Japanese Internment Camp Art | Origami Umbrella “Wagasa” made of Cigarette Pack Wrappers

The term Tsukumogami, is used to represent the Japanese spirit which is said to evolve from an object of historical significance and age when it become alive. Wagasa are so popular in the Japanese culture and tradition it is said to have its own spirit or soul, having been used daily for hundreds of years.

The spirit of Wagasa is called Karakasa Obake and represents a spirit (Umbrella Ghost) that is harmless and a trickster, looking like a folded umbrella, having a single eye and a single foot wearing his geta (see image of woodblock print). The Yūrei varies in appearance depending on the item from which they came, as well as its’ condition. Other Japanese items said to have ghosts are paper lanterns, old geta, worn prayer beads, teacups and geisha wigs.

This is a miniature replica of the Wagasa (Japanese traditional mulberry paper umbrella), which is a unique origami umbrella made at Tule Lake Relocation Center. Origami, the Japanese art of paper folding was a popular pastime in the camps, but only used materials were available to support the creative mind. The miniature Wagasa, was made from cigarette pack wrappers (which of course were abundant at the time), with toothpicks for the rings and part of a wrapped chopstick for the stem. Even in a compact size, the creation process employed by this internee/artist is the exact same as if it were a regular size umbrella. Ironically, there are so many steps in creating Wagasa that it’s very difficult to encourage young people to engage in any stage of umbrella production.

This piece is in excellent condition for having been made between 1941-1945, and has retained its original colors and integrity. The piece does not open and close like a traditional umbrella. It is an exceptional collectors item because you do not see many that have survived. Craftsman unknown. Dimensions: 4-0”dia. x 4-1/4”h.

To see other internment camp folk art and history of the Relocation Centers check out:
The Art of Gaman by Delphine Hirasuna. 2005. ISBN: 978-1-58008-689-9 (Hardcover) 

Note: Tule Lake Relocation Center was the largest of the camps opened May 26, 1942, detaining persons of Japanese descent of whom the majority were American citizens removed from western Washington, Oregon and Northern California. Tule Lake closed on March 28, 1946.

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