Traditionally, when a visitor to a Japanese home was preparing to leave, it was custom for the family to present some nice sweets in a package of neatly wrapped paper. The practice of so called origata, or – a bit longer – carefully wrapping gifts in decorative paper, is actually an ancient habit that dates back several hundreds of years and has been perfected to quite a level since then. Today PingMag talks to Yuko Nishimura of the Origata Design Institute to get new insights (and lots of inspiration) on this very elaborated ongoing Japanese tradition.
Written by Ryoko
Translated by Kevin Mcgue
So, the founder of the Origata Design Institute, Nobuhiro Yamaguchi, discovered a book on origata at a used bookstore and decided to bring this museum to life. What exactly does origata mean?
Origata is the art of wrapping things in ordinary Japanese paper. It dates back to the Muromachi period from 1336 to 1573, when even items such as dried kelp and paper fans were wrapped in washi, Japanese paper. Items were not simply bundled up, but rather neatly wrapped according to the shape as well as the person to receive it. There were also special ways of wrapping based on the number of items. A certain way to do origata!
Refinement! A chopstick wrapper done at the Origata Design Institute…(Courtesy of Origata Design Institute)
… and a letter envelope with “fumikou,” small folded packets of fragrant incense.(Courtesy of Origata Design Institute)
A book…? No, Japanese hand towels neatly wrapped in paper!(Courtesy of Origata Design Institute)
”Okaishi,” a neat tissue used in Japanese tea ceremonies, folded and wrapped to be presented as gift.(Courtesy of Origata Design Institute)
We found out that noshibukuro, an envelope traditionally used to give money at family gatherings, and shugibukuro, which is used for weddings, are often bought ready to use and are also one form of origata. Mr. Yamaguchi, the founder of the Institute, once couldn’t find a noshibukuro when he needed one and started to think about easy ways of making one himself.
Utmost simplicity! Folded paper that can be used for giving money…(Courtesy of Origata Design Institute)
… and a simple but very chic envelope also for money.(Courtesy of Origata Design Institute)
Now, what new forms of origata have you developed at the Institute?
For example, this is an envelope for fresh tea leaves. So, in the old style there were a lot of pleats that made it look quite luxurious. However, it is very difficult to remember how to fold this, and it takes a long time to fold. So we came up with a much simpler way.
Note that not warpping an item completely is a way to express honest feelings.
What is the most important feature of origata?
Unlike with using wrapping paper, the object is not always completely covered with origata. For example, this wine bottle is wrapped in white paper, but some parts are exposed. It is a message to the person receiving the gift, that it has been kept clean.
We found there are many other messages that can be expressed through origata. For example, kichi no tsutsumi, a good luck fold, is always folded at the front right, creating a small opening on the left side. This expresses a feeling of overflowing with happiness. For the opposite, kyo no tsutsumi, a fold of misfortune, the fold is on the left side, expressing the giver’s sympathy for the receiver.
A “good luck fold,” with the paper folded at the front right…(Courtesy of Origata Design Institute)
… and the “fold of misfortune,” with a fold at the front left, used for giving offerings at funerals.(Courtesy of Origata Design Institute)
Spot the small gap at the left…
… and this fold has two exactly matching edges.
Interestingly, the paper you use at the Institute is specially designed for you. And at the shop samakatadou next to your office, you have lots of them for sale…
We used to use washi, Japanese paper, we bought at shops. However, it is always sold in very large sheets, and taking it home and cutting it into small pieces was very troublesome. So, we thought Why not just make paper ourselves? We worked with a young paper maker in Mino City, Gifu, to make paper in half-sized sheets.
And, apart from origata, what else are you interested in?
We are researching why people wrap items in the first place. Then, h many ways of wrapping can be achieved with a single sheet of paper? What kind of shapes can be created? Paper can only be folded forward or back, but many sorts of shapes can be created through those simple folds. We are researching the limits of those possibilities, and using our shop to show what we have developed.
Your message for origata starters?
Origata only takes a little extra effort to show consideration for the person you are giving something to, so I hope more people will make origata part of their everyday lives.
Thank you so much, Yuko of the Origata Design Institute! We will try one of these intriguing folds right away!