Wagasa or Japanese umbrellas were first introduced to Japan from China at the beginning of the Heian period (794-1185).
The earliest form of wagasa umbrellas was quite different from the traditional Japanese umbrellas of today. They looked more like a straw hat and cape, and were worn less for rain protection than as a way to protect members of the imperial family and aristocrats from sunlight and evil spirits. However, by the late 14th century umbrellas had developed to the point where they looked much like the ones we know today. A historical document written in 1390 shows a picture of a noble person beneath a large umbrella.
Early Japanese umbrellas could not be folded together. The folding structure was an innovation that occurred in the Azuchi Momoyama period (1568-1603). By the middle of the Edo period (1603-1868) umbrella production had developed into a series of craft processes, and production rapidly rose as umbrellas became a popular possession of the common people. Until that time, the common people protected themselves from the rain with straw hats and capes.
Famous Edo-period picture books clearly show that umbrellas were part of daily life. One print by the ukiyoe artist Hiroshige Ando (1797-1858) shows a group of people with umbrellas walking briskly beneath an evening shower (this print is one of Hiroshige’s famous Meisyo Edo Hyakkei or One Hundred Famous Edo Scenes; publish around 1857). Another famous print maker of this period, Utamaro Kitagawa (1753-1806), included umbrellas in many of his works of women and common street scenes.
It is often seen that a low ranking samurai making umbrellas to make money in Japanese samurai movies. Some historical records indicates that this kind of situation occurred after the mid Edo period. The low ranking samurai helped the local province finance by making umbrellas.
Wagasa are also referred to as Karakasa (Chinese umbrellas) since the first umbrellas came to Japan from China. However, many researchers believe that the word karakasa is an abbreviation of a Japanese phrase meaning ‘magical umbrella’, in reference to the magical way Japanese umbrellas could be folded together and opened when required. We take folding umbrellas for granted today but the innovation and craft skills required for such a structure is rare among Japanese craft traditions.
Historically, Japanese umbrellas have also long been a popular fashion accessory. Though practical tools for protection from rain and sunlight, they also had to be attractive and stylish as fashion was a major industry in Japan from the middle of the Edo period onwards. Many Edo-period paintings depict beautiful women in gorgeous kimono with a fashionable umbrella in hand.
For centuries, Japanese umbrellas have also been an essential accessory for Japanese tea ceremony, kabuki and other important forms of traditional Japanese culture. Traditional umbrellas were designed and produced for all kinds of people and situations. Certainly Japan is one of the only countries in the world that can claim to have such an old and original umbrella culture.
As the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years (794-1868), Kyoto has been the center of nearly every important aspect of Japanese culture including traditional umbrellas. Compared to other Japanese umbrellas, traditional Kyoto umbrellas are known for their simplicity, delicate beauty, and the exceptional precision of the master craftsmen who make them.
Hiyoshiya has long had a strong connection with the leading practitioners of the Japanese tea ceremony. The shop is located around the corner from the headquarters of Japanese two largest tea ceremony schools. In the world of tea ceremony, simplicity and elegance are the two most important aesthetic factors. Hiyoshiya successfully developed an original style of Japanese umbrella, in response to the requests of leading tea ceremony masters. These special, large-size umbrellas are known as Honshiki Nodate-gasa.
Hiyoshiya’s umbrellas are made with the finest quality materials, collected from all over Japan. Different qualities of washi paper are used to suit the specific feeling and style of each kind of umbrella (from Fukui, Gifu and Toyama prefecture). They use the finest bamboo obtained from special groves in Gifu Prefecture or Kyoto City. Additionally, the decorative aspects of our umbrellas make use of a number of traditional Kyoto craft forms including lacquer, braiding, and fine metal work.
the long-established wagasa manufacturer since 1690.
“We have been preserving tradition and culture of Japanese umbrellas for over three hundred years.
Our hope is to introduce and bequeath the beauty of Japanese umbrellas to the world from historical Kyoto, wishing that people in the world, not only in Japan, would love Kyoto and wagasa, the washi-made umbrellas and parasols.”