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Mizuhiki: The Art of Tying Knots 

We have just entered an exciting holiday gift season. Finding unique items for your loved ones is certainly crucial, but in Japan, the presentation is as important as the gift itself. Japanese people traditionally use thin cords to tie and embellish gifts at the very end of the wrapping process, especially for formal gifts. This cord is called mizuhiki, and its history dates all the way back to the seventh century. To learn more about this centuries-old Japanese embellishment and its many uses, we attended a workshop offered by the Japan Society and the Nagano Prefectural Government. (This prefecture produces 70% of the total mizuhiki in Japan!)

Mizuhiki is made of washi paper that is twisted into thin, strong, stiff––yet flexible––cord. It is thought that this cord was first brought to Japan from China in the seventh century and was used in the imperial court. For centuries, mizuhiki was used in aristocratic and high-class circles, but during the Edo period (1608–1868) it became more common. 

Since mizuhiki is strong and flexible, it was used as a hair accessory in the olden days, when both men and women in Japan always tied their hair back. Although this tradition ended after the samurai era, sumo wrestlers still use mizuhiki to tie their hair. 

There are a variety of mizuhiki colors today, but the most traditional ones are red, white, gold, and silver for celebratory occasions and black, white, and silver for somber events like funerals. These basic color rules are still followed, but there is now more freedom to use different colors to decorate gift wrap and envelopes as well as to make ornaments and accessories.

During the workshop led by Ms. Yuko Kinoshita of Kinoshita Mizuhiki––a mizuhiki company based in Iida, Nagano––we were provided with various colors and types of mizuhiki to make a flower-shaped pin. Traditional mizuhiki is made of paper, but there are other varieties today, including ones made with colored paper and those wrapped with colored rayon silk and shiny films made of paper or plastic.

First, Ms. Kinoshita taught us how to make the Awaji knot, a very basic mizuhiki knot that can be made into various creations depending on the size of the loops, the number of cords, and the number of knots. Once we got comfortable making the Awaji knot, we moved onto making two Awaji knots with two mizuhiki. (As the number of mizuhiki increases, it gets increasingly difficult to make a neatly aligned knot.) Next, we brought the ends of the mizuhiki back toward the first loop we made, passed them through the loop, and pulled hard, creating five petals of a flower. We repeated the same process once more and layered the two mizuhiki flowers. Finally, we attached an already-made mizuhiki ball in the center and glued this to a pin to create a gorgeous mizuhiki flower pin. It’s a magical feeling to create this three-dimensional item using only paper cords. 

Today, mizuhiki artists in Japan create various items, including holiday ornaments. WAZA New York, a shop that features Japanese arts and crafts, has started carrying mizuhiki ornaments (shown below) at both its Midtown and SoHo locations. From traditional to modern, small to big, you are sure to find mizuhiki ornaments that are perfect for decorating your home. 

Japan Society

333 E. 47th St., New York, NY 10017

Kinoshita Mizuhiki

8-1 Kamitonooka, Iida, Nagano

JAPAN 395-0153

WAZA New York

(Midtown location)

1073 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10018 Lower level of Kinokuniya Bookstore

(Soho location)

33 Spring St., New York, NY 10012


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