Japanese umbrellas trace their history back to the canopy-like silk umbrellas, which originated in China. Eventually, Japanese umbrellas made of paper became popular throughout the nation, particularly after the Edo period. The popularity and demand of paper Japanese umbrellas peaked around the Meiji and Taisho periods, when more than 100 paper umbrella factories in Kanazawa existed. However, after 1950, inexpensive and more practical Western umbrellas caused the decline of paper Japanese umbrellas.
Despite paper originally being made in China, the Japanese learned and honed the craft to the point of near perfection, and along with it came their beautiful paper Japanese umbrellas. Paper Japanese umbrellas (also referred to as "Washi" - "wa" meaning Japanese and "shi" paper) are typically made from the inner barks of three types plants: Kozo or paper mulberry, Mitsumata and Gampi. Paper mulberry is the fibre most widely used in making Japanese umbrellas and is quite sturdy. Mitsumata is an indigenous crop in Japan but a more expensive paper, thus fewer Japanese umbrellas are made from it.
The earliest fibre used for making Japanese umbrellas, however, was Gampi. Known for its richness, diginity and longevity, it made for the ideal material for paper Japanese umbrellas, as it did not bleed when written or painted on. As is the custom with Japanese umbrellas, they are made from only natural materials and several months are required for the separate processes that are needed for completion. The final process in Japanese umbrella making is to lacquer each umbrella and paint colorful designs on them. Most of the designs on Japanese umbrellas are based on Chinese mythology and decorative themes like birds, flowers, fruit and women.