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Saturday, June 21, 2003

JAPAN LITE

The rainy season and umbrella politics


It always surprises me that with year after year of rainy seasons, the Japanese aren't better prepared for it. They slog through the rain and puddles with just umbrellas and arrive at work harried in soaked pants legs and waterlogged shoes. No one bothers to wear rain boots or galoshes. Umbrellas, and umbrellas only, rule.

The wise person treats his umbrella as a sword. The umbrella is used not only to defend oneself against the rain, but when it is closed can effectively be used to secure a seat on the train when throngs of people are headed for that one open seat.

When walking around outside, your umbrella should always be close at your fingertips, so you'll be ready for any surprise weeklong downpours. It is a shame that as of yet, there is no umbrella sheath, like a sword sheath, that we could attach to our waist to conveniently carry umbrellas.

There is a logical reason for this, however. Such a device would go against the principles of umbrella design. You see, the umbrella is specifically designed to be left behind on trains and in restaurants. Yes, believe it or not, as soon as you take hold of your umbrella, it is planning its escape! This is because umbrellas are not loyal to their masters, but to their manufacturers. It's all part of the Great Umbrella Scheme. Now you understand why umbrellas have that J-shaped handle that begs to be hooked onto the nearest rail. All it takes is a momentary parting with your umbrella to assure it will be forgotten.

In addition, umbrellas are designed to become a nuisance as soon as they are closed so you'll want to put them down as soon as possible. Their long and slender shape is such that they cannot be easily stored near their owner but must instead be put into an umbrella stand at the very front of a restaurant or building. Creating great physical distance between the umbrella and its owner is another key to assuring the umbrella will be forgotten hours later.

The Great Umbrella Scheme is responsible for hampering the development of better umbrella designs. Umbrellas are one of the few products that are not being constantly improved to help keep us dryer, fresher and more beautiful.

Although we are in dire need of a full body umbrella, which would keep the lower body as dry as the upper body, no one has bothered to develop the umbrella skirt, for example. Skirts made from actual umbrellas would be a welcome addition to any woman's wardrobe to keep the rain off stockings and shoes. Umbrella "hakama" would be perfect for men. But no one would leave these behind.

Another obvious fashion item hampered by the Great Umbrella Scheme is sponge clothing. Rather than fighting the rain, we could come to better terms with it by absorbing it fully, then wringing ourselves out at our destination. But again, no one would leave their clothes behind.

So, until someone takes it upon themselves to break through the Great Umbrella Scheme, we will be stuck in this vicious umbrella cycle, always needing to replace the one we just left behind.

Check out Amy Chavez's new column, "Parents Do the Strangest Things," at www.amychavez.com.


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