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An oil-paper umbrella is a type of paper umbrella that originated in China. It subsequently spread across several East, South and Southeast Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Laos, where it has been further developed with different characteristics.

The oil-paper umbrella can also be called a paper or sun parasol.

Cultural notes

Other than the purpose of providing shade, oil-paper umbrellas are also traditional wedding items. In traditional Chinese and Japanese weddings, the matron of honour would cover the bride with an oil-paper umbrella upon arrival to ward off evil spirits.

Purple umbrellas are a symbol of longevity for elders, while white umbrellas are used in funerals.

Oil-paper umbrellas are also used as props in Japanese traditional dances and tea ceremonies.

In religious celebrations, oil-paper umbrellas are often seen on the sacred sedan chairs as cover, used to shelter people from rain and sunlight, also to drive the evil spirits away. Today, oil-paper umbrellas are mostly sold as works of art or souvenirs.

Suggested activities

Books/ Story time: 

Group/ Circle Time:

  • Show the umbrella to the children, ask them what it is, look at the patterns and try to figure out where it comes from. What does it look like that we use? Have the children feel what it is made of and guess. Do the children think it would be used for rain or sun?

Music and Movement: 

  • Oil paper umbrellas are used in traditional Japanese Dances. Share a video with the children of a traditional Japanese dance such as this
  • Borrow ‘Japan Dreaming: Music of Japan’ and practice some dancing using the umbrellas as props

Dramatic Play: 

  • Borrow some traditional Japanese clothing, foods and decorations and create a traditional tea ceremony

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The research for this resource was made possible through a grant from the Central Coast Council.