3.a The concept of wrapping: origata and tsutsumi

There are many techniques and schools for wrapping, but basically Origata[9], or the art of gift-wrapping, is the action of folding paper without cutting it. The complexity of the rules of wrapping and the techniques of origata, though important, are not the subject of this thesis. I mainly focus on the social and ritual uses of wrapping rather than the techniques of folding. Japanese people elaborate on the fact that gifts must not be unwrapped in front of the donor of the gift. Wrapping, however, is not a synonym for sealing, concealing a gift, or creating surprise. Japanese ritual wrapping tends both to exhibit the contents of the gift, and to add a touch of ‘gentle concealment’ (Ekiguchi 1985: 6).
Many authors have noted that the concept of wrapping (tsutsumi) is not limited to the notion of packaging. Ekiguchi (1985) has argued that tsutusmi encompasses the ideas of wrapping the space, the self and the supernatural (1985: 6) These authors seem to agree that the most fundamental aspect of wrapping in Japan is that it defines the happiness or sadness of the occasions. Auspicious or inauspicious colours are used to design the paper and wrapping cloths for gifts and people. Ekiguchi conveys the importance of wrapping papers and symbolic colours and their relation to auspiciousness and inauspiciousness, in his statement that:
wrapping in (white washi or Japanese paper) is analogous to a kind of pledge that the contents were protected from all impurities. The fact that washi, once creased, will hold the crease forever has also come to symbolise this seal against impurities (...) white paper is used because white is the colour of gods, and therefore, is free of all contamination (1994: 6). Red indicates human life and vitality (Ekiguchi 1994: 6), and according to most informants it is an indication of health and fortune.
Barthes argues that Japanese wrapping postpones the discovery of the object, which to him is insignificant. Wrapping is a luxury of signs. The object of the gift is the wrapping and not what is contained within it (Barthes 1970: 66). Hendry also argues that Japanese wrap not only objects but language (in politeness), the body (in clothing and tattooing), space (in layering rooms) and human relations (inclusiveness in groups) (Hendry 1993: 14, 1997: 627). The point these authors seem to make is that Japanese wrapping ‘nicely breaks down the material/non-material divide we are prone to make’ (Hendry 1993: 172).

[9]Notes on the history of Origami.
http://www.rug.nl/rugcis/rc/ftp/origami/lists/history.html by Joseph Wu (1994, 1995, 1996, 1997)