JinK: Bishop-san, Boston has been getting an unusual amount of rain lately.
Bishop: Well, they say April showers bring May flowers. But I know what you mean; rain is no fun.
JinK: Rain is depressing, isn’t it. Even so, I noticed that Americans don’t really use umbrellas
– even when it’s raining a lot. Probably less than 10% of people use umbrellas.
Bishop: That’s true. In Japan, it’s more like 90%. Or you could say everyone uses umbrellas,
barring exceptional circumstances. Even if you forget to bring an umbrella, you can get
cheap plastic ones at the convenience store for as low as 300 yen ($3 USD).
JinK: For sure. Japan is number one in the world in umbrella consumption. 100 million umbrellas
are sold every year in Japan.
Bishop: 100 million? That’s amazing. Japan’s population is 120 million, so that works out to about
one umbrella per person per year, from babies to old people.
JinK: When I was in Japan I had probably 5 or 6 umbrellas. I’d leave a couple at work so I’d have them
in case I forgot to bring one on a rainy day.
Also, the most commonly lost item on the metro by far is umbrellas.
Bishop: I can see how that would be true. But why do Japanese use umbrellas so much
as opposed to Americans who don’t?
JinK: It rains a lot in Japan, and it tends to be humid, so you really get drenched
if you don’t use an umbrella, then you feel gross. In the U.S., the raindrops are smaller and
the weather changes more quickly; even when it rains, it often stops quickly,
so you don’t need an umbrella. Also you dry off a lot more quickly. There are also
strong gusts of wind, so it’s harder to hold on to an umbrella.
Bishop: It’s also kind of a pain to carry an umbrella around all day. Now that you mention it,
umbrellas seem to be deeply ingrained part of Japanese culture.
The umbrella shops do sell all sorts of colors and types.
JinK: In the U.S., an umbrella is seen as a tool to protect you from the rain,
or something you’d buy from a museum gift shop.
But in Japan, an umbrella is part of your total appearance – a fashion item.
Of course, there are exceptions, like the cheap plastic umbrellas.
Bishop: That’s true; Japanese umbrella shops are quite fashionable.
JinK: Rain is something that people tend to dislike. That is what makes it all the more important
to put out the extra effort to look good, or put one’s best face forward, so to speak. I suppose that’s
the way Japanese people see it. Speaking of umbrellas, there is the concept of “ai-ai-gasa”
Bishop: What is that?
JinK: I wasn’t sure how to translate that, so I looked it up – it’s “sharing an umbrella” in English.
That’s technically correct, but there’s much more meaning behind “ai-ai-gasa.”
Bishop: What is this hidden meaning?
JinK: Ha ha, I wouldn’t say it’s a hidden meaning exactly.
But, if you write two people’s names beneath the picture of an umbrella, it means that they are
in love with each other. This is because the word “ai” also means love (in addition to
its meaning of “sharing” the umbrella). It’s a homonym.
Bishop: Interesting. That’s actually quite different from the perception in the U.S. In American movies,
you always see couples kissing under the rain with no umbrella. That way is seen as more
passionate and romantic. So in Japan, being under an umbrella is more romantic?
JinK: I think so. In Japan, umbrellas can be considered romantic items. Japan does not have
the same open culture of touching and hugging in front of other people that the U.S. does.
So, cuddling up together under an umbrella when it’s raining is a good excuse for a couple
to get closer together.
I bet that even kids these days still write ai-ai-gasa on their books or desks.
Only toward the end of elementary school through middle school, though.
Bishop: There’s something very pure about that.
JinK: Bishop-san, you understand those sensibilities too?
Bishop: Of course. I always do ai-ai-gasa with my wife.
Fact #5: In Japan, the #1 consumer of umbrellas worldwide, umbrellas are also a romantic item
by Bishop & JinK.