn or split and dried and seasoned over a period of months. After being stick together and backed with papers the veneers are applied on the wood to create the product. The wood isn’t colored after being put together, the colors are the natural colors of each different piece of wood.

Hakone Zaiku is now use to create many products, from the most traditional to the most modern ones. A famous product of Hakone Marquetry are the Magic boxes, these boxes require to move certain hidden places of the box in a specific order to be open, it can requires hundred of moves.

Warosoku Candles

Japanese Candles made their first apparition in the Taiheiki, a historical epic book that was written in the late 14th century, which is when they started to be produced. The are very different from western candles in terms of material and shape. The candles are made of vegetable wax and the wicks are made of Japanese paper.

The typical “ikari” shape gradually becomes narrower at the base of the candle. Warosuku candles are white or red and often painted with flower motifs.

The Japanese candles can be seen in temples all over Japan, at home they are also use for decoration of religious hostels.

The aspect can loose it’s shine a little, for the white and red candles it still looks really beautiful but for the candles with drawings you can just rub it a little with a soft cloth and it will come back to its original state.

Most of the traditionally made Japanese candles are completely handmade with natural ingredients. They don’t produce thick, dark smoke but a light, soft one. The light they produce is softer than one of a classical candles and it takes longer for it to melt. According to the situation the light produce will evolve, many people say that is what they love the most about Japanese candles.

Nicolas Soergel – Founder of NIHON ICHIBAN

Interview with Nicolas Soergel – Founder of NIHON ICHIBAN

Interviewed by Sophie Coureau – staff writer at Chinriu Honten Limited

What is NIHON ICHIBAN about and why did you start it?

Japan is a country with a very rich heritage and abundance of great food, craft and design products.  But knowledge about these original products is very low and it also is very hard to purchase authentic products for most foreigners.

The mission of NIHON ICHIBAN is to promote Japanese authentic craft, food and design to foreigners inside and outside of Japan. Our family manages a traditional Japanese food company with more than 140 years of history. From this experience I have access to many traditional Japanese companies and also understand their challenges to market their products abroad.

This is when the idea was born to create an online shop that brings together a large number of such traditional companies to create a broad selection of products suitable for non-Japanese.

But NIHON ICHIBAN is not only about selling products. We also want to create a community of people who are interested in Japanese culture. With blogs, Twitter and Facebook we already have an active community of more than 82,000 Japan fans and more than 320 Japan bloggers. We give Japan bloggers a free platform to promote their blogs and the NIHONGO ICHIBAN site provides about 1000 pages with free material for those who prepare for the Japan Language Proficiency Test.

How do you select products for NIHON ICHIBAN?

Products need to fulfill three basic requirements to be listed in the NIHON ICHIBAN SHOP.

  • First a product needs to be genuinely Japanese and we welcome contemporary products as much as traditional products.
  • Then products need to be of high quality. I personally visit every partner to understand the products as well as the production process. We only want to offer the best products available on the market.
  • Last but not least products or suppliers need to have a story to tell. A story can be the history, the manufacturing process or a thought behind a product.

By adding products that fulfill these three conditions I believe that we will create a unique and interesting line-up for our customers.

What is your outlook for NIHON ICHIBAN?

NIHON ICHIBAN shall become the leading shop for authentic Japanese craft, design and food products. This means that we will keep adding products until we have the most comprehensive line-up covering all traditional food and craft categories.  But this will take some time as we will only expand the line-up step by step to keep the high product quality.

In cooperation with selected craftsmen and designers we now also started developing new contemporary products that also suit Western lifestyle. This will become an increasingly important part of our business.

One last word to the readers of the newsletter:

We just launched NIHON ICHIBAN and although we took outmost care to make shopping with us a pleasant experience I am sure that there are still many things to improve. Please let us know what you like and what you did not like as well as the kind of products you would like us to add to NIHON ICHIBAN.

Hungry? Today’s Menu is… Japanese Fake Food?!

If you’ve visited Japan, one of the first things that captures your attention when going out to eat is the plethora of fake food and drink menu models such as the ones seen in the picture above that are displayed outside of dining establishments in showroom display cases.

The presence of these PVC and silicon-based models make dining in Japan a stress-free experience, which is a true blessing especially for those visiting with minimal Japanese language skills.  But not only are the models helpful for tourists, they are appreciated by Japanese alike when deciding where to go for a meal and/or drink.

As for when and where the current US$100 million fake food industry began, one need not look any further than the food capital of Japan – Osaka.  Born just over 80 years ago, the food and drink model making industry has had a tremendous influence over the entire restaurant market in Japan.  The quality and appealing factor of one’s fake food models can make or even break a restaurant.  It goes to show just how much of an affect on a restaurant’s revenue stream these models have.


If you are planning to visit or currently reside in Japan, you may not know this but some of the fake food manufacturers even offer fake food-making workshops on the weekends where you can create your own personalized models. Every fake food factory has its own schedule but at the fake food facility of Morino Sample in Osaka reservations can be made under this link in Japanese only.


Guest Author: Justin from Fake Food Japan

This post has been written by Justin who is the CEO of Fake Food Japan. With his Japanese partner he  runs a factory and shop for Fake Food in Osaka and also ships worldwide from his online shop, which is in English.

URL: http://www.fakefoodjapan.com/

Umeboshi (梅干)

The Umeboshi also called “The Japanese Salt Plum” is a very popular sort of pickles (漬け物-Tsukemono) in Japan. It is a pickled plum fruit that comes from the Ume tree.

The Umeboshi have a sour and salty, but also, fruity taste. The Umeboshi have been consumed in Japan for centuries.

Around June when the fruits ripen the Ume plums are harvested.

An important part of the Umeboshi pickling process is to let them dry in the sun during three days around July, it is called the Doyouboshi (土用干し).

Then, they are packed in barrels with salt and stocked.

The best Umeboshi are those that have matured for 3 to 5 years because meanwhile the taste of salt softens.

As only fruits of the highest quality mature well over time a lot of care is taken to select the best fruits. During the maturation process the Umeboshi are regularly checked and turned to ensure that they will have the right moisture at the end of the process.

Traditional Umeboshi have no artificial preservatives since the salt is acting as a natural preservative.

The classical Umeboshi contains around 20% of salt, yet, nowadays, new types of Umeboshi are made with lower salt ratio. It is called Choumi Umeboshi (調味梅干).

The Umeboshi’s taste is said to be very sour and salty but then again various types exist.

There are two basic types of Umeboshi the white one and the red one. The red ones differ in the way that they are prepared with Shiso.  Shiso is coming from a plant and is an important culinary product in Japan. The red Ume plums are usually a little bit saltier than the white ones since the Shiso itself is salty.  The addition of Shiso allows the red Ume plums to have a their own very distinctive flavor. Red Umeboshi are very popular in western Japan whereas people in the Kanto area prefer white Umeboshi

Another distinction is made between the regular Umeboshi and the smaller type. The smaller type is called 小梅 (Koume) which literally means small Ume plums. They can be eaten just like this thanks to their smaller size. It is especially recommended for novices. 小町梅 (Komachiume) or うす塩花梅 ( Usushio Hanaume) are made with the smaller Koume type.

Another type of  Umeboshi that can be found is the 調味梅干し (Choumi Umeboshi). These Choumi Umeboshi have lower amount of salt but they have artificial additives.

Actually, the salt is removed at the end of the pickling process so unfortunately the taste partially fades away.  This is why some artificial additives are especially required to restore and enhance the flavor and increase shelf life.

The less salty the Umeboshi is, the more preservatives (Vitamin B1) are required. Thus, the connoisseurs tend to say that it is not real Umeboshi.

Nevertheless, it is a good product for novices since the taste is not as strong as for classical Umeboshi.

Our producer Chinriu Honten Limited was established in 1871 and is well known all over Japan for its great quality products. Chinriu Honten Limited uses the size 3L (between 19 and 25g) and 4L (between 25 and 32g) Ume plum fruit and only the A type meaning that the fruits must not be either wrinkled or with black spots. It is a family owned company that is cultivating  the tradition of Umeboshi of highest quality.

How to eat Umeboshi:

  • Onigiri: The traditional Japanese rice ball. These rice balls can be eaten anytime a day and have various taste but the rice ball with an Umeboshi in the middle is a classic

To supplement rice the 梅八珍 (Ume Hachin), the花梅 (Hanaume) or the Three Years Matured Umeboshi Pickles (三年漬梅干 – Sannenzuke Umeboshi) are the best.

  • Bento: Umeboshi are often used in Bento, the traditional Japanese lunch box. It is very good to give taste to plain white rice. It is also use for the esthetic of the lunch box indeed in the middle of a square of white rice putting an Umeboshi makes it look like the Japanese national flag.

  • Umeboshi with Katsuoboshi: The Katsuoboshi is made of shave dried Bonito which went through a long and complex process of smoking – drying – fermentation.

We can find this Katsuoboshi in the 梅八珍 (UmeHachin) Pickled Ume with Shiso and Bonito flakes. The Ume plum, Shiso and Bonito flakes are pickled together that is why the UmeHachin Umeboshi has a red color. The UmeHachin Umeboshi is a bit less salty than the classical Umeboshi. Also, at first, the taste of Shiso is very strong and, combined with the sharpness of the Ume plum but then it is the smoky aroma of the Katsuoboshi that remains the longest on the palate. It is also great with rice.

  • Shochu: When drinking Shochu with hot water, it is common to add an Umeboshi in the glass. It is very good but it is also suppose to avoid getting hangover. Also, according to the tradition, the Umeboshi must be change at the fourth glass of Shochu.

  • Teatime: Sweet Umeboshi are often used as an accompaniment for tea or coffee. Even the salted version can be used as snacks during teatime. うす塩type are especially good for eating as a snack since they have a lower percentage of salt.

うす塩梅干 ( Usushio Umeboshi), うす塩花梅 (Usushio Hanaume). Of course teatime is also perfect to enjoy the 梅ジュース (Ume Juice) and the 梅ジャム (Ume Jam). With a very fresh and rich taste, it is perfect during summer. Both the juice and the jam can be eaten with yogurt or used to flavor cookies. Other products to eat as snacks are the 梅しぐれ (Ume Shigure), a gummy Japanese sweet or the はちみつ梅干 ( Hachimitsu Umeboshi), pickled Ume with honey that are also very sweet and fruity. Plus, with only have 8% of salt and the addition of honey, the taste is not that salty and the sweetness stays in the mouth, the sharpness of the Ume fruit combined with the sweetness of honey make this product a delicious accompaniment for teatime.

  • Furikake: It is a dried seasoning to sprinkle over rice. There are numerous sort of Furikake in Japan but the Umeboshi flavored ones, 梅ふりふり (Ume FuriFuri), are very popular. Once again it is a simple and economic way to supplement white rice.

  • Seasoning: There are many seasoning made from Umeboshi such as the 裏ごし梅肉 ( Uragoshi Bainiku) there is two version white and red. The red version differs by the presence of Shiso. These paste of Ume are usually used as condiment when eating meat. Indeed, you can either spread it on thin slices of meat before or after cooking it. The white versions also fits very well fish dishes.

  • Okayu: It is rice gruel; very healthy, it is usually cooked for sick people. Okayu is good for health but the taste is very plain thus Japanese people used to put some Ume plum or 梅びしほ (Umebishiho), a sweet and sour Ume plum paste, in it. Nowadays, Umebishiho is used in many more ways. It also fits western cuisine very well. For instance it is very good to supplement meat dishes or as a dressing for salads. It has a bittersweet fruity taste that brings an original flavor to your cooking.

Effect of Umeboshi on Health: 

- Umeboshi is said to be a great source of energy. It has been consumed for centuries in Japan. Samurais used to eat Umeboshi before the battle for energy and when Japan was still very poor and underdeveloped, peasants used to say that even if they had nothing to eat with just one Umeboshi they could work for one day. It is very good for one’s stamina.

- Umeboshi have a high concentration of citric acid. The citric acid acts as an antibacterial and facilitates the digestion by increasing the production of saliva. In Japan, where people eat a lot of rice, the Umeboshi are very good since the acidity of the fruit really helps digesting.

Learn more about the 梅酒 (Umeshu) the Japanese Plum Wine :

http://nihon-ichiban.com/2011/07/10/japanese-umeshu-plum-wine/

Discover many more Ume products and others on:

 http://www.ANYTHING-FROM-JAPAN.COM/chinriu-honten-s/1829.htm

What foreigners say about living in Japan

Video about foreigners voices about living in Japan

If you actually live and would like to live in Japan you must watch this video. About 1 hours of interviews on likes and dislikes of Japan from long-term foreign residents. I live here for about 12 years now and video reminded me a lot of things a now take for granted. What is it you like or dislike about Japan? Please share it with us in the comment section.

Been There Done That – the travel check list for Japan

The concept of Been There Done That

Been There Done That (BTDT) is a new kind of travel guide. It is different from traditional guide books that provide tons of information but little space to plan and record your trips. The global edition covers 40 countries from Algeria to Zimbabwe with world heritages, things to eat, to do, daily and monthly planners, airports, cities, hotels and much more. There also are blank areas that allow to add your own items to personalize it. The Been There Done That series is published by LA DITTA Limited in Tokyo.

Been There Done That: Japan Checklist

In 2011 Been There Done That also published a Japan edition. It includes 27 checklists covering Must Do’s, Onsen Hotsprings, Things to Eat, Festivals and much more. Japan has such a rich heritage and there are so many things to do and eat that this checklist is really useful for any Japan traveler. You can use BTDT Japan to plan your trip, to track your progress and to record your experiences. It will help you to make the best from your trip and to capture your memories and experiences.

Been There Done That: Anime Checklist


Japanese anime became very popular across the world and is becoming part of modern mainstream culture.  In 42 sections the Been There Done That Anime Checklist covers almost any topic related to anime such as events, maid cafes, stories, episode trackers, costly goods & tips, anisongs and much more. It is a great list to also check your knowledge of anime and find out where you might want to learn more.

The NIHON ICHIBAN 100 Lists

You can combine the Been There Done That checklist with the NIHON ICHIBAN 100 lists. Just add items to the blank parts of the Been There Done That list and create your personal checklist. Find out more about the 100 Things from NIHON ICHIBAN:


Sakura tea with real cherry blossoms

100 Drinks from Japan: Pickled Sakura Tea / sakuracha / 桜茶

In Japan Sakura tea is a popular drink for celebrations such as weddings or other special occasions. It is made with sakura cherry blossoms pickled in salt – a very traditional Japanese ingredient. In Japanese Sakura tea is called “sakura cha – 桜茶” or “sakura yu – 桜湯”.

Pickled Sakura Flowers

As fresh cherry blossoms can be harvested only once a year, Japanese started pickling them in salt and ume plum vinegar in order to be able to enjoy the Sakura flavor throughout the whole year. Many households with garden and cherry trees used to make their own pickled sakura. Nowadays most people will rather buy pickled sakura flowers from one of the few companies who still make this a product.

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How to prepare Sakura Tea

There are two ways to prepare sakura tea.

Take one or two flowers for each cup of tea and remove as much salt of the flower as you like before using them. Pour hot water over it and you get a light colored tea. It has a light scent of sakura flowers and an intense flavor of cherry blossoms. Although edible the flowers remaining in the tea usually are not eaten.

If you want to further remove tea, it is better to first soak the blossoms for 5 minutes in warm water. You then put one or two flowers in a tea cup and pour hot water on it. Adjust the flavor and saltiness by adding some of the salty water with a spoon.

A common variation is to add a flower or two to green tea when pouring hot water over the leaves. The result is a naturally flavored green tea.

The flavor of Sakura Tea

Sakura tea has a very authentic taste of Japan with a subtle flowery scent and flavor. When the tea flows over the palate the first sensation is the saltiness, which might be a bit unusual for Western people. Then the beautiful flowery fragrance opens up in the mouth. The very unique flavor of sakura is unforgettable (e.g. unique like rose flavor). A nice subtle aftertaste of sakura remains on the palate for a few minutes.

Sakura tea is not only a must for the cherry blossom season but a wonderful drink for a moment of peace and pleasure.

Other recipes with pickled  sakura flowers (under preparation)

Sakura Rice

Japanese Performance Group World Order

World Order – Synchronized Japanese Dance Pop

The stereotype of the Japanese salaryman is well known all over the world. A groups of 7 young men is dancing and singing as a group of Japanese salarymen moving in synchronized slow motion. They mostly feature situations very familiar to the Japanese salaryman. The group is lead by Genki Sudo who is a retired Japanese martial arts and wrestling champion, writer and now performance artist. World Order combines its music and the choreography  to create amazing music videos.

This performance groups recently also was recognized internationally and was featured on the Huffington Post  and appeared on the World Performance Project event in 2011. Here is a selection of a few World Order music videos that give a good overview on their performances.

World Order at WPP


World Order and “Boy meets Girl”


Follow Genki Sudo’s Blog for more information on his profile and the event calendar. Although most information is provided in Japanese there also is some English material.