Japan has an elaborate gift culture. Therefore it should come as no surprise that the Japanese are masters of gift wrapping. Their attention to detail, combined with their ancient tradition of beautiful paper makes for some of the most gorgeous gift wrapping I have ever seen.
You might notice that the Japanese wrapping paper is held in place with a single piece of tape. This style of wrapping is different from the common Western way of gift wrapping, in which at least three pieces of tape are necessary: one for the bottom and one for each side.
The trick to only using one piece of tape is in the way you fold the paper. Not only do you need less tape, the Japanese way of folding the wrapping paper is also very beautiful. The only downside is that you need to use more paper than with Western gift wrapping.
I have often stood watching in fascination as a Japanese store clerk was wrapping a gift. For several months I worked up the courage to ask one of them if I could film their gift wrapping technique. Finally I managed to secure the following footage. Unfortunately the man in the video is not the most skilled gift wrapper that I have ever seen, nor the most speedy one. He even uses a few extra pieces of tape! But it might still prove useful in case you want to have a go at Japanese gift wrapping yourself.
At the end of the video, the store clerk asks ‘yoroshii desu ka (is this ok?)’ before putting the bow on the package. That is because in many department stores, the customer gets to choose which paper and which kind of bow or decoration is used. The store clerk in the video is confirming that we want, in fact, the blue bow.
In Matsuzakaya, where this video was taken, they have convenient sample cards with all the available options. The customer can choose any combination of these bows and papers. The fact that a choice is offered and the cute little sample card are so Japanese! It’s things like these that I really miss from Japan.
I like japanese gift wrapping! They always make beautiful wrapping even small gits.
I agree, their attention to detail is amazing!
I lived in Japan for three years when I was small 🙂 I still remember unwrapping gifts my parents used to get back then! I need to wrap a wedding present for my friend and was looking for a website that could teach how to wrap a present the japanese way (because it is the classiest!). I can’t access the youtube video you’ve shared but would be grateful if you could tell me whether the second last image on the post is available in an english version! Unfortunately, I never learnt how to read Japanese as we moved when I had just started learning it in the first grade 😦
I’m sorry that you can’t access the video. Does it have some sort of region lock? If so, please let me know and I will try to fix it.
I don’t have an English version of the diagram. I did find a blog where someone posted photo instructions that look pretty easy to follow. Maybe you could try it with that? http://homeandawaywithlisa.com/blog/2012/6/17/how-to-wrap-gifts-like-a-japanese-department-store.html
How do you measure the amount of paper to use?
I’m not sure. I’ve seen most store clerks just do it by eye, or in other cases, where they only sell boxes of certain sizes, they have a stack of paper of the right size already pre-cut.
i’m always at awe learning about how much details the japanese put on presentations. i always enjoy shopping in japan, and pay attention to how they efficiently wrap them and do so with good taste.
Yes me too. I love how they create beauty everywhere.
Where are the Japanese when I want to wrap my holiday gifts? Fascinating and informative post about a complex culture.
Oh my gosh I didn’t know they wrapped stuff this way! I had to improvise one Christmas when EVERYTHING was closed and I had seriously 12 cm of tape to wrap all my presents. I managed it, yay me! But I thought they looked funky because it wasn’t the traditional wrap job. No one complained and now I know I was pro an Japanese wrapping before I knew it was a thing.What is it they say about necessity being the mother of invention?
Creativity can take you a long way!
I can do that. ^^ My mother is a good gift wrapper. She learned how to wrap cylindrical things when she worked part-time as a college student in the “nori” section of a department store. They come in cylindrical cans.
It should be noted that we take just as great care in unwrapping which no one in the west seems to do (I don’t know about the Chinese or the Koreans). We are never ever supposed to rip any of the wrapping, an act considered rude.
Cylindrical things are so hard to wrap beautifully! If you are ever wondering what to blog about next, maybe you can make a video of your mom wrapping a cylindrical item. I would be very interested to see that!
I know that many people in the West have the habit of just tearing the gift paper, as they try to open the gift as quickly as possible. It gives me the chills to see someone do that (negative chills that is). In my family gift opening has been an important ritual ever since we were children. I think it shows respect towards the person giving the gift if you take your time to open it and treat the paper with care. If it’s a gift from Japan, we even keep the paper to admire or use again. 🙂
And real Japanese paper (washi) can be so expensive, I risk heart attacks when someone rips open gifts wrapped in Japanese paper. ^^
Great post! It is attention to detail like this that makes me love Japan so much 🙂 (Well, it’s one of many reasons) :p
Same here! I love their attention to detail!
Receiving anything wrapped by a Japanese person is a thrill in itself. You know the attention to detail is a gift all of its own. I have been embarrassed many times taking gifts from Australia to Japan (on sister city visits and the like) where the volume of gifts and hasty departure overseas often led to shoddy wrapping. They must think we are barbarians sometimes but they are always gracious never to comment or give any indication of their inner assessment!
So true! I always pay extra attention to wrapping when I give a gift to a Japanese person. And when I receive a gift from Japan, I am often as happy with the packaging as I am with the actual gift ^_^
Oh yes! I really really really miss the attention to detail that the Japanese put into gift wrapping! I was also in Matsuzakaya buying a ceramic mug for my mum earlier this year and they spent a total of 15 minutes wrapping the one mug, not because they were slow (they were actually very quick at every layer), but because there were so many layers to the wrapping that I had to choose, from tissue paper, to the box type, then the box was too small to close the lid, so they engineered a bridge to hold the lid in place…then ribbon and stickers…and all with no extra charge! It was incredible! I wish they did that here in the UK..they made it look so easy! I read somewhere that all sales assistants must go on a whole day’s training course there on gift wrapping before they join the company! I really want to learn how to wrap my presents properly, I think I use at least 10 pieces of sticky tape per present…its shameful! I need to learn the patience for perfection I think! Bonnie
I agree! I love how they take their time until everything is just right ^_^
I didn’t know the Japanese had a different method of wrapping as well! It looks quite complex…
Yes, it does look quite complex and I’ve never been able to reproduce it just by looking at it. Sometimes I would carefully unwrap a gift and then try to use the existing folds to wrap it back up again, but even then I couldn’t do it. Maybe with this video and diagram, I can start practicing myself! I do wish I could have made a video of one of the ladies at the traditional Japanese sweets counter in Matsuzakaya. The speed with which they wrap gifts is incredible!!!