Walking down the streets in a beautiful kimono holding a delicate umbrella, the Japanese beauty cuts a graceful figure. This is the endearing image of the wagasa, a traditional Japanese umbrella, fondly illustrated in many Ukiyo-e prints and picture books during the Edo period (1603-1868).
Originally introduced by China during the Heian period (794-1185), the wagasa quickly grew in popularity among the aristocrats and eventually, to the common people. It started off as a functional accessory meant for protection from rain and sunlight, and they were used by everyone including the men. Evolved during the Edo period, they became a symbol of style as fashion reached new heights of importance.
Back then, each process of wagasa making was divided, with every craftsman specialising in different techniques. But in this modern age, the wagasa craftsmen take on more roles because there are lesser skilled artisans around. Also, some young craftsmen prefer to be involved in most of the production process by themselves so that they can create unique wagasas that reflects their individual creativity.
Preserving Cultural Heritage through Innovation
Fortunately, nestled within the scenic city of Gifu lies a glimmer of hope. A new generation of passionate craftsmen is seeking a revival of this beautiful art form. Unwilling to see this traditional culture disappear, traditional artisans banded together to form a collective voice.
Located in an old Japanese townhouse, this retail-cum-workshop transports you into a magical world of wagasa. Rows of the most beautiful Japanese umbrellas line the shelves quietly, waiting for the moment to open up and show off its full glory. Staying true to its craft, Wagasa CASA still follows traditional techniques and materials, such as Japanese washi paper, bamboo, and wood. But to keep up with modern convenience, they also use some metal parts such as a spring and ferrule.
Minimalistic, subtly patterned and bold floral prints, every one of them is gorgeous. However, there is one limited edition wagasa that captures the attention.
The Sakurawa umbrella
Originally crafted as a special gift for Emily Blunt at the Japanese premiere of “Mary Poppins Returns”, this beautiful wagasa caught the eyes of many and even trended on social media. The creator, Mikiko Kawai, then adapted it into an original design that is now a made-to-order item at Wagasa CASA.
If you are looking to own a beautiful handcrafted wagasa, you should complement it with a pretty carrying bag. This particular collection is lovingly handmade by crafstmen Yuki Matsuo and Aya Osuga, using Mino washi paper. Not only is it pleasing to the eyes, traditional Mino Japanese paper is also very durable.
With young owners at the helm, Wagasa CASA seeks to change the perception of the traditional Japanese umbrella. Yes, it is an important accessory for Japanese weddings and ceremonies but it can be much more. Sophisticated designs are created to appeal to the modern users and by doing so, they are on the journey to keep this century-old tradition alive.