The traditional Japanese paper umbrella (wagasa; 和傘) is a strikingly beautiful thing, which for past generations proved an irresistible canvas upon which Japanese artisans masterfully played. Now, sadly, you almost never see these in daily use. You will likely find only the large, bright red ones used to advertise a restaurant or to escort a bride, or you may occasionally spot one being used by the monks at more traditionally-minded Buddhist temples.
Their beauty has repeatedly tempted me to not just buy one, but to actually use it. Admittedly they are heavy and bulky. More than that, however, it has been my fear of looking utterly out of place amidst the crush of modern, black nylon umbrellas that has prevented me from actually buying one.
But I still like to duck into some old shop where the owner lines up a glittering array. The smell of lacquer and paper is intoxicating. Please open and see!, she urges. Lacquer and paper and bamboo crackle and snap in happy harmony as the umbrella begins to bloom in your hands. Then you turn it over, the top facing you and you almost faint: a tendril of flowers slowly wind toward the top, or perhaps a series of lines swirl seductively across the surface. You twirl it in your hand, watching the radiant paper set off by the lacquered spines, and your soul sings. You catch your breath and think maybe today….