The “tsuyu” or rainy season in Japan means the return of rain boots and umbrellas. In fact, if you happen to see an aerial view of the streets of Tokyo during this time, you will likely be fascinated by the sea of umbrellas present. You would think that this scene is only possible during the really heavy downpour days, but actually, even for a little drizzle, Japanese people tend to use their umbrellas.
Because of the influx of umbrellas during this season, there is a unique product that makes its appearance in Japan. It is called “kasapon” ( 傘ぽん) which is derived from “kasa” (傘), the Japanese word for umbrella, and “pon” (ぽん), which is an onomatopoeia that means “something magically appearing.” It is named that way because kasapon is an automatic umbrella sleeves dispenser wherein you put your umbrella and it gets quickly encased in a clear plastic – just like magic!
Kasapon can be seen outside stores and establishments all over Tokyo. Culturally, it is considered a nuisance in Japan for people to bring their wet umbrellas inside an establishment because they will drip all over the floor, which the staff would have to continuously mop before someone slips or before people step on the puddles and create a mess as they walk through the store. Of course, a good option is to simply leave your umbrella outside. However, if you are entering a big grocery store, a department store, or a shopping mall, it wouldn’t make much sense to leave your umbrella outside for so long and risking coming out to found someone took it.
Because of its efficiency, kasapon have become widely popular in Tokyo. There are even some variations that are able to squeeze out water from your umbrella, leaving you with a nice clean and dry umbrella that you can now safely bring inside the store with you.
Kasapon are very easy to use. All you have to is to hold your umbrella, place it inside the kasapon, and sort of pull it towards you, and you have yourself a plastic-encased umbrella. Once you’re done with whatever business you have inside the establishment you went into, you most likely will need to use your umbrella again.
So what do you do with the plastic sleeve that you used? This is where the problem with kasapon begins. Japan is one of the countries with the largest plastic usage per capita. Japan’s plastic problem can be seen everywhere, from the individually packed snacks when getting an omiyage box, to plastic-wrapped vegetables and fruits at supermarkets.
In 2020, Japanese stores started charging for plastic bags in an attempt to reduce the country’s plastic consumption, but Japan still has a very, very, very long way to go before it can fix its problems. Kasapon are one of those things that perfectly encapsulate Japan’s plastic issue.
When people leave the store, they toss the plastic bag they used for their umbrellas; and if they go to another store immediately afterwards, they will use a new plastic bag.
This is incredibly wasteful.
There are some kasapon that can be used to remove the plastic sleeve from your umbrella and store it away for you. These kasapon differ from the regular ones in that they only have a hole on top, and instead of pulling your umbrella towards you, you need to pull it up to retrieve it from the kasapon.
However, these kasapon are not as common as you’d think. One of the easiest solutions would be for people to simply reuse the plastic bags they get, but that’s sadly another anomaly.
As Japan struggles to curve its plastic usage, it should also eye kasapon as one the biggest enablers in the nation’s plastic problems. If people can’t be reeducated so they start reusing those plastic bags, then Japan should consider getting rid of or changing the technology behind kasapon.