№ 32: Inconvenient Canopies

A discarded umbrella in a local park

They lurk in great piles behind convenience stores and in train station utility rooms. They are clustered in homes, offices, public toilets, parks, waiting rooms, and restaurants. They congregate in unpredictable numbers, multiplying when nobody’s looking, becoming over-numerous. Until they’re needed, that is. When the rain begins, they vanish quickly into the ether.

If you took a year’s worth of rainy days in the Tokyo area and put them all together, they would last a cumulative four and a half months. Umbrellas are, therefore, an inescapable and lackluster part of life.

These devices have remained nearly unchanged in both their design and their mediocrity for hundreds of years. They will keep you somewhat dry, so long as the rain isn’t too heavy (torrential rains splash) or too light (a mist easily wafts). If the wind is strong, your canopy may be caught by a gust and inverted, maybe even torn apart. A whipping gale may lead to the impression that it is somehow raining up.

Even when getting peak performance out of your umbrella, never is it convenient. It is in the way, it is occupying a hand you’d rather be using for something else, it is always at risk of being left behind or stolen.

On the sidewalk, people take up many times as much space as on sunny days. On crowded trains, everyone has a weapon they’re often not aware that they’re wielding. They are, simply, a pain.

I must be fair, though. They’re not an entirely losing proposition. They will generally keep you from getting quite as wet as you would without one, for example. They also make great pretend fencing foils when you’re bored with a friend, such as when waiting for the bus.

Truly, though, the saving grace of this clumsy thing is that it can provide a person with a relatively private place in which to exist for a time.

I know few moments as peaceful as those spent standing perfectly still, simply listening to the sound of a gentle rain falling on my umbrella.