By Naoki Mizutani
How many umbrellas do you own? I have at least three or more umbrellas. According to Weather News’ the 2014 Global Umbrella survey by Weather News, Japanese people have an average of 3.3 umbrellas – which, surprisingly was the highest number of umbrellas to own among the countries surveyed. As for the reason, Weather News suggested that wet clothes do not dry well in Japan because of the humid climate, and the use of umbrellas is widespread among the Japanese public from Edo era. At that time, however, umbrella was a little expensive for public, so they used one umbrella carefully for a long time. The world average was 2.4 umbrellas, with China ranked fifth with 2.2, and England listed, eighth with 1.9 umbrellas. Naturally, countries that have many rainy days tend to rank in higher positions.
This survey was conducted in June 2014, and 37,663 weather reporters from 35 countries cooperated with Weather News to investigate the world umbrella conditions. Details of the survey can be found on their website.
Just how many umbrellas do Japanese people use per year? Japan Umbrella Promotion Association(JUPA) estimates that roughly 120 million to 130 million umbrellas are used annually, which is approximately equal to the population of Japan. It is said that this consumption amount is the largest in the world, and more than half of which are plastic umbrellas. Generally speaking, plastic umbrellas are not used carefully compared with colored fabric ones. For example, if you take a walk in the city after a typhoon, you will find many broken plastic umbrellas thrown away on the streets. They are hard to disassemble, and often buried without taking to pieces.
Furthermore, many people tend to misplace or forget their umbrellas. According to a press release issued by JR East in 2006, a remarkable 270,000 umbrellas were delivered as lost property to the train company in 2004. Although station staff repeatedly remind the passengers to pay attention to their umbrellas on rainy days, umbrellas continue to be the most frequent item on the lost-and-found list. What happens to the lost umbrellas kept long time in station or police office? Of course, they are disposed of, even if they are still usable.
How should we improve this not-eco-friendly situation? Project “SHIBUKASA” attempts to tackle the issue through providing an umbrella-sharing service in Shibuya. This service is an umbrella sharing system around Shibuya. Collecting the contributions of lost plastic umbrellas from offices, they make them suitable for partnership stores like hair salons, cafés, and apparel shops around Shibuya. When it suddenly rains, these plastic umbrellas are lent to the shoppers caught without an umbrella. This project aims to create a sustainable community with kindness and connection between people.
I think how Japanese people treat umbrellas reflects the modern Japanese attitude toward goods. Would you like to reconsider the relation between you and your umbrella?