Japan is famous for its culture of craftsmanship, and one of its most important crafts is paper. So it’s no surprise that the intersection of Japan’s rich culture of gift giving and its love and reverence for paper would be intricate and beautiful gift wrapping. The art of gift wrap, or tsutsumu, is an important part of any exchange of gifts. The paper you choose, the contrast of colors and textures, the ribbon, string or bows you add, and the folds, pleats and designs you create with the wrapping let the recipient know, along with the actual gift, how much you respect and care for them.
There are hundreds of ways to wrap a gift, but the most basic Japanese option, and the one that is often used in department stores, is very different from the way we wrap gifts in the US. The most basic wrapping in Japan is done with one large piece of paper, and usually a single piece of tape. The excess paper is folded and tucked so that the package is completely covered and neatly wrapped in just a few steps. Below is an example of this method:
There are also many different, more intricate, styles of wrapping in Japan. Many include pleats – generally an odd number to symbolize joy – or other folded embellishments. These more complicated designs often use more than one type of paper, in contrasting colors, as well as ribbons, string or other ties and decorations meant to offset the textures and colors of the papers. In a recent Today article Daniel Barker of Kate’s Paperie said:
The Japanese equate wrapping a gift with “wrapping the heart,” so every gift is marked by thoughtfulness and consideration, both for the object housed within the container or wrapping, and for the recipient of the gift. Bringing seemingly stark contrasts into harmony — like yin and yang — is central to the idea of any presentation. Rusticity and refinement, the transient and the eternal, the earthy and the sublime: such disparities are made evident — and rendered compatible — in choices of combinations of papers and ties that both emphasize and luxuriate differences in texture as well as, perhaps differences in color or pattern. A crinkled paper lashed with knotted cord, for example, reflects that approach.
If you’re interested in learning more about these techniques, and how you can add some Japanese flair to your holiday gift exchanges, consider attending our gift wrapping workshop. Join our former Director of Education, Reiko Nishioka, to learn the basics of Japanese packaging, how to use a furoshiki wrapping cloth, and how to incorporate uniquely designed boxes to give your holidays a Japanese twist. Space is limited, so don’t wait — there are two sessions available, both on Saturday, December 6, 2014.