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A prayer. A language.

Wrapping Landing page banner

To the Japanese people, wrapping is not mere ornamentation that seeks to achieve beauty of form and sophistication of function. The wrapping culture of this nation arose in the Jomon period (Japan’s prehistoric period that lasted around 14,000-1000 BCE) and has developed over several thousand years, interweaving practicality, art, and faith.

When we see an item wrapped origata-style in pristine white paper, we sense the purity of an item as yet unused. The economical form of the tamago-tsuto egg holder calls to mind nature’s sophisticated functionality, as well as the sensibility of those who first thought to employ it. In a single furoshiki cloth, we perceive the softness of water.
Wrapping, for the Japanese, is a combination of respect for nature and wisdom, a dialogue with the kami (deities), and a language for communicating unspoken thoughts
and connecting us more closely with others.

Practical wrapping

Be it through tamago-tsuto, created to protect precious eggs and facilitate their transportation and storage, kome-dawara for easing the burden of carrying heavy rice, or cylindrical taru barrels that could be transported by rolling along the ground, the people of agricultural age Japan applied their wisdom to the natural materials around them and came up with functional ways of wrapping foodstuffs that brought logic and variety to their diet.

Wrapping and faith

The Japanese have come to find sanctity in fresh, unblemished paper, and a sense of divine mystery in the act of wrapping. Omamori, consisting of an amulet imbued with divine favour, wrapped in a small bag or box, and kept on the person; the consecrated rice and cash wrapped in white paper and given as an offering at a shrine or temple; the ohineri given to a favoured kabuki actor, and the nagashi-bina of the Dolls’ Festival, are all examples of wrapping invested with spiritual meaning.

Formal wrapping

When sending a formal gift of celebration, condolence, or season’s greetings, good manners are displayed to the recipient by changing the method of wrapping according to the content of the gift. The conventions of etiquette established in the aristocratic and samurai societies of long ago continue into our lives today in the form of traditions such as the mizuhiki cords deriving from the ropes that mark the boundary between our world and the kami (deities), the origata wrapping that is folded differently depending on the content, and the noshi decoration featuring a thin strip of dried abalone as a prayer for longevity.

Wrapping with paper

With abundant kozo (mulberry) trees providing the raw material, Japan has long produced a wide variety of paper. Adding bright colours and intricate configurations to pristine paper creates paper packaging, of which Kyoto and Nara, with their many confectionary stores, produce some particularly noteworthy examples, demonstrating the skill of sophisticated miyako (ancient Imperial capital) design. On the other hand, the warmth and intimacy that comes from a piping hot manjū bun or taiyaki pancake, unceremoniously wrapped in simple paper, is another of the material’s charms.

Wrapping with bamboo

Bamboo, which grows wild everywhere from Kyushu in Japan’s south to Hokkaido in the north, has always been one of the most familiar natural resources to Japanese people. Cutting the stem in the right place produces a vessel for water, and the bark, when thinly shaved and woven, can be used to produce delicate baskets. Bamboo sheath is also said to have preservative properties, preventing food wrapped in it from going bad. It is even said that the custom of carrying around rice balls wrapped in bamboo sheath is the origin of today’s obentō lunch boxes.  

Wrapping with seasonal plants

The Japanese break the year down into 72 seasons, and are attuned to their subtle shifting. This sensibility is expressed through wagashi confectionary. Moreover, some wagashi come wrapped in leaves, which is said to have been a way of making them easier to carry, as well as preventing them from drying out. Well known examples include sakura mochi, wrapped in cherry leaves, kashiwa mochi, wrapped in oak leaves, and bamboo-leaf wrapped chimaki, but examples can be seen throughout Japan of seasonal wagashi that make use of local flora, including yomogi manjū (mugwort sweet steamed bun) and sasa dango (dumplings wrapped in bamboo).

Wrapping with wood

With its mild and humid climate and many varieties of trees, 70 percent of the Japanese landmass is covered in forest. Whilst wood is a practical material for building houses, tools, and robust storage containers, Japanese people also find extreme purity in the faint, sublimely smooth sheen of unvarnished wood, and have long used it to make platforms on which to place offerings to the kami (deities), as well as boxes for special gifts.

Wrapping with straw

It is said that Japanese culture itself grew up around rice cultivation, but the way the straw from harvested, dried, rice plants is used for wrapping allows us a particular glimpse into the Japanese agricultural way of life and its delicate sensibilities. Rice straw’s exceptionally strong fibres, flexibility and pliability make it ideal for wrapping fragile items. The fact that straw was the most easily accessible material led to the blossoming of a unique straw wrapping culture in Japan.

The boundless square

The single square of the furoshiki cloth envelops any complex shape, be it a box, a large bottle, or a sphere. The fact that a single piece of cloth can be used for multiple purposes, multiple times, has given rise to different applications in different eras, and the furoshiki continues to be reinvented to this day. Here, we introduce five ways of wrapping with a furoshiki,from the knotless hira-tsutsumi, folded with sincerity and respect, to the awase-tsutsumi which allows two bottles of wine to be carried in one hand.








Contributors: Wako Co., Ltd., Kobo Straw (straw wrapping production), Irie Toyosaburo Honten Co., Ltd., Kodaisuzumezushi Sushiman Co., Ltd., Sankogan Co., Ltd., Shinmei shrine, Kintaro Ame Honten Co., Ltd., Shiba Taisha shrine, Akumikanbe Shinmeisha shrine, Origata Design Institute, Ippodo Tea Co., Ltd., Sasaya Iori Co., Ltd., Kameya Yoshinaga, Kansendo, Ryoguchiya Korekiyo Co., Ltd., Rakugan Moroeya Co., Ltd., Morinaraduketen Co., Ltd., Kagizen Yoshifusa Co., Ltd., Kyogashishi Kanaya Masahiro、Taiso Co., Ltd., Takahashimagozaemon Shōten, Sawashou, Toraya Confectionary Co., Ltd., Mannendo Co., Ltd., Sanjowakasaya Co., Ltd., Kanaya Masahiro Co., Ltd., Nihonbashi Saruya Co., Ltd., Kamesuehiro, Kashiwaya Mitsusada Co., Ltd., Saoshika Honpo Fujiya Co., Ltd., Negishi Sasanoyuki, Tamaiya Honpo、Kokusen Awamori Corporation, Japan Furoshiki Association, Daikuhara Satoko (furoshiki demonstrations)

Reference works: Oka Hideyuki, ‘Tsutsumu: Traditional Japanese Packaging,’ BNN (2011)