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:
- Prepare the material (bamboo, Washi paper, lacquer…)
- Build the frame around a wooden core to create the structure
- Match the size of the Washi paper to the structure
- Attach the paper covering to the bamboo structure with glue and let it dry
- Painting and lacquering of the Washi paper
- Coating of the paper with linseed oil to make it waterproof
- Drying of the coating during 4 to 15 days
- 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.