Admit it – when you receive a gift, your first instinct is to tear the wrapper excitedly so you can find out and appreciate what’s inside. This must be the reason why gift wrappers are almost always just an afterthought – it’s what’s inside that counts, after all. Not a lot of people bother with wrapping their gifts beautifully. Some people do not even bother wrapping their gifts anymore and just present the gift in a bag from the store where they purchased it from.
The Japanese are known for doing things traditionally – and beautifully, and this extends to their gift-giving and gift wrapping customs.
It’s not just the thought that counts
While the gift itself is important, for the Japanese, the way the present is wrapped and presented is very important, too – sometimes more than the present. This is because the way the present is wrapped speaks volumes about the intent, symbolism, value, and status of your relationship with the recipient even before the present is unwrapped. Everything - from the materials used to the color of the gift wrapper - has a meaning.
Gift wrap colors: The good and the bad
For birthdays and other happy occasions, red is a good color for your wrap as it symbolizes longevity and energy. You can combine it with white when you are giving a present to newlyweds. Cheerful colors, such as pastels, particularly pink and yellow, are safe bets for other occasions, like when you are giving a souvenir to your host or if you are bringing home tokens to family and friends after a trip. Pastels work, too, when you are exchanging presents with relatives, friends, or co-workers, or if you are presenting your employer with a gift at the end of the year as a token of appreciation.
Generally, black is frowned upon, unless you are presenting the gift to individuals grieving the death of a loved one. You must also be careful with how you combine your colors together, as you might be giving off an unwanted subliminal message. For instance, black and red represent sexuality and that is not the message you want to impart on the grieving or a newlywed. Steer clear of overly bright colors, too, as they are too flashy and might send the wrong message.
Colorful paper and intricate ribbons make for a beautiful presentation, but if you want a truly traditional way of wrapping your gifts, then you can opt to wrap your gift in furoshiki or traditional reusable cloths that have been used to wrap gifts since ancient times.
These beautiful pieces of cloth are made of different fabrics, including the finest silk, rayon, nylon, and cotton. They come in different sizes, too, and unique prints and colors. There are several ways to use it – you can wrap it to resemble a body bag, a hand-carry bag with a sling or one or two handles, as a backpack, or as a typical gift wrapper secured with a ribbon of another fabric or with a hidden knot.
Presenting your gift in a furoshiki also has economical advantages, as you reduce your carbon footprint by not using paper bags or plastic bags. It also allows you to present your recipient with another gift, as they can reuse the furoshiki when they wrap their own gifts, or they can use it as a belt, a bandana, or a handkerchief.
To ensure that your intention and your message is never misinterpreted, it is best to have your gift wrapped by a Japanese the first time. After all, to them, it is not just the thought that counts.