Foreigners visiting Japan for the first time might be taken aback by how widespread the use of umbrellas is. Sure, during rain storms umbrellas make sense, but even during pleasantly sunny days you’re likely to see enough women putting up parasols to make you think the Bauhaus were in town.
Even this is understandable as “the Land of the Rising Sun” is not just another pretty name. In the middle of summer the often cloudless skies leave us at the mercy of the sun’s unrelenting rays. Combined with a lack of trees in many urban areas there’s simply no escape. And with pale skin traditionally considered to be a sign of beauty and elegance, it’s no wonder so many women still carry a parasol, but it would seem that the heat is getting so bad these days that men, too, are bit by bit turning to a once exclusively feminine accessory for relief and protection.
More and more major department stores have been increasing their stock of male-oriented parasols. Hanshin Department Store in Umeda, Osaka first began selling them five years ago. At that time they moved 30 units in the entire year. However, now they say they can sell that many in a single week.
It seems that aside from the heat relief, men too are feeling self-conscious about the blemish inducing effects of sunlight and hope to maintain an even white pallor in the country where “you look pale” is considered a compliment.
This is also as umbrella designers are tapping deeper into what men want in a parasol. While frilly lace and flowers are clearly out of the question, manufacturers are putting out “function-over-form” parasols that have the ability to withstand both sun and heavy rain or can open and shut automatically with the touch of a button.
The style of the fabric is important as well with many patterns featuring dark colors or dress shirt type stripes and tones. Kazuhiro Miyatake of the Shinsaibashi Miyatake umbrella shop in Osaka goes one step further vending parasols with stylish skulls printed on them.
Mr. Miyatake was well ahead of his time selling men’s parasols for 15 years now, he too claimed to only have sold 10 in his first year, but now is selling about 1,000 every 12 months. Girlfriends and daughters have bought them as presents and more than a few young male professionals such as salesmen who have to walk long distances outdoors are getting in on it too.
Despite the increase in male parasol use it’s still not exactly a habit taking the nation by storm. The fundamental emasculating effects of toting around a typically feminine accoutrement are hard for a lot of guys to get over. I for one would probably have once needed a parasol designed with a stripper riding a T. rex and fighting a Desert Eagle-wielding Satan before even considering using one.
But now, seeing guys like Mr. Miyatake walk around with one of his modestly designed models does a lot to dispel preconceptions of a parasol. And he certainly looks a lot less sweaty than the rest of us. The images above show rather loud umbrellas for the tastes of most guys, but something understated like the one pictured below could probably catch on pretty easily.
According to a study by the Ministry of Environment, in 2011 it was determined that walking outside without a suit jacket would reduce heat stress by 10 percent. Moreover taking off one’s jacket and using a parasol would bump that relief up to 20 percent and be on par with walking under a tree-lined street. If results like that make you want to become one of the trailblazing parasol-using males in Japan you can check out Mr. Miyatake’s selection online or contact an umbrella dealer near you.