Sugegasa: Function, Form, History

A few years ago I purchased a palm leaf hat at T’gger’s Toggs at Pennsic. It served me well for three years, and I wore it religiously to summer events. It shaded my face, kept me from being sunburned, and made the hot days much more pleasant. I was grateful for its presence, and felt an appreciation for why such a hat was so ubiquitous among Japanese farmers.

Recently, it begin to crack and wear. I began researching a replacement. While the hat I was sold at pennsic was very comfortable and durable, it was not, as far as I could tell, a medieval japanese style of hat (though it was very close). I wanted to purchase a hat as close to what warriors of the muromachi era would have worn, though that goal ended up being more difficult than expected. Along the way to find such a hat, I stumbled upon information for many different eras and types of hats, so I compiled them into this report, with the hope of the reader being able to use my research to buy their own hat.

Dear reader, most of these hats are difficult to make, and the Japanese craftsmen who make them are a dying breed. Many of them are actively seeking successors to their craft, and a few have died without training their replacements. Those styles of hats will now have to be revived instead of being passed on, if they are ever revived. With this in mind, I encourage you to purchase a hat made in Japan if it’s possible for your budget, because some styles may not be available in the coming years. If it’s too expensive, many of the stores, especially dance and festival stores, now sell replicas made in Vietnam or Thailand that seem quite well made. However, many of these styles are from the Edo period forward, and are more modern than they first appear. It seems likely that the agricultural styles will continue for some time, but the more esoteric styles, like the Manju hat, have died out.

Hat Materials and Vocabulary

The different words for medieval hats were, shockingly, not covered in my high school and college japanese courses, though I did know two modern words that ended up helping me – 傘(カサ・kasa), which in modern japanese normally refers to an umbrella, but when given a different kanji 笠 (カサ・kasa), it means bamboo hat. I wonder if the two words are related?

Additionally, I had the word 帽子 (ぼうし/Boushi), which means hat, and I already knew that the black caps frequently worn in picture scrolls were called 烏帽子(エボシ・eboshi), which translates literally to black hat, but refers specifically to a type of medieval hat which is shown in many of the scrolls below.

A few more terms were helpful:

  1. 菅笠 – Sugagasa, which refers to a woven palm leaf hat
  2. 竹笠 – Takegasa, which refers to a hat made of bamboo
  3. 網代笠 – Ajirogasa, which refers to a hat made out of thin strips of wood.

Types of Hats

Onogasa / 大野笠

New Onogasa for sale from Fukuoka.
It’s a little wider than the other hats I’ve seen.

This type of hat I don’t have a primary source for; I stumbled upon it in a traditional crafts store online. This hat is the oldest design the society carries, they claim since production began in that region. It is very popular for agricultural work and customers will especially request it. Interestingly, it is very similar to my hat, which is most likely southeast asian. Perhaps some shapes are just a good idea. It may also be called a egg hat(玉子笠).

Since the fukuoka sedge weavers can trace their heritages back to the 1400s, I feel this hat is likely a medieval design. It’s available for sale here.

Kagakasa / 加賀笠

I struggled greatly with finding a picture of this hat. It was mentioned in passing as being pre 1600, from 加賀 (Kaga), and having the shape as pictured adjacent. I’d appreciate any more information on it. One of the problems with this type of research is that there seem to have been regional variants of hats, long since passed, without any examples left behind. There is a reference to it being passed down as a technique to others by the Ishikawa family during the warring states period, so one can image the design is quite old.

Kakugasa /角笠(つのがさ/かくがさ)

Jingasa, Honen Shonin Gyojoezu, 1300s

This type of hat shows up in several different picture scrolls. Its shape is also very similar to a jingasa, which were meant for the battlefield. Jingasa had the same pointed shape as kakugasa, and were worn by warriors as a kind of helmet. They could be made of leather, lacquered paper, or metal. They varied in diameter, but the peaked shape was very common.

Moriki Eji, 1351
National Diet Library Online Archive

Actual kakugasa seem to be mostly worn by farmers and agricultural workers. Above, two farmers are wearing it AND their mino capes, so they’re clearly ready for anything. There appear to be different woven styles: one type has a bamboo spine woven in a spiral woven around the outside of the hat (it might be made of bamboo), and the other is made of palm leaves like the ohnogasa. You can see both in the yamato-e above. There are also hinokigasa, which are the same shape, but made out of thin strands of cypress.

Luckily, bo styles are still purchaseable today. Taketora carries both of them, and has wonderful illustrations on their product pages of step-by-step construction. (Spiral here, Plain here). The spiral type also seems to have been very popular in Okinawa, where there are a variety of regional shapes produced for land and sea.

Ichimegasa / 市女笠(いちめがさ)

Tumblr: Image

This hat is probably the easiest hat to document, it shows up everywhere, in picture scrolls, and in the costume museum recreations. There’s a variety of different variations, but the basic shape of a slope with a little peaked top is universal. Wider variations could have a veil attached to them to shade the wearer, protect from insects, and block out rain. In picture scrolls, it seems to almost invariably worn by women, though I have seen written that it was worn by men when it was raining. Its name means ‘city woman’s hat’.

Modern ichimegasa

This hat is still being made in Japan. The makers claim it is the hardest type of sedge hat to make, so the price is dear. However, it looks very cool and impressive, and the veil surrounding it seems like a good way to hide your identity. I could not find a veil being sold anywhere, just as a costume rental.

Manjyukasa and Takenokokasa (竹の子笠/まんじゅう笠)

This hat has only one maker left, but it is cited as dating back to before the Edo period. The name is confusing, because there are two, one referring to the shape, and the other referring to the construction of the hat. Takenokokasa refers to a hat made of bamboo shoots, and Manjyukasa is a steamed bun hat. There seems to be some variety of shape to the Takenokokasa, some that look like the one above are for sale in dance supply stores. The Manjyukasa, on the other hand, is specifically a hat in the shape of the top of a steamed bun, and seems to be made of bamboo shoots most commonly, though since there is only one maker left, ‘common’ has only one example. The process for this hat seems almost as laborious at the Ichimegasa, but the result is a beautifully light and deep hat with a really appealing shape. It used to be for sale on Taketora, but it is sadly no longer available.

Miscellaneous & Post Period Hats

One of the great difficulties of this research was separating out which hats were common before the Edo period, and which were common after. Fashions do not generally change overnight, and so hats found near the start of the Edo period, like names, can easily be argued to have likely existed before. Ideas and shapes are often recycled and reinvented. With that said, I believe the sandogasa and mitsukasa were more common in the edo period than they were in previous times. I was not able to find any documentation of them being used before the construction of the Tokaido (1603).

Also not included in this document are Ichimonjikasa, which are flat hats (you can see one in the last scroll below, it is also period, but I am unsure if the more tidy style in historical dramas is common). Lastly, I excluded the bamboo dome shaped hats that monks tend to wear. I may cover more styles in a follow up post if I can gather enough new hat types.

Honen Shonin Gyojoezu (1300s)

References & Links

  1. Kotobank “Kagakasa”
  2. Ohnogasa
  3. Lineage of Fukuoka Kasa
  4. Niida Kasa Making
  5. About Sugegasa
  6. 慕帰繪々詞 10巻. 巻1=1
  7. History of Manjuukasa
  8. Japanese Wikipedia – Kasa

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