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Red Plastic Umbrella

I bought this umbrella one Saturday afternoon when pouring rain caught me unprepared outside Omotesando station in Tokyo. It was in a small shop, the kind you wouldn’t notice unless you are in a desperate need for an umbrella, and there was a line. Parallel to the queue there was row of buckets, with umbrellas arranged according to their price. automatically I picked a standard, transparent one, but while waiting I had some time to gaze at the other products.

Rainy urban landscape in japan includes countless transparent plastic umbrellas, sometimes referred to as “umbrella bloom”. They are strong, cheap and elegant, and would mach with every outfit. Their history goes back to the 1950’s - when umbrella store owner was inspired by american army tablecloth, and started producing covers to the cotton umbrellas that were popular at the time. Nowadays they are sold in every convenience store, and found on the entrance of almost every home, office, shop, hotel or public building. and what was good for Charlotte, form Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, is definitely good enough for me.


But that day, holding it in my hand it suddenly looked so boring. I am an architect, wearing almost exclusively black or grayscale clothes, because I like the idea of dressing according to your profession. Of course a transparent umbrella fits perfectly, and completes the notorious head-to-toe black look. But something didn’t feel right. There were not many colors to choose from - pink and red and light green - which is still more then you can usually find at this kind of places, but the red one was perfect. I switched before my turn came and crossed the street to meet my architect friends for lunch.

Plastic umbrella. 60 cm in radius (as written on a sticker that is attached to its handle) 82 cm long when it’s folded. Almost entirely red, transparent, with two different tones of red for the different kinds of plastic it is made from, silver metal structure, and a black button for easy opening. It is absolutely identical to the white transparent one, but colorful.

I use this umbrella ever since, and discovered it makes my black clothes even more black. I still keep my professional appearance, but get rid of some of its strictness. It is also very useful - when I put it in the “umbrella bank” at the entrance to the office, no one will borrow it because its obviously mine.

I picked up this object in a moment of transition. Working in Tokyo for almost a year now I decided its not the right place for me anymore. It is powerful, elegant and interesting, but too unanimous, strict and disciplined for my future.

When I leave Japan though I am planning to abandon the red umbrella here. I will take the simple, transparent one as a souvenir back home.

Images:

Top - From the film "Lost in Translation", 2003, by Sofia Coppola

Bottom - "A Sea of Umbrellas" by Les Taylor https://www.flickr.com/photos/25802474@N04/9139927453

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