top of page

Gift Wrapping - Creative Ideas from Japan

Zusetsu furoshiki gift fabric wrapping Kyoto Cotswolds

We have an incredibly beautiful range of furoshiki from Kyoto in our online store!

Gift Wrapping: Creative Ideas from Japan is a book written by Kunio Ekiguchi which we have found so inspiring and fascinating, we wanted to share the whole of the Introduction with you. We would also like to include (with only the gentlest paraphrasing) the passage Kunio Ekiguchi has written about furoshiki.

Here at Zusetsu we are devoted to sharing the beautiful and caring art of Japanese furoshiki gift-wrapping, and the words of Kunio Ekiguchi eloquently describe what we aim to express too!

Zusetsu store furoshiki, flowers and gifts

' In Japan, the concept of wrapping, tsutsumi, is not limited to the function of packaging. It plays a central role in a wide variety of spiritual and cultural aspects of Japanese life. Tsutsumi encompasses many areas not included in the Western concept of wrapping.

For example, gods or Buddhas are 'wrapped' in a household altar containing a hidden image of the god or a portable shrine carried during festivals; gardens are enclosed by a variety of fences; architectural space is defined by translucent shoji doors, opaque fusuma doors, and bamboo blinds; pictures are rolled up in hanging scrolls and picture scrolls; and food is placed in lacquer containers.

The wrapping style illustrated by these examples is not a tight, hermetic seal, but a loose, flexible covering or shading. This style embodies the concept of 'gentle concealment', a central part of the traditional Japanese sense of beauty.'

Kyoto ryokan shoji screen, Zusetsu

Beautiful shoji

'The word tsutsumi is thought to come from the verb tsutsushimu, 'to refrain, to be discreet or moderate.'

The Japanese spirit tends to shun things that are direct, blunt, or frank and favors those which are controlled, indirect, and restrained.

Restraint has come to be synonymous with refinement, and this value is in turn reflected in all segments of Japanese cultural life; the elegant, minimal - yet expressive - movements of Noh; the simplicity of black ink paintings; and the unpainted and unadorned surfaces of Japanese architecture illuminated with the light filtering through shoji doors.'

Japanese origami crane

'The tsutsusushimu aesthetic also plays an important role in gift giving. The Japanese have always considered it discourteous simply to pass an unwrapped, unconcealed object from one hand to another.

The object was wrapped in white washi (Japanese paper), or, if it could not be wrapped, paper was spread over or under it. Wrapping in paper became analogous to a kind of pledge that the contents were protected from all impurities. The fact that washi, once creased, will hold the crease forever has also come to symbolize this seal against impurities.'

Japanese wedding ceremony

The Shinto wedding ceremony

'White paper is used because white is the color of the gods and, therefore, is free of all contamination. A newborn baby, for example, is considered to be a god and is dressed in white clothing. When it is seventeen days old, the white robe is changed for a colorful one, and only then is the baby considered a human child.

Similarly, a bride is dressed in a white kimono during the wedding ceremony, signifying that she is first a bride of the gods. After the ceremony, she changes to a brilliantly colored kimono to indicate that she has become the bride of a human. In the same way, the bodies of the dead are wrapped in sacred white to prepare them for the return to the gods.'

bento lunch furoshiki wrap Zusetsu store

Many furoshiki feature symbolic patterns, such as the Crane pattern here which symbolises long life

and good fortune in relationships.

'Building on this long and rich tradition of wrapping in white, the art of gift wrapping, origata, was developed. Origata is governed by a complex set of rules that determine the style of wrapping according to such factors as the recipient of the gift, the gift itself, and the occasion.

There are special terms and special rules for wrapping certain items: kinsu-zutsumi, wrapping gifts of money; fude-zutsumi, wrapping brushes; suzuri-zutsumi, wrapping ink stones; hashi-tsutsumi, wrapping chopsticks; gofuku-tsutsumi, wrapping kimono; obi-tsutsumi, wrapping kimono sashes; ougi-tsutsumi, wrapping fans; oshiroi-tsutsumi, wrapping facial powder; kushi-zutsumi, wrapping combs; beni-tsutsumi, wrapping rouge; hari-tsutsumi, wrapping needles; kou-zutsumi, wrapping incense - and so on indefinitely.'

bottle furoshiki wrap, wrapping for a wine bottle present, Zusetsu

'The style or materials for wrapping vary according to the occasion as well. There are special wrappings for congratulatory gifts, for going-away presents, for presents taken to the sick, for offerings to the gods, and for funeral gifts. In fact, it is difficult to say how many different types of origata exist.

What is more, within each variety other factors, such as the relationship between the giver and the receiver and the season in which the gift is given also must take into consideration when selecting the paper, mizuhiki cords, and style of wrapping. With the exceptions of formal occasions such as funerals and weddings, however, many of the more complex forms of origata have fallen into disuse. Nonetheless, they continue to be practiced even today among people who still value the finer points of courtesy and consideration.

In Japan, it is said that giving a gift

is like wrapping one's heart.

'In Japan, it is said that giving a gift is like wrapping one's heart. Just as one helps a friend into a coat carefully and courteously, a gift should be wrapped tenderly and conscientiously.

While the wrapping should, of course, protect the contents from breakage or other damage, the same care should be taken with aspects normally thought of as merely decorative - those that reflect the sentiment of the giver - the paper and the way it is wrapped, the ribbon and the way it is tied. This need not entail expensive, ostentatious materials. Innovative and elegant packages can be created using the materials on hand and a few basic Japanese wrapping concepts.

In this book I have used paper and cloth as the basic wrapping materials, but tsutsumi also makes use of natural materials such as leaves, leather, bamboo, bamboo grass, straw, and so on. This ingenuity is especially apparent in the packaging of sweets and other foods. One of the secrets of such wrappings is to simply overcome the idea that paper is the only possibility. Creative alternatives should be sought with a flexible, imaginative eye.'

Zusetsu furoshiki, gift wrapping, bunny wrap, present fabric wrap

'In Japan, the changing of the seasons is a particularly central aspect of life, and this too plays a role in tsutsumi aesthetics.

There are two major gift-giving seasons in Japan today. One is from late June to early July (o-chuugen) and the other at year's end (o-seibo). The gifts are wrapped to complement the season, with coolness and lightness the theme for summer gifts and warm motifs for the winter. This seasonal consciousness need not be limited to summer and winter, but can be used to add interest to a gift at any time of year.'


Zusetsu furoshiki from Kyoto

We love the sentiments expressed in this thoughtful passage - especially the idea that restraint has come to be synonymous in Japan with refinement. This is particularly noticeable in traditional Japanese houses, in tea ceremony, and the beautiful temple gardens.

Gion, Kyoto, Japanese architecture, Zusetsu

Now we would like to share with you the passage that Kunio Ekiguchi writes about wrapping with furoshiki:


Zusetsu furoshiki bags, gift wrap, picnic, hanami, sakura, cherry blossom, springtime

The Zusetsu team use different furoshiki wraps to transport bottles of drink, books, food,

to their hanami picnic under the cherry blossoms!

'A furoshiki is a square piece of material used to wrap and carry objects of all shapes and sizes. Its corners are drawn up and knotted into a handle.

The etymology of the word furoshiki helps us understand how the custom began: furo means bath, and shiki means rug or mat, thus a furoshiki was originally a type of bath mat.

Early Japanese baths were similar to steam baths, and at bathtime one wore a lightwight, white cotton kimono. The bather spread out a furoshiki and stood on it while he undressed. he changed into the white kimono and wrapped the furoshiki around the clothes he had taken off. After his bath, the bather dressed standing on the furoshiki and wrapped his damp, white kimono in it to carry home from the bath. This early bath mat developed into the modern furoshiki, a multi-purpose carryall.'

Hokusai, Japanese art, ukiyoe, Zusetsu furoshiki

Katsushika Hokusai, Ueno, (1801-10)

'The word furoshiki probably came into use sometime between 1688 and 1710, but Japanese people were wrapping their belongings in square pieces of cloth much earlier; scrolls from the Kamakura (1185-1333) and Muromachi (1336-1573) periods show women carrying bundles of clothing on their heads.

Originally furoshiki were made from whatever material was available - it was simply cut to an appropriate shape. About the middle of the Edo period (1603-1867), however, specially made furoshiki bearing family crests or shop insignia began to gain popularity. These were generally dyed a deep indigo.'

Japanese art, Zusetsu furoshiki gift wrap

Kaburagi Kiyokata, Cosmos (1913)

'Today, furoshiki are made from cotton, silk, or blends and range in size from squares of about 35cm to over 220cm - the latter being large enough to wrap Japanese bedding.

Early furoshiki were not, in fact, always perfectly square. Any material on hand was likely to be pressed into service as a furoshiki, and squareness was not a necessary prerequisite. The ease with which the material could be tied was more important, and thus thicker materials were avoided in favor of soft, strong ones - cotton being the most common.'

furoshiki patchin bag, hanami, cherry blossom, Zusetsu furoshiki

Furoshiki bags can be made easily with our range of wooden patchin:

the two pieces snap together with magnets!

'The convenience of furoshiki lies in its adaptability. It has no definite shape as does a bag, and wrapping at a slant makes use of the stretchy bias of the fabric, making it possible to stretch the cloth to accomodate the object by simply pulling on the corners. The furoshiki can adapt to fit whatever you put in it and is equally suitable for wrapping small and large objects, round or square ones, and even irregularly shaped ones. The furoshiki wrapping prevents the contents from shifting around and even odd-shaped packages can be carried quite easily.'

furoshiki Zusetsu store online present wrapping from Kyoto

'In addition to being convenient, furoshiki can be expressive: enhance a gift by choosing appropriate materials, colors, patterns, sizes, and knots for tying the furoshiki. Let the softness of the cloth (as opposed to the stiffness of paper) open up new and exciting possibilities.'

Japanese art, print, ukiyoe, furoshiki wrap, Zusetsu store

Nishikawa Sukenobu Girl with Furoshiki detail (1731)

It is true that in the Edo period furoshiki were very widespread in use. Many ukiyoe show furoshiki in use as a means of transporting all manner of goods and personal items. As we have described in our article The History of Furoshiki, furoshiki have an extremely long history, that is believed to have begun when precious, expensive cloth was used to wrap the treasures of the Nara Imperial court: to protect and store these treasures safely while they were not on display, but it is also believed that there was a spiritual significance to the folding of the cloth and the tying. I think of this when I fold and tie furoshiki today - it's so calming and meditative a practice it is easy to relate it back to the religious practices of over a thousand years ago in the city of Nara just outside Kyoto!

Kyoto, temple, Japanese aesthetic

Beautiful Kyoto!

We hope you have enjoyed these two wonderful articles from Gift wrapping: Creative Ideas from Japan by Kunio Ekiguchi. The book is full of amazingly inventive ways to wrap gifts and we would highly recommend it!

If you've enjoyed this article, why not check out another of our articles about Japanese culture, such as this one called Japanese Wrapping Culture!

Thank you for reading,

Cathy and Yukki


furoshiki gift wrap, Zusetsu Store, Japanese gift wrapping, eco

Zusetsu Store plum blossom logo


Kunio Ekiguchi, Gift Wrapping: Creative Ideas from Japan, (Kodansha International, New York, 1989).

Kaburagi Kiyokata, Cosmos (1913),

Katsushika Hokusai, Ueno, (1801-1810),

Nishikawa Sukenobu, Women Under Cherry Tree By a Wall, Girl with Furoshiki detail (1731)

NHK Dondo Hare screenshot for Shinto wedding photo.


bottom of page