Is there anything that attracts more excitement than a beautifully wrapped gift? We often say that it’s the thought that counts, but a more concrete way to convey that heart-felt message is through presentation. In Japan, where the act of gift-giving is an important aspect of social interaction, not just around the occasion for the gift or its content but in the way it's presented.
Seasonal events like those for the New Year’s are rites of passage that are all guided by specific customs.
One element that often appears on a Japanese gift is Mizuhiki, a symbol of warmth, connection and togetherness.
Mizuhiki (水引) are traditional decorative cords which are made of tightly spun washi paper braided into intricate knots and are used as embellishments for envelopes containing gifts of money on ceremonial occasions, meaningful presents and protective amulets offered by temples and shrines.
While the exact time origin of Mizuhiki is unknown, it’s widely believed that this practice emerged in the 7th century when Chinese envoys traveled to Japan bearing gifts for the Emperor. These gifts were tied up with red and white cords. When Japanese government officials saw these neatly wrapped packages they believed that the cords were meant to show respect and wishes for a safe journey from the Sui dynasty. However, the Chinese envoys tied them with brightly coloured cords to distinguish goods for export from ones for themselves.
There is also the story of Ono no Imoko, a Japanese official having returned from his journey to China bearing gifts for the Emperor wrapped in red and white twine which was used to represent the wishes for a safe journey
Whether these stories are true or not, they all come back to the root of expressing one’s affection for loved ones.
Mizuhiki are made by twisting small pieces of washi paper, hardening them with a glue paste, then colouring them with a dye or wrapping them in a thin silver or gold paper. Mizuhiki come in a range of colours each representing a different meaning. Combinations of red and white or gold and silver are considered lucky and celebratory in nature, while the combination of black and white or yellow and white are more often chosen to commemorate an event. Although today, Mizuhiki artists are more welcoming to the idea of incorporating a wider range of colors into their crafts.
Among various coloured cords, white Mizuhiki, called Motoyui were used to tie one’s hair in the Edo period (1603-1867) continue to be used today to tie the topknot of sumo wrestlers.
The number of Koyori strings used to tie a Mizuhiki also holds meaning. Odd numbers are considered auspicious and are often used to celebrate happy events, while even numbers are reserved to commemorate events. An exception is made for marriage, where the Mizuhiki is made out of 10 strands as it’s believed that the union between a pair of 5-strand Mizuhiki would double the luck, just like the union between the groom and the bride.
In many cultures, knots have a close association with the symbolism for love, friendship and connection.
The motif for knots can be found across legends, ancient tales and customs in both the Western and Eastern world. Each intricate knot that makes up the ancient art of Mizuhiki also hold a deeper meaning,
There are several variations of knots, all which hold a deeper meaning, with each fitting to the needs of the respective social occasions which they are used for such as weddings, births, funerals,hospital visits and otherrituals. In a nutshell, the core behind each Mizuhiki knot can be understood at a glance from how easily the knot can be undone.
Musubi Kiri & Awabi Musubi
These knots are difficult to unravel once they’re fully tied. The way that this Mizuhiki knot holds its form symbolizes the wish of the giver for an event to occur only once. This type of knot is commonly used for weddings and funerals as the knot symbolizes stable relationships and feelings of condolence.
This is the bowknot style which can be tied and re-tied over many times. This type of knot is used for celebratory events such as the birth of a child, promotions, entrance, graduation and coming of age ceremonies. The ability to easily re-tie the knot is a representation of an occasion that is joyful regardless of how many times it occurs in one’s lifetime.
Mizuhiki is an ancient Japanese art that helps convey more than can be said in words. It’s a small, but heartfelt detail that continues to transform a simple exchange of gifts into something more meaningful. It can represent all the joy, empathy and sentiment that gift giving is meant to be.
Gift giving in Japanese culture is done often without the need for a special occasion. Mizuhiki places more of an emphasis on humility and social obligations – gifts are given when indebted to others, both in situations relating to family and business - including often to guests, designed to provide fond memories and respect. The value of the gift lies not in the cost or the size, but it is truly in the thought that goes into finding a practical and meaningful gift and presenting it in a respectful, traditional manner.
Providing the gift of The Shikohin Way is a great way to share love and tranquility with those you care about.
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