What does parking have to do with not using umbrellas? Quite a bit I would think. Being in a car means not getting wet, unless you got the lemon from hell. Even in heavy rains, parking lots are pretty close to entryways. The resulting short sprint from the car to a store entrance, and vice versa, during a thunderstorm never really justified dishing out money for an umbrella for me. I was probably just going to forget it somewhere anyway. Now If I were wearing a suit, or if it was a special occasion, that’s different. I would use an umbrella in those cases. In general, though, I was cool not having one.
Japan is extremely different from America when it comes to umbrellas. It seems like everybody, their mother, and their grandmother has an umbrella. On a rainy day, you will see tons of them. You see men and women riding bikes riding in what I like call the “rain joust” position*, that I have found so ineffective (find out why in the Typhoon Post). At nearly every business establishment or public building that I have been to during a storm, there is an umbrella rack of some kind, that’s loaded with umbrellas. Some of these racks are simple, while others are pretty hard core. For example at the Joyful Gym, there are there two large umbrella racks. One rack is just a standard rack with numerous holes for people to put their umbrellas in. The other rack is one with individual locking mechanisms. There is actually a small combination dial at each hole that’s used to lock your umbrella while you go and workout. I’ve never even tried using the latter rack because it just seems like a bit much.
The “rain joust” position is my name for the way people ride their bikes with one hand, while simultaneously holding their umbrella in the other at like a 35-45 degree angle. I don’t recommend trying this with an opaque/ umbrella…because you can’t see what’s in front of you!
When it rains, you’ll also find that many grocery stores put out small bag dispensers. These long, thin plastic bags are made solely for the purpose of slipping over your wet umbrella after being outside in the rains. I guess it’s good way to keep the floors a littler drier after a downpour.
Japan is also home to some of the cheapest umbrellas I’ve ever seen. At my local convenience store, the cheapest umbrellas I’ve ever seen cost only 500 yen (U.S. equivalent, that’s about $6.50). So if you happen to get caught in the rain during a storm without your umbrella, it costs little to nothing stop into a Seven Eleven, Family Mart, Lawson, etc., and buy one that will get you through. But please keep in mind that you sometimes get what you pay for. I remember buying one of the umbrellas once and trying to use my hand to wipe off some of the excess water. Wiping once got rid of some of the water. Wiping twice got rid of even more water. On the third wipe (no joke) the entire plastic part of the umbrella (the part that keep you dry) rip away from the wire frame*. I just had to toss that sucker. Ah well…
I have heard of the occasional person, usually non-Japanese, just walking up to the umbrella rack while it’s raining, and just taking an umbrella. I don’t think it’s as common for Japanese people to do this unless it’s just an identical umbrella, but I can see how it happens. There are just so many umbrellas in these racks, I would imagine mix-ups happen all the time. To date, I have never taken anybody’s umbrella. I feel like if I take somebody’s umbrella, some strange, Japanese 傘カルマ “Kasa Karma” may come back and get me :O …
Stay dry out there, gang!
Your friendly neighborhood Japan Guy,