2020 NO.29


The Ties Binding the Heart of Japan


Forging Bonds Through Heartfelt Gifts

Gifts are given to extend congratulations to someone dear for us, or to express feelings of appreciation to someone who has been helpful and supportive to us. The culture of exchanging gifts is a cherished, time-honored custom in Japan. The origata tradition that lives on today, embodies those sentiments and customs; and, mizuhiki decorations are used to adorn places of celebration.

This photo shows a highly decorative work of origata for a choshi- (Japanese sake pouring bottle) and hisage- (ceremonial Japanese sake decanter) kazari (ornament). These vessels are used in pairs, reminiscent of the sight of two butterflies cheerfully fluttering together in the air.


Origata is still used today on occasions such as when providing hospitality to others or as an appreciative acknowledgement for a congratulatory gift.

Origata, with a 600-year history, is a protocol with detailed rules that instruct how gifts are wrapped and tied with strings. This protocol was passed down among samurai families as a form of etiquette, and later it entered into the lives of the common people as well.

Gifts are wrapped in a way so that recipients can open them easily with their dominant hand. The giver extends their consideration for the recipient by leaving a part unwrapped, thereby allowing the recipient to see the contents partially.

Scissors are never used for origata, even with the most intricate wrapping designs. Rather, items are wrapped by folding washi (Japanese traditional hand-made paper) in multiple layers. The size and quality of the washi express respect and are selected to befit the quality of the gift and the status of the recipient. Elegant and pure white washi is most typically used, but this is sometimes layered with several sheets of pastel washi to provide further formality.

Court nobles used hemp or silk string to tie the wrapping, while samurai used koyori, which is string made by twisting thin washi. In later years, it became popular to use red and white or silver and gold mizuhiki strings hardened with starch.
Origata has long been part of traditional Japanese culture, having been passed down through the generations. The type of origata used is determined by what kind of gift is to be wrapped; however, the sentiment behind origata is not bound by its forms and is actually quite liberal. The regard for others that underpins the custom of gift-giving continues to live on in the hearts of the Japanese people today.

Origata can be considered as an art form for paper, created with a single sheet of washi. The photo shows a wrapping example for an auspicious ceremony.

Left: An exquisite obi-tsutsumi wrapping of an expensive sash.
Middle: Based on descriptions in Japanese ancient writings, Noshiawabi-mushibi replicates a kind of wrapping to wrap dried strips of abalone, which are a rarity today.
Right: Wrapped Katsuobushi (dried bonito), as an offering to the gods.

Kusabana-tsutsumi is for presenting the rustic charm of freshly-cut seasonal flowers.

Items that were essential to the daily life of samurai, such as writing brushes, would be casually wrapped and given by using a typical origata wrapping.

Yamane Kazuki, Head of the Yamane Origata School
Yamane Kazuki devotes himself in spreading the historically grounded principles and charm of origata methods so washi culture may be incorporated into people’s modern lifestyles.
Origata is about making the effort and keeping good faith to better relationships with others,” he says. “Regard for others is what underlies the unbroken tradition of origata.”

All works on p.8-9 are by Yamane Kazuki.