Give the gift of presents wrapped with tender loving care this holiday season.
If you have children, you know that many little ones prefer the box to the toy it holds. I must admit that I can relate. I adore beautiful wrapping and packaging—I always have. And Japan is a packaging and present paradise.
Paper craftsmanship and artistry are held in high esteem in Japan. There is a lovely village in Aichi Prefecture called Obara-mura, well known as the home of traditional washi paper. Fibres from mulberry trees are cooked, bleached and dried to produce a strong but elegant paper. I got the chance to make my own and also added bits of leaves, flower petals and grass to the paper to give it an even more gorgeous look. I was enamoured.
Of course, origami is widely known and we have all seen the intricate and amazingly complex things that Japanese artists can craft with paper. The paper itself often comes in splendid designs, and large sheets of it can also be used to wrap gifts. I’ve spent hours wrapping gifts for family and friends at Christmastime using colourful Japanese wrapping paper and adding unique touches such as gold and red wire, berries and stickers. My mom’s eyes lit up at the sight of her one-of-a-kind, beautifully wrapped gift.
Visit a Japanese department store and you’ll likely witness a unique way of wrapping gifts that is unlike that of any other country. The trick is to wrap at an angle rather than perpendicular to the box. From here, it takes some serious geometry skills to master the exact angles at which to fold the paper and produce that final, delicate fold—clean and crisp. I think there must be a secret wrapping society whose members spend hours learning this, because I have yet to master the technique!
You can also expect that if you buy something in Japan it will be wrapped well in tissue, taped, folded, separated and divided—whatever is necessary to make sure that your purchase arrives at its destination in perfect condition. At a bread shop, staff will wrap each roll or bun in individual bags so that the flavours are not mixed and the shape is maintained. They will make sure to take off every price tag, carefully and with no glue residue left over. If your purchase is heavy, they will often wrap it in string or vinyl tape and attach a plastic handle for your carrying convenience. All of these kind, attentive gestures are courtesies done out of respect for you and for the work.
If you are an environmentalist, you might be horrified at the amount of extra packaging and paper that is being used in Japan—but as for me, I can appreciate the attention to detail and respect for your purchases. It is infinitely satisfying to open a beautifully wrapped package. Taking your purchases home and lifting the sticker off of the pretty pink and white tissue to reveal that fluffy, warm sweater you just bought makes the experience doubly pleasurable—like a holiday at any time of the year.
SHELLEY SUZUKI is a long-time teacher of English as a Second Language in Canada and Japan. She currently runs an English school via Skype and is pursuing a teaching career, or whatever other interesting opportunities may come her way. She appeared on the Japanese TV show Okusama wa Gaikokujin (My Wife is a Foreigner). She hopes to become a children’s book writer and illustrator when she grows up.
Illustration by Chieko Watanabe