A traditional Japanese umbrella or wagasa, made of bamboo and Japanese paper, is a beautiful thing. The most common umbrella however, is this cheap, translucent type made from plastic and vinyl. It can be bought practically anywhere at kiosks and convenience stores.
Mari at watashi to tokyo explains how they are so common that sense of ownership is very low.
Actually at the office, so many people use that umbrella that it is impossible to tell which one is mine or yous. So we take one when it suddenly rains, without meaning any harm. People seem to think as if the clear vinyl umbrella is freeware. Almost automatically, people collect vinyl umbrella like this. Ah, I do the same.
Intentional or not, the umbrella stands in front of convenience store doors are a prime location for umbrella switching and theft. A commenter on Tagame's blog recounts a recent episode:
A fed up @Yutarine darkly tweeted:
Many people have made it a habit to check the forecast in the morning. Lester Ho said:
As you know that the weather report in Japan are 90% accurate and everyone will know today’s weather and if it’s going to rain, you can see plenty of people ready their umbrella before it starts raining on the day.
While 90% might be an exaggeration, not being caught off guard (and wet!) is important. Perhaps it reveals a bit of your habits? The blogger at Odeon Apple wonders if a salesperson with a vinyl umbrella, as opposed to a “real” one, would come off as a bit hurried and untrustworthy to their customer.
There's even an iPhone app from a Japanese company whose sole purpose is to inform whether you need to bring an umbrella today. The Tokyo Hacker blog introduces it in a post titled “Say goodbye to vinyl umbrellas” [ja].
Lost and found
Umbrellas are #1 in the list of lost properties delivered to the Metropolitan Police Department. In 2006, there were approximately 430,000 umbrellas delivered, which accounts for more than 20% of all lost properties.
The Association of Japanese Private Railways even starts their definition of “lost properties” with a mention of umbrellas in a dictionary of railway related terminology.
The city of Kanazawa operates a project that makes use of the piles of umbrellas that are collected by the railway company each year. They are made available for free rental in a dozen places, including tourist centers and buses. Marked with the logo of singer Eri Takena, they can be returned to any of the designated spots. Bad habits don't seem to go away, though. A majority of the umbrellas went unreturned last year – it seems that many tourists take them home as keepsakes.
It won't be long before the Japan Meteorological Agency officially declares the beginning of the mainland's rainy season.