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Heat brings hope for Tokyo's handmade umbrella maker

Heat brings hope for Tokyo's handmade umbrella maker
Published September 17, 2023 Updated September 17, 2023 Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

TOKYO — One of Tokyo’s last handmade umbrella shops has weathered many storms and is now thriving thanks to booming demand for parasols as Japanese summers get hotter, including increasingly from men.

“You’ll feel cool under a parasol… Once you use it, you can’t let go,” promised Mr Hiroyuki Komiya, the owner of Komiya Shoten, on a recent sweltering day. 

The 54-year-old’s grandfather started the business 93 years ago.

It used to be one of 70 shops selling handmade umbrellas in Nihonbashi, an area that was once the core of old Tokyo. 

Now only Komiya Shoten and a handful of others remain in the whole city, pushed out of business by cheap made-in-China plastic products on sale in every convenience store.

Unlike these mass-manufactured rival products, Komiya Shoten uses quality textiles made in Japan. The umbrellas are handmade by in-house craftworkers with techniques in use since Japan’s Meiji era (1868-1912).

“You need at least five, six years to master umbrella making,” craftsman Ikko Tanaka said, as he carefully attached the navy fabric onto the carbon fibre umbrella ribs.

But their products also use modern technology, coating the fabric with materials that block the light nearly 100 per cent. 

They last longer but do not come cheap, costing several hundred dollars. 


Traditionally Japanese umbrellas were made of wood, bamboo and paper called washi coated with oil to repel Japan’s often torrential rain, and took weeks to make.

But the import of Western umbrellas — as we know them today — began in 1859 after the country ended its 220-year-old isolation policy, according to the Japan Umbrella Promotion Association.

Western ones were an expensive fashion accessory but they spread across Japan in the Meiji period as local makers spotted a gap in the market.

Mr Komiya’s grandfather was one of them, moving to Tokyo to become a craftsman and starting the company in 1930. “Everyone who wanted to be chic dreamed of having one,” his grandson said.