History of Plastic Umbrella in Japan
One afternoon, the sky was murky and at any moment a rain drop would fall from contaminated gray crowds. A friend came and said "Ame ga furimasune (It´s going to rain)". He was so excited to show me his "sugoi" umbrella that he brought back from his Japan trip.
It was the most common thing to see, at least for me. It was a plastic transparent umbrella that you can buy even at Kiosk when you get caught a sudden shower in Japan. It´s so cheap and weak that people use as a disposable umbrella.
Yes, it was something so habitual for me but it´s true that I hadn´t seen it for many years. And for this friend, the discovery of the plastic transparent umbrella was something sugoi.
This is biniiru-gasa (ビニール傘/ plastic umbrella). Costs you about 500 yen but protects you from a sudden shower at least from getting wet your perfectly styled hair, hihihi.
Today, I talk about the history of biniiru-gasa a little bit.
♦ 1958 (Showa 33)
Plastic umbrellas you can buy at the station, Kiosk, konbini or anywhere came out as a fashionable luxurious item at the beginning.
It was 1949 (Shouwa 24) when Mitsuo Sudou (須藤三男) came back from the internment in Siberia, who was then the 9th owner of an umbrella wholesale store, “Dakeda Chou-gorou Shouten (武田長五郎商店)” established since 1721 (Kyouho 6). It had been four years since the WWII ended and the market was already taken by bigger manufactures and Sudou was struggling to restart his business.
So Sudou began to look for a new design and manufacturing for more original and unique product. What he had found was a tablecloth which American army brought in. Most of the umbrellas at that time were made of cotton, often the colour came off when it rained and left stain on the kimono. Suddenly a light bulb lightened above Sudou´s head. “What if I covered the umbrella with a water-proof plastic sheet?”
The problem was the way to stick the plastic to the rib. If he stitched, the water leaked from the holes. Then he heard that plastic can be stuck with a high frequency heat and he ordered special machine to a factory. In 1953, he sold it as an umbrella cover and had a big success.
However in the late 50´s nylon era arrived and there was no problem with the colour coming out. People stop buying Sudou´s umbrella cover. He didn´t give up, now he wanted to make a plastic umbrella.
The first plastic umbrella came out in 1958 wasn´t transparent but milky white colour. Wholesale shops ,which sold usual fabric umbrellas considered plastic umbrella as a competitor and didn´t want to sell them in the shop. The sales didn´t grow as Sudou wanted. So he took them to the clothing shops in Ginza (銀座).
The saviour came unexpectedly. An American buyer who was visiting Japan for the Tokyo Olympic Games offered Sudou to sell them in NY.
It rains a lot in NY in winter and people liked birdcage style umbrellas which could cover whole shoulders, moreover, they can see their way with the transparent material. Sudou first invented a special plastic material with a manufacture, which didn´t get stiff nor soft depending on the temperature. In 1964, current style plastic umbrella was made and New Yorkers jumped at them.
In the late 60´s the plastic umbrella also became the latest fashion in Japan. There are some stories about how it began; one says that a weekly magazine had pick it up saying “colourful plastic umbrellas were in trend in Ginza. Get one as a souvenir of the school trip to Tokyo” and other says that a TV program showed on TV saying “everyone had a transparent umbrella in Ginza”.
Since then, other Japanese manufactures joined and there were 50 companies were producing the umbrella at the peak period. It cost 1,800 – 2,800 yen. Although it doesn´t exist anymore, an association of plastic umbrella was established back then.
Head wind blew from outside. The technique flowed to Taiwan where functioning as the main assembly plant for the State since there was no tariff on the products. The exportation to the US all moved to Taiwan. In the 80´s they even started exporting to Japan. Within 10 years, many Japanese manufactures had disappeared.
All production process can´t be automatic and lower personal cost is the key to keep the low product cost. Transparent umbrella doesn´t follow the latest trend and they don´t need to worry about unsold items. Therefore, the difference of the production cost directly affects to the Price cost difference. This characteristic of manufacturing encouraged a quick switch of the production source location.
“I´ve developed a perfect water-proof material. It´s a real shame the plastic umbrella has become a symbol of disposable goods.”
The production source has moved from Taiwan to China and 100 yen umbrella has arrived. Osaka based wholesale company Paltac imported 6.2 million from China last year, but the price is depending on konbini.
Now there is only one manufacturing company exists in Japan, which is White Rose, former “Dakeda Chou-gorou Shouten (武田長五郎商店)”. They are designing new plastic umbrellas.
For the candidates on the streets.
The ribs are made of glass fiber which is much lighter and stronger.
"Terra Bozen" is a bigger design for the monks to be able to read sutra without getting wet.
Empress Michiko use
"Enyu" For elegant ladies.
“SHIBUKASA” is a rental umbrella system which started in Shibuya (渋谷) in 2007. All plastic umbrellas are left at konbini or on the streets without owners. You can borrow it free and if you return it, they give you 50 yen discount ticket that you can use tie-up shops. There are same services available at Kansai Aireport, in Hiroshima city and Kanazawa city.
It seems like that the plastic umbrella has created a new social system, possession to share.
(Article from Asahi Net News: http://bit.ly/nUVCj6)
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