Published on 16 Dec 2020

Wonderfully fiddly Japanese Past times

As this strange year nears its end, lockdown eased early December, but there are rumours of London entering tier 3 again later this week.

When restrictions ease again, will we eagerly dart out into the illuminated city adorned in festive mood, dine out and socialise just like the olden days? Or will we stay cautious and spend more time with close family, indoors, and around our neighbourhood?

The uncertainty, unpredictability, unusualness of it all is alarming and awakening. How will we spend the last days of 2020 and what will 2021 bring.

Japanese culture is abundant in fiddly handicraft which is a wonderful way to spend long evenings huddled inside with a nice cup of tea. Our favourites are Japanese houji-cha green tea, Jasmine tea, and English afternoon tea.

Mizuhiki 水引き
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These exquisite decorative pieces are made with mizuhiki cord, a special material specifically designed to create them. The cords come in many playful and gorgeous colours but traditionally for festive occasions like New Year's, the red and white combination is preferred. The cut offs that point upwards symbolises growth, prosperity, and abundance. On the other hand for funerals and sad occasions, the cut offs point downwards and black and white mizuhiki are usually used. The exception is the bow tie design, that is festive in its self and is considered allowed to point downwards. The meaning behind the bow tie is that it can be undone and retied many times over, making it a perfect design to use for celebrations of such that would be welcomed to repeat, like a new born baby, greeting in the New Year, or a promotion. Some important points to remember if designing your own!


The top design is called Awaji-musubi あわじ結び, one of the most popular ways of tie. It does not come undone easily, so is used in situations we pray to not be repeated, like an unfortunate accident. But then again, the two circles are tightly bound together and will only tighten when the ends are pulled, so the design is also used for eternal connection, like weddings. Making this design one that you can't go wrong with. Good to know!


The bottom left is named Daki-awaji-musubi, made in bi-coloured mizuhiki. This style is often seen on elaborate Japanese paper envelopes that are used to include money to offer the couple at wedding ceremonies, congratulate someone on their graduation, or send best wishes to young children as New Year’s Otoshidama pocket money in a noshi bukuro (like seen in below picture)


A variation of Awaji musubi is the bottom right Ume-musubi 梅結び. Ume is the Japanese word for plum, the blossom of New Year's, a sign of hope and new beginnings. The plum ties are often made into beautiful little ornaments and jewellery like earrings.


Get Crafty
If intricate handiwork is your thing, you will really enjoy this! Although the mizuhiki isn't readily available everywhere, there are stores that sell it on amazon and etsy. Here's a great video we found that demonstrates the ume-musubi.
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Experiment with colours and different number of strands and the hours will melt away! 

A little bit of History

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Mizuhiki cords were traditionally made with tightly rolled washi paper dipped in mizunori, a watery glue, hence the name mizu=water hiki=drawn and dipped. 

Back in the day, we hear that women would learn how to make simple mizuhiki designs as part of their Hanayome-shugyo, training to be a good bride, and it was included in their school curriculum!

One rule is that the darker colour, red, should come to the right, the lighter, white, to the left if colours or alternated, otherwise, they can be mixed. The above is the auspicious crane, representing longevity, as they themselves enjoy long lives. Crane couples are said to be intimate and stay together for life, thus the bird native to Japan is also considered good luck for couples.


Other Japanese crafty things
Hanamusubi 華結び also known as Kumihimo 組紐

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The tools to make this are more easy to come by as you can basically use any sort of thin rope and a pair of long tweezers. The designs are perfect for wrapping presents, handcrafting brooches and other accessories. It is also the tie used to close the lucky charms that are sold at offices of shrines and temples.
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Look out for these designs that can be hidden in all sorts of places within a Japanese culinary setting. Maybe you'll come across some them on our chopstick rests, ceramics, serving tools, sakeware... another details to look forward to on your next Japanese adventure.