next-level gift wrapping

next-level gift wrapping

Giftwrap has been around since the invention of paper itself, which has been around since at least 105 A.D. in China.

The Japanese (and Chinese and Koreans) take their gift wrapping seriously. Like most East Asian arts and crafts, the level of attention and skills required is an extension of the creator’s emotions and thoughts behind the object being given

When giving gifts or sending presents in Japan, it is customary to show special care not only to the contents, but to the way a gift is wrapped and the wrapping itself. In Japanese culture, gift wrapping can be as important as the gift, where the gift is viewed as a form of communication between the giver and the receiver. The chosen gift wrapping serves an important role in shaping the messaging associated with the gift. In short, the wrapping is considered as part of the gift itself and should reflect both the gift being given and the emotions behind the gift.

The distinction of a gift being wrapped is an important one when it comes to receiving a gift. Except among close family members, gifts must not be unwrapped in front of the donor of the gift. The recipient should wait until later to open the gift.

There are many rules and customs of associated with Japanese gift wrapping, many of which imply how you feel towards the person and the the message behind the gift. The gift wrap color choices are one of ways that this communication takes place. Also, the wrapping of the gift is not necessarily meant to hide the gift, but to accentuate it — with gift wraps designed to reveal some items while concealing others. A couple of other methods of symbolism that can be used…

  • Pleating — providing an odd number of pleats in your wrapping symbolizes joy
  • Yin & Yang — combining two different materials symbolizes the yin-yang that represent the interconnected and interdependent forces of the natural world
  • Asymmetry — asymmetry is considered more visually appealing in Japan culture

Tsutsumi or Origata

One style of Japanese gift wrapping, called tsutsumi — which means to cover, conceal or wrap — or origata uses paper and fabric to wrappings for gifts, presents and packages. The unique aspect of this technique is that the paper and/or fabric is never cut. Instead it is pleated, folded and tied. Ranging from the simple to the sophisticated, this technique traditionally uses handmade paper (washi) to express beauty, etiquette and culture and often employs techniques seen in origami.

The intent with this wrapping style is not to conceal the gift, but to enhance it’s shape and to give some clue to the contents. This style allows the gift itself to be exposed. For example, high quality tea leaves are often given as a present in Japan. When wrapping black tea (known as ko-cha, or “red tea”), red paper inserted in a slit on the top of the package, then overlaid with a film to provide a glimpse into what is in the package.

A sophisticated system of rules has been created for origata wrapping. The style depends on the gift recipient, the occasion, and even the season.


furoshiki is the technique of wrapping a gift with fabric. This style is perfect for birthdays, holidays, weddings, or everyday marketing and shopping and was originally used to carry clothes to the bathhouse. Made in a variety of sizes, the cloth is extremely handy and can be folded up after each use to wrap or carry something else. It ‘s very flexible as a wrapping technique and lends itself to various shapes and sizes of packages. There is even a way to wrap and carry two bottles together.

The Japanese Ministry of Environment has been promoting furoshiki to promote recycling, as the cloth can be reused for different occasions, helping to reduce the wasting of paper.

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sashiko, kimonos & history

sashiko, kimonos & history

Textiles say so much about the culture in which they are worn and used.

Clothing can immediately identify who we are and what our history is. One can tell eastern v. western, wealthy v. impoverished, northern v southern. Clothing also tells us about the society that created it.

A recent BBC Culture story by Bel Jacobs: The 300-year-old Japanese method of upcycling explores the method of sashiko.

Kimono screen
Seventeenth century screen by Iwasa Matabei (via Wikimedia Commons)

Sashiko emerged through necessity, particularly in poor rural areas, during the Edo period. “Cotton came late to the north of Japan,” explains craft and design writer Katie Treggiden. “So the only way people could get hold of it was as tiny rags of fabrics, that were either passed around or bought from tradesmen from the south. Sashiko – literally, ‘little stabs’ – was a way of connecting all those little pieces into a quilted fabric, known as boro, that would keep them warm.”    

The Surprising History of the Kimono

The first ancestor of the kimono was born in the Heian period (794-1192). Straight cuts of fabric were sewn together to create a garment that fit every sort of body shape. It was easy to wear and infinitely adaptable. By the Edo period (1603-1868) it had evolved into a unisex outer garment called kosode. Literally meaning “small sleeves,” the kosode was characterized by smaller armholes. It was only from the Meiji period (1868-1912) onwards that the garment was called kimono. This last transformation, from the Edo era to modern Japan, is fascinating.

In the early 1600s, First Shogun Tokugawa unified Japan into a feudal shogunate. Edo, renamed Tokyo in 1868, now became Japan’s chief city. The resulting Edo Period (also called the Tokugawa Era) spanned 264 years. The years 1603 to 1868 are known as the last era of traditional Japan. Japanese culture developed with almost no foreign influence during this time. And the kosode was one of the key elements of what it meant to be Japanese.

(Source: Gabrielle Berlinger via

A fisherman's jacket – or donza – created in the Meji Period is a stunning example of sashiko craftsmanship (Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art)