One man and his brolly

By on June 1, 2008

Weapon, prop, fashion accessory, and a good umbrella should be treated like an inseparable best friend during this season. It should be one with spokes of unbendable steel, light enough to tote around in a bag or pocket, cute enough to brighten up a dark sky. In Japan, you can even find ones with foldable feet so you won’t even need an umbrella stand. There are also ones that clip onto bicycle handles so you won’t have to learn the fine art of riding a bike while holding an umbrella.

People treasure, hord, revamp, and renew their brollies. There is an unwritten rule that in Japan you must be ‘brollific’. However this is not the case elsewhere. In the UK, those using them are the exception rather than the rule. Why don’t British people use umbrellas every time it rains? I have been asked about this many times by my Japanese friends, and there is no easy answer. I have tried to justify it by saying that it rains all the time and we are just used to it. I have said that we walk shorter distances and thus wouldn’t get so wet. I have remarked that it is too much troubled to have one on you at all times. But somehow, I don’t believe it. Asking other friends from around the world about umbrella use in their home countries, I find similar answers, but none given with much conviction.

I recently found myself considering the question once again. I left work around 5:30pm, the weather relatively pleasant. An hour and several train rides across Tokyo later, things had changed. A steady downpour was in progress, surprising me as I woke up at my local station. I don’t remember the weather forecast telling me that rain was on the way, and so I stood momentarily near the ticket gates, watching the hordes of commuters filing past me, magically producing umbrellas out of nowhere.

What was I going to do? What would I have done had I been back home? I wouldn’t have cared at all, and would have bounded out into the rain, hunched my shoulders and headed home, striding slightly quicker than normal. Yet, in Japan, this didn’t cross my mind. I didn’t have an umbrella and, at that moment, I wanted one. The convenience store next to the station lured me in and I checked out the range of options. I chose one in a delightful milky-white color, handed over my money and walked the ten minutes back to my house.

Something felt wrong. Was I missing out on some kind of special experience that one can only get when umbrella-less? A few minutes from home, I decided to find out. I put my purchase down and let the rain hit me in the face. I waited for that special feeling to build up inside me. I waited a little bit more. In the end, feeling wet and a little bit silly, I just trudged home. I added the umbrella to the eight already piled up near the door, and quietly dried my face. I considered a new question. Why don’t I carry a small umbrella around in my bag?

About Heather Day