Chowa at Christmas

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The Japanese art of giving gifts

Christmas is a time for exchanging gifts and celebrating family and friends. In Japan, the traditional way of giving gifts has a focus on avoiding waste as Akemi explored in one chapter of her book The Power Of Chowa.

I always feel a twinge of sadness at Christmas in the UK when I see all that wrapping paper ripped off and thrown aside, or stuffed into black bin bags, especially as it has only been used for one day. I always think ‘mottainai’ – what a waste.

In Japan, gifts are sometimes still wrapped in a silk-patterned cloth called a furoshiki. Traditionally, these cloths have many uses. They are used to wrap clothes, which can then be kept neatly folded in a storage cupboard. They are used to carry things (they were once as common as bags or satchels are in the West). They can be used to carry vegetables, bags of rice, lunch-boxes, even small infants. When it comes to wrapping gifts with furoshiki, after the person receives the gift – which they would usually open privately at home, not in the presence of the giver – they would make sure that the furoshiki was returned to its owner so they could use it again. Wrapping a gift in cloth, as well as being an elegant way to give someone a present, is ecologically friendly.

Even if you don’t invest in a furoshiki, perhaps you could still practise the spirit of reuse the furoshiki teaches us by taking a little more care over the paper your gifts are wrapped in, so you can use it again. When wrapping gifts, if you do so carefully, without using sticky tape but string or ribbon instead, it encourages others to reuse the wrapping paper too.

Whether you are searching for balance at home, at work, in your relationships or in any other area of your life, chowa offers new solutions and a way of thinking that we could all benefit from, now more than ever.

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