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November 7, 2008

How to Wrap Five Eggs, a mid-60s classic of Japanese design, came back into print in the US last month from Shambhala Publications.  Assembled by graphic designer Hikeyuki Oka in 1965, this stunningly laid-out paean to traditional Japanese packaging is rife with sumptuous black and white photos by Michikazu Sakai of all manner of boxes, wrappers and containers that appear at once homely and sophisticated, ingeniously utilitarian yet fine and rare.

shambalaopender


This festive, ceremonial box is a miniature replica of a manju, a box used for steaming dumplings.

Famed American designer George Nelson wrote the forward to the 1967 American publication of the book, where he noted, “what we have lost for sure is what this book is all about: a once-common sense of fitness in the relationships between hand, material, use and shape, and above all, a sense of delight in the look and fell of very ordinary, humble things.”


The folded kumazasa bamboo leaves that make up this package work to flavor the dough and bean jam confection inside.

I fully second Nelson’s amazement at the care and craftsmanship that went into these packages, and each bespeaks an ethos that the way a thing is contained, packaged, and transported is as important as the thing itself. In an era when most packaging is either trying to resell you what you’ve already bought, or preening over just how recyclable/compostable/biodegradable it is (wouldn’t no packaging be greenest?), this book feels like refreshingly like an oasis and dispiritedly like an elegy. 


This bamboo basket is adorned with an artificial tea blossom and holds tea-flavored candies called cha-ame.

Nelson again: “I think they did it [created packaging like this] because they had to, because they were utterly unable to recognize (as we do all the time) that there is a significant difference between and imperial villa and a jug of sake. Because the existence of a designed, man-made thing demanded that it be appropriate, a feast for all the senses, beautiful.”


This handmade paper bag with silk drawstring contains sembei (rice crackers) and comes from the town of Kuwana.


This packaging contains a confection called Taiko and hails from the Kagawa Prefecture.

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