Hiyoshiya, The 170 Year-Old Japanese Wagasa Maker

Japanese umbrella are called wagasa. Less than 10 wagasa makers still exist in Japan, and only one in Kyoto, Hiyoshiya, a 170year-old craft institution.

Hiyoshiya continues crafting wagasa but also restores old ones (in fact they are the only remaining workshop in Japan able to restore wagasa).

Wagasa have always played an important role in traditional Japan, displayed during festivals (with wagasa up to 3 meters wide!), exterior tea ceremony and weddings. And of course the Japanese phantasmagory conjures images of Maiko and Geiko carrying bright red umbrellas.

The traditional wagasa is made of a wooden handle wrapped in cord, bamboo ribs (usually 48 ribs are used), cotton threads, and coloured washi paper. The paper is oiled so it becomes waterproof, and the ribs are lacquered, giving a beautiful thick and soft texture. It can take up to 3months to craft a wagasa.

Hiyoshiya is run by the 5th generation owner and is a5 artisans workshop.Like many traditional crafts wagasa making is slowly disappearing as usage becomes limited and the younger generation is somehow losing interest. Another issue is to find suppliers for the material. For instance only one craftsman still produces the necessary ribs, so Hiyoshiya is trying to learn the process to be able to maintain the tradition for as long as possible.

Interestingly, Hiyoshiya has very creatively invented new products capitalizing on the traditional techniques that are more fitted to modern living (lamps in particular), enabling the house to expand its business, both domestically and internationally.

Preserving traditional crafts is so important, at Atelier Ikiwa we are keen to find ways to help develop commercial opportunities outside of Japan in order to keep crafts alive and also imagine how to expand a traditional activity into untapped territories.