Loan services could be set to disappear with organisations now running dangerously low on stock.

Hakodate City, in Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, has revealed it may have to discontinue its free umbrella loan service following the loss of 1,100 of its 1,500 umbrellas over the past three months.

The goodwill service was launched by the Hokkaido Shinkansen Promotional Organisation, in association with the Hakodate Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as part of the city’s opening celebrations to mark the inaugural service of the new Hokkaido Shinkansen on 26 March this year.


1,000 clear plastic umbrellas featuring the city logo were initially made available at stands at six locations throughout the city, including JR Hakodate Station and Goryōkaku station and bus terminal. Designed as a gesture of hospitality for visiting tourists, the umbrellas could be used by anyone and returned at any of the six locations.

Umbrella 5

As the service continued, a growing number of people failed to return the umbrellas, with stock eventually plummeting to roughly 100 after the May nationwide Golden Week holidays. In mid-May, another 500 umbrellas were added, however a recent count at the beginning of June revealed stock numbers came to a total of about 400, meaning that 1,100 of the total 1,500 free umbrellas remain unreturned.

Umbrella_stand 2

In an attempt to discover the source of the problem, the association contacted hotels to find out whether tourists had left the umbrellas at their accommodation instead of returning them to the stands throughout the city. However, only 13 were found, leaving the service providers to believe that the majority of unreturned umbrellas were used by local citizens who have now left them in their homes.

While the original plan was to replenish stock once a year, at the current rate of non-returns, the association will likely have to provide more umbrellas again by the middle of May. With each umbrella costing 400 yen (US$3.73), the viability of the program is now in doubt and organisers fear they can no longer afford to provide the free service.


The problem is not confined to Hakodate, however, with Hokkaido’s Otaru Tourism Organisation also losing most of the umbrellas from their free loan service. Providing 1,500 umbrellas at 17 locations around Otaru city on an annual basis, roughly 40 usually remain at the end of each year. Last year, however, stock ran out in autumn, and despite having no budget to replenish stocks, they eventually purchased another 240 in an attempt to keep the service running.

At the beginning of the program, the Otaru Tourism Organisation had high hopes for the free loan initiative, which was promoted locally on television in 2012. However, both associations are now frustrated at the current state of non-returns and are unsure of what lies in store for the future of their services.

Source: The Hokkaido Shimbun Press
Top Image: Photoree/wazuluwazu
Insert Images: JR Hokkaido Railway Company, Wikimedia Commons/Eddy Milfort, Wikimedia Commons/ume-yPixabay