All About Japan

Japanese Umbrella Etiquette

| Rainy Days , Life in Japan

When rainy season in Japan is in full-swing, the last thing anyone wants is to be caught in a downpour without an umbrella! And in a country with such high regard for manners, you also don't want to be caught unaware. Here are five tips to help you stay dry and avoid a rainy day faux pas.

1. Where to Buy an Umbrella

If it suddenly starts to rain, the easiest thing to do is run to a convenience store, both for cover and to buy one of the clear, plastic umbrellas that go hand-in-hand with rainy season. Large umbrellas seem very popular in Japan—since they offer more coverage, it's easy to see why—and the ones they sell at the convenience stores can get up to 70 centimeters (nearly 28 inches) and only cost around ¥500. They're great in a pinch, but beware! They don't always hold up to strong winds, and weren't made for long-term use.

If you're going to stay in Japan for awhile, you may want to invest in a more durable, more stylish model. Umbrellas are sold at department stores like Atré, big electronic stores like Bic Camera as well as specialty stores like COOL MAGIC SHU in Tokyo.

2. Don’t Be Messy!

In Japan, there are plenty of ways to avoid creating puddles indoors. Outside of convenience stores there are often small racks where you can temporarily leave your umbrella. In some places, such as larger museums, these are even lockable.

If there are no racks, it’s quite likely there will be a sponge to dry off your umbrella, or an umbrella bag dispenser. Simply insert your umbrella into the dispenser, pull, and voila! Your umbrella is drip-proof. There are usually bins to deposit used bags in when you're done, so be sure to dispose of them properly!

Office buildings or shopping centers with several floors might have these types of dryers. It's almost like a carpet on wheels—just swipe your umbrella through until it's dry enough to fold up without worry.

3. Umbrella Disposal

Spend enough time in Japan and it's highly likely that, at some point, an unexpectedly big gust of wind will fold your umbrella like complicated origami. Not only does it render the umbrella unusable, but it becomes a piece of trash that you have to carry with you as a reminder of its failure and betrayal. Some ne'er-do-wells opt to leave them in the aforementioned racks outside convenience stores, or simply lying in the street. Don't be like them!

Japan meticulously sorts its garbage into distinct categories, such as recyclables (which are further sorted into categories such as paper, plastic, cans and bottles), burnable waste and nonburnable waste. Umbrellas qualify as nonburnable waste (though you get bonus points if you strip the recyclable plastic first), so dispose of it accordingly. Be aware that garbage collection days vary depending on your area! There are area-specific guides that can help make sense of when and where to throw away your garbage. If you are staying in a hotel, the front desk can often help you properly dispose of any broken umbrellas.

4. Be Considerate!

Since umbrellas are so big—and Japanese streets and sidewalks can be quite narrow—it's sometimes difficult to navigate without getting in someone's way. Try your best to lift your umbrella up or down accordingly as someone approaches you. A see-through umbrella (and a little mindfulness) can help with this!

Avoid cycling and holding an umbrella—it's illegal and dangerous! Many cycle shops and online retailers sell umbrella holders (kasa horuda, 傘ホルダー) so you can enjoy hands-free coverage. Otherwise, it’s best to invest in a good raincoat or waterproof clothing for any stormy cycling.

It's also important to consider how you handle your umbrella when it isn't open. Japanese cities can be quite crowded—especially in train stations and shopping centers—so please be mindful of how you carry or hold your umbrella indoors as well. No one wants to be on the business end of a neglected umbrella!

5. Parasols

Umbrellas in Japan aren’t just for keeping dry—many people use them to keep out of the sun. On particularly sunny days you will often see people walking around with opaque umbrellas that keep them shady wherever they go. If you have sensitive skin or are prone to sun burns, it might be a good idea to follow suit! Just be aware that many of the same manners apply.

With these five tips, you'll be able to handle your umbrella like a pro! For more insights into the rainy season in Japan, have a look at our Rainy Season 101 and our hub on how to handle rainy days!