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Packaging With Soul

We normally post images of the items we sell, but this is an exception. Only, the same type of egg holder withWaramu's is featured on the front cover of this book. "Tsutsumu: the Origin of Japanese Packaging" is an inspiring catalogue of traditional packaging design, collected, researched and commented by Oka Hideyuki.  

Oka was a graphic designer in the early post-war Japan, and spent a good part of his professional career in this rather under-valued area of vernacular packaging culture. A brainchild of his long time passion, this collection was well exhibited in 1975-76 and toured more than 100 countries including USA, Brazil, France, and New Zealand.

In this book, straightforward photographs of packaging are shown based on the material used - mainly wood, bamboo, rice straws, paper, and clay. Apparently the egg holder attracted people's eye most, hence the icon of the whole collection. It is fascinating to see how people packed and wrapped various foods (sticky, soupy, powdery), medicine, liquid, and money etc with similarly tricky natural materials. When flipping through this book, I thought that it was the same kind of ingenuity that "wrapped" the human body for many centuries, which I mean the kimono.

At the same time I can not stop thinking that this kind of traditional packaging was certainly not regarded as anything of value in the late 1950's when Oka started collecting. As a designer, initially intrigued by the form of packaging, Oka says " I began to look at something beyond the from. My interest shifted to the breathing of the people behind the forms".

Why they had to pack such common and inexpensive everyday items in that utmost care and beauty? One answer is that people did it because they had to. George Nelson (that one) wrote in his forward to one of Oka's books, "Because the existence of a designed, man-made things demanded that it be appropriate, a feast for all the senses, beautiful."

Although we cannot trace the influence of the Mingei Movement on Oka's artistic career, his goal seems to be bordering on Mingei's, only from the modern designer's point of view.

If you are interested, there are translated editions of Oka's books (not exactly the same as "Tsutsumu" but similar photo book) in many languages. Especially its English language edition, "How To Wrap 5 Eggs" (Shambhala Publications), is widely available from many retailers. I can not refrain from quoting George Nelson's words again: "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 feel of very ordinary, humble things."


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