Umbrellas are absolutely essential here. We’ve already seen far more rain in the three and a half months that we’ve been here than we would see in a year or two back home on the Canadian prairie. Rich and I each have two umbrellas, one small telescoping one that slips easily into a book bag and goes to school with us each day and one full sized one that goes with us if it’s already raining when we leave home. There are two choices when it comes to purchasing an umbrella – buy a cheap one and replace it every time the wind blows or pay more for a better quality one that has a chance of lasting. We see many of the cheap variety abandoned beside the road on rainy days. We opted for better quality umbrellas but we bought both our full sized ones at the recycle store. Richard was determined to find a BIG umbrella as he really doesn’t like being wet so his is actually a very large golf umbrella! It’s even vented in such a way that the wind can pass through it. Otherwise I’d fear that it might pick him up and carry him away like Mary Poppins!
Umbrellas on rainy days I can understand but it’s quite another thing to get used to seeing them on sunny ones. These aren’t actually umbrellas, of course; they’re parasols. While a parasol looks like an umbrella, it’s generally a little smaller and is made of lightweight UV protective material. Many of them are very pretty, edged in lace or ruffles. Fair skin is considered beautiful in Japan so parasols are a common sight. Many of the women who don’t carry parasols wear hats or visors that would put our North American golf visors to shame. These ones have huge brims that completely shade the face. I’m sure that many who see me out and about are appalled that I don’t protect my coveted pale skin from the sun and when the topic comes up in conversation, people here are astonished that North Americans actually try to get suntans. Obviously, this would not be the place to open a tanning salon!
Like the parasol, the folding hand fan is still very much a part of Japanese life. I have one that I carry in my book bag and another that usually stays at home unless I’m on my way to church, in which case, I slip it into the bag with my Bible. Even though many buildings are air conditioned, there are plenty of occasions when these provide much needed relief from the oppressive, muggy heat which we are really just beginning to experience.