What is Wagasa?
It is not clear when it was introduced to Japan, but it began to be seen in the Heian period (794-1185), when paper manufacturing technology was improved and bamboo craftsmanship was introduced, and it is still being produced today. Although the structure to open and close the umbrella is the same as that of the Western style umbrellas that are now mainstream, the materials used are different, and there are also differences in the way they are used and managed. While Western-style umbrellas are made of cotton, silk, nylon, polyester, etc., Wagasa umbrellas are made of bamboo for the shaft and the bone, and oiled paper treated with persimmon tannin or linseed oil is used for the umbrella cloth to make it waterproof.
Wagasa, invented in ancient China, was used by nobles to ward off evil rather than to shelter them from rain. It was introduced to Japan around the 4th century and was initially used as a symbol of power and to ward off evil, as in China, but was later improved with the development of paper manufacturing and bamboo crafting techniques. It is believed that it was during the Azuchi Momoyama period (1573-1600) that the use of oiled paper began, as it is used today, to ward off rain. In the Edo period (1603-1867), with the development of the division of labor, umbrellas began to spread widely and were used not only for rain gear but also for advertising purposes, such as being used as props in Kabuki plays and being lent to customers with a store name design on them. In the Meiji period (1868-1912), however, the use of Wagasa as rain gear gradually declined, and nowadays it is used almost exclusively as rain gear.
Types of Wagasa
There are several types of Wagasa, such as Bangasa, Hebinomegasa, Higasa, and Maigasa, and their characteristics are described below.
Bangasa was born in the Edo period (1603-1867). It was originally used by merchant families with their store name "00 no. 13" in it, and thus it came to be called Bangasa.
Features of Bangasa
The features of Bangasa include its simple structure and rugged, heavy feel. The handle is made of thick bamboo, and the oiled paper used for the umbrella cloth is thick and basically plain. Compared to Western-style umbrellas, it is larger and therefore heavier. Currently, it is rented out in conjunction with kimono rentals in Kyoto and other places, and is also used by rikishi in the Kakukai (sumo world). (Only makushita rank and above are permitted to use this type of umbrella.)
The hebinomegasa(snake'eye umbrella)
The Hebinomegasa umbrella is familiar to Kabuki actors for use on stage. It was made in the late 17th century as an improvement of the Bangasa, and became popular in the Edo period when it was used as a prop in Kabuki plays. Compared to the Bangasa, this umbrella is more fashionable and has a slimmer bone, making it easier for women to use. It is also well-known as a souvenir from overseas.
Features of The hebinomegasa
The characteristics of the janome umbrella are its slender frame and decorative style. In the Edo period (1603-1867), it was used to be held at the waist because of its light weight. Decorative features include wisteria wrapped around the handle, decorative threads attached to the rokuro portion of the handle, and a stone buttress attached to the end of the handle, as well as various colors of Japanese paper and snake eyes. They are also enjoyed as interior decorations.
The parasol is not waterproofed with oil, so it cannot be used in the same way as a rain umbrella. However, the unique texture of Japanese paper and its appearance of moderately blocking and transmitting light are very beautiful, making it an ideal summer umbrella. Since it is not processed with oil, it is lightweight and does not cause fatigue even if you carry it for a long period of time.
The parasol Features
Generally, white Unryu paper is used as the standard material, but there are a great variety of other types, such as those using hand-dyed Japanese paper with different expressions, those using gorgeous katazome Japanese paper, and chic ones using black lacquered bamboo for the bone. A decorative thread is attached to the rokuro portion of the parasol.
Maigasa (parasol for dancing)
As the name suggests, this is a Japanese umbrella mainly used on the stage, and in addition to those made of Japanese paper, there are also expensive ones made of silk. Silk umbrellas are transparent and moderately translucent, and were originally made so that dancers could see the audience as they danced. It is used not only for Japanese dancing, but also for Kabuki, folk dancing, and county dances.
Features of the Maigasa
Most of the designs are plain so as not to disturb the dancers, but there are some that are called "Sukeroku," which have a purple background with a white ring of color, some with a blurred pattern, and others with a spiral pattern. Silk made ones are lighter and easier to dance with than paper-covered ones. Maigasa can also be used like a parasol, although it is not waterproofed.
How to make a Wagasa
The process of making Wagasa varies depending on the type. The number is said to exceed 70 or even 10 or more depending on the details. Here is a rough outline of the process.
- 1. Bone scraping to sharpen the bamboo bones.
- 2 Bone is heated and bent into the curvature of an umbrella.
- 3 Connecting attaching the bone to the handle rocro
- 4 Attaching the umbrella cloth (Japanese paper, silk, etc.)
- 5. Oil is applied to the Japanese paper
- 6. Completion
Wagasa is lighter than Western-style umbrellas because it does not use metal bones. Another attraction is the warmth of the handmade work. Another point that is not well known is the sound of Washi paper repelling rain. While Western-style umbrellas are overwhelmingly popular, we recommend this type of umbrella for those who want to find their own unique style that is different from others in terms of taste and emotion.
How to use Wagasa correctly
The handling of a Wagasa is very different from that of a Western-style umbrella, so care is required. Although opening and closing the umbrella and using it are the same, we will introduce how to hold and manage it especially before and after use.
How to Hold Wagasa
When carrying a Wagasa, you should basically hold it by the head, not by the handle. If there is a string attached to the head, hold it there. If you hold it after use, your hand will get wet, but if you hold it by the handle like a Western-style umbrella, water will enter the inside of the umbrella, which is not waterproofed. Also, by holding it here, you can prevent the Japanese umbrella, which does not have a clasp, from spreading.
After use in rainy weather, drain water thoroughly in a shady, well-ventilated place, and dry it fully or half-open. Avoid wiping the surface with a cloth, as this may cause the washi to fry. Also, the Washi of Bansasa and Janome umbrellas that use oiled paper may peel off due to the hardening effect of the oil over time. In this case, you can ask the store where you purchased the umbrella to repair it, but in most cases, it is cheaper to purchase it than to repair it. Holes that have been made accidentally can be sealed by joining washi or other paper.
The above is an introduction about Wagasa. In addition to the ones introduced here, there are other types of Wagasa, such as the Nodate umbrella used for Nodate (tea ceremony) and the Tsumaori Gasa used for ceremonies and tea ceremonies at temples and shrines, etc. Looking at them in this way, we feel that the elegance unique to Wagasa cannot be replaced by Western umbrellas. Although the production volume has decreased in recent years, the beauty and functionality unique to Wagasa are being reevaluated, and the number of young craftsmen who take up the challenge of making Wagasa is on the increase. It is also a good idea to use a Western-style umbrella for everyday use, and to have one that can be used only on special occasions or when wearing Japanese clothes, or to keep it as an interior decoration item.