On towels, umbrellas and being prepared


‘Why do Australians walk in the rain instead of using umbrellas?’ was asked of me a few months ago now. Please note that this was a generalisation and that umbrellas are in fact used in Australia. Compared to Japan, though, they’re not used often. I think there are two main factors: one is that some Australian guys just don’t seem to like the image of themselves having an umbrella; they don’t think it’s very manly (?? cool?). A probably more significant factor, however, is that having an umbrella would require foresight and preparation in looking up the probability of rain, and commitment in lugging the thing around all day. This, I believe, is the main reason you see Australians caught in the rain so often. Most of the time, I personally decide not to bother and just hope for the best. In Melbourne at least, which had a 20-year drought while I was growing up, it usually seems to work out. Despite what all Queenslanders seem to think, it doesn’t actually rain that much in Melbourne. Maybe Brisbanians and Sydneysiders have umbrellas on them more often? The weather is more predictable in those parts.

There is also the thing that happens in Melbzies where on those looks-like-it-might-rain days, if you take an umbrella it doesn’t rain, but if you don’t, it pours. The worst was when it caught me on my way to work on my bike. I think my trousers had dried by the end of the 4-hour class. Ah, and bikes – another factor. In Australia, people don’t cycle with umbrellas, unlike Japan (where it is illegal but commonly done). So unless the cyclist has a small enough umbrella to fit in their pannier or backpack, they just have to suffer in their jocks. Again though, I believe people cycle less in other cities. Maybe those who drive, walk or catch public transport to work are better armed for rain than Melburnians.

My point here is the idea that Australians usually don’t over-prepare for ordinary things; I believe we err on the side of laziness, carefree-ness, whatever you want to call it. Of course some people overdo preparation for exams, or catering for big parties. Most of the time, though, I’d say most Australians don’t have an umbrella. In this, being general as always, Australia and Japan are opposites.



A takoyaki stand at a festival, complete with towels. Image: Youtube

I have been wanting to write about Japanese use of towels for months, if not since I started this blog. I still find it really funny just how different it is to Australia, and the other countries I’ve visited – though I haven’t spent much time in the UK, and that Brit Douglas Adams seems to place great value in having a towel and knowing where it is.

As an Australian, here are the times I would ordinarily expect to use a towel:

  • After bathing or swimming
  • After washing my hands or wetting them by washing dishes, clothes etc. at home
  • If I need to wrap an ice pack to ice an injury (not often)
  • When sweating a lot, if I am an athlete in the Australian Open (not sure that this is ordinary, most people don’t do it)
  • When cleaning up a big spill of something in a hurry or if the roof is leaking and the drops are splashing out of the bucket (again, not sure this counts as ordinary)

In Japan, here are the occasions I would ordinarily expect to see people with a towel:

  • While bathing at a public bath, to wash themselves with and then carried around from bath to bath (but never immersed in the bath)
  • After bathing or swimming
  • After washing hands at a public toilet – see below.
  • When going to wash hands at work – see below.
  • When doing any sort of sport, including hiking, walking
  • When at a festival in summer (on your head if you are cooking food)
  • When at an outdoor BBQ in summer
  • When at a theme park in summer
  • When not in work/class in summer

Basically, anytime you might be expected to sweat or be near water.


Unlike many summer barbeques near rivers, this one isn’t under a bridge. But apart from that it looks pretty typical. Image: Blue Heron

You have to have your own handkerchief-towel at school and work; there are no driers or paper towels in most schools, workplaces or public toilets. I personally choose to just air-dry a lot of the time, for the dual reasons of not having thought to bring a towel and not liking carrying a wet towel around (or not having a pocket to put it in). This is changing in shopping centres and restaurants, which increasingly have driers installed.

General gearing up

You know how you have to have a hobby in Japan? For most people, if your hobby is golf, then you have at least one set of clubs, gloves and a full outfit for golf, even if you only play once or twice a year. I don’t think Australians generally go to quite the same extent. My dad, for example (hi Dad!) plays golf a couple of times a year and he has his own clubs with their bag, but that’s it. You don’t have golf gloves, do you Dad?


Japanese hikers. Image: Happy Day

I think Japanese people are also more afraid of the sun than most Australians, which doesn’t make that much sense if you think about the ozone hole. (Sigh, Australia.) And maybe it’s because of the sun, or maybe it’s a modesty thing, or maybe it just makes them feel ready to face whatever they will, but many Japanese people doing sport, especially women, have full-length Skins under T-shirts and shorts, even in summer. It’s different for kids in track and field club, or girls’ volleyball with their short shorts, but they have their own gear: track and field kids have their particular track and field outfits, and the volleyball girls all wear black knee pads. In the case of school clubs it’s decided for them as part of the uniform, but I guess dressing for it makes people feel the part. I certainly remember feeling invincible the first time I wore shin guards and a mouth guard for soccer in primary school. But in summer, you won’t find me wearing anything ankle- or wrist-length. And in any season, if I’m just going for a walk or a jog, I’m not going to bother taking anything I don’t really think I need. Maybe that’s the difference – maybe Australians don’t think as much stuff is necessary as Japanese people do.


Australian hikers in the Victorian High Country. Image: Visit Victoria

Is this just me being lazy? Or is it an Australianism? Or is it just a non-Japanese-ism?



One thought on “On towels, umbrellas and being prepared

  1. Very true. I often get caught out without an umbrella, and I live in Mount Dandenong. Funnily enough, I’m always prepared when in Japan, and I seem to dress more appropriately. (And am always surprised by how comfortable that makes me feel).


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