Rolling objects on a parasol (or, more exactly, the paper umbrellas common in the Far East) has a long history in Chinese and Japanese performance arts. In Japan it forms one of the skills in the Daikagura tradition, which reached its peak during the Edo era (1603-1867) where travelling performers would move from town to town and shrine to shrine to entertain the faithful as they descended on towns as part of pilgrimages. Unfortunately my researches haven't led to any real information about the Chinese history of the art - but it appears that objects are rolled on parasols in the Chinese circus tradition too, but just as often they are juggled in their own right, especially by antipodists (foot jugglers). If any readers have more information about this skill please use the contacts button on the left to get in touch.
Terry Kimpling is an American performer who works with the parasol who wrote to us and told us of the time when he met the Japanese parasol master Kosen Kagami at the International Jugglers' Association Festival in 1994. The language barrier seems to have been pretty high, but he told Terry that the parasol manipulated at shoulder level is "Chinese Method" and overhead is "Japanese Method". He also recalls that everyone who went through the "official" Japanese training were renamed Kagami, which means mirror; Kosen Kagami's autograph is symmetrical about the centre line.
More recently it has been performed in the West by the Gentleman Jugglers of the vaudeville and music hall eras, and many references can be found in the instruction books of that time. There are still traditional Daikagura troupes in Japan, and the occasional performer in Europe and the Americas.
How to do it
Ball on Parasol
First you'll need to get hold of some props, there's some ideas for where to find them here.
The basic trick is a simple one; the object is allowed to roll down the tilted surface of the parasol while the parasol is spun in the opposite direction, leaving the ball to stay in the same position, like a person trying to walk down an escalator that is constantly carrying them back up.
Hold the top of the handle in your right hand, and the bottom in your left (swap right and left over for the whole of this paragraph if you are left handed). The parasol should be to the right of your body, and slightly in front with the top just below eye level. Place your ball on the top and tilt the parasol so that it starts to roll forward. Use both hands to turn the parasol anti-clockwise (when viewed from above) and adjust the amount of tilt and the amount of spin so that the ball rolls along but holds the same position.
With practice you will be able to take either hand off the handle and continue one-handed.
The first trick to master is raising the parasol above your head. This means that you have to control the ball while looking up through the parasol at the shadow cast by it. This is every bit as tricky as it sounds, but allows you complete range of movement, both of your body and the parasol.
There's a small group (well, there're two of us) of parasol people emerging in the UK; click here for the list of all the tricks that they've heard about or invented. Some of them are still works in progress so the instructions are limited.
You can also use a ring, CD, coin or box in place of the ball (be cautious of using boxes on paper parasols, they are likely to trash them). Terry Kimpling also suggested using a floppy disk.
Many thanks to Andrew Conway who responded to many emails on this subject when I was starting out and struggling to find material on the web.