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Understanding Umbrella Etiquette in Japan

The umbrella is a big part of Japan’s history. Japanese citizens have been using umbrellas to shield themselves from rain and sun for centuries. Many may not know that the country is a wet, rainy place—although the rainy season officially lasts for a month, it often goes on longer, at times up to five months. Given Japan’s weather, many see leaving the house without an umbrella foolish.

Since umbrellas are so prominent in Japanese culture, it’s important to practice proper manners—learn more about umbrella etiquette in Japan.

A Quick Overview

An incredibly respectful culture, there are various Japanese manners and customs to be aware of. There are many unspoken rules regarding everyday activities, and umbrella etiquette is one of them. However, thanks to the lengthy rainy season, there is plenty of time to learn it. If you visit Japan during this time, you’ll see umbrellas bobbing up and down busy urban areas. While you would expect foot traffic to look like a slalom skier zig-zagging, citizens carry out an effortless execution.

Walking

When walking, the oncoming traffic gauges the rhythm of your walk. Take note of the pace and umbrella height of the opposing side of people so the umbrellas can pass each other without collision.

Using Public Transportation

If you’re the first person to exit public transportation, do not immediately walk away. It’s expected that the first one off the bus will open their umbrella and hold it over the head of the person behind them until they can open their umbrella. This will continue until there is no one left to shelter from the rain.

Shopping

When you enter a store, you’ll find a container filled with long plastic bags. Those are for you to deposit your wet umbrella lest you drip water all over the floor while shopping. Once you finish, there is a bin to recycle the used bag. If there are no bags available, stores will typically have umbrella racks available. Plus, considering umbrellas act as an extension of the owner, you don’t have to fear someone taking your belongings. Everyone is very cautious as to not accidentally pick up the wrong umbrella.

Broken Umbrellas

It’s also important to note that during the rainy season, winds can reach 20-30 mph and easily destroy an umbrella. As such, the streets of Japan can become overrun with broken umbrellas. If the wind renders your umbrella useless, you have two choices: hold on to it until you find a dumpster or drop it and keep going. One option is not better than the other—just how broken umbrellas litter the streets, dumpsters are also overflowing with discarded belongings.

What do you think?

Written by Logan Voss

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