Japanese Bangasa Umbrellas
Above: Underside of Japanese Umbrella. © OpenCage Systems / Wikimedia Commons / CC-by-SA-2.5
By Stephanie M. Chambers
History and diverse cultures have much to teach us about the fundamentals of good design. The bangasa, a coarse oilpaper parasol, was typical rain gear in the late Taisho Period in Japan. Beneath its simple shape lies complexity. These two ideals coexist, not as opposites, but integrated in harmony. The natural material of washi paper, bamboo, cotton thread, cashew and sesame oil, persimmon tannin, and tapioca glue were combined with complex construction requiring several paper and wood specialists who split, shaped, affixed, and refined its parts to effect precision opening, snap-hold, and closing functions. Kanso, one of the seven guiding principles of the Zen arts, avoids the gaudy, ornate and embellished in favor of sparse, fresh, and clear. The bangasa perfectly demonstrates a dynamic interplay of the natural world and complex man-made construction. In our architectural practice, we strive for this same aesthetic: to produce clarity in simple, honest, and pure forms that perform continuous, complex functions.