Japan has a rich history of packaging design that dates back hundreds of years and rooted in a tradition of gift-giving. Before industrial materials like plastic and cardboard, gifts were wrapped in straw, bamboo, leaves and paper: an art unto itself that lives on today in the form of products often wrapped in as many physical as symbolic layers.
Every two years the JPDA (Japan Packaging Design Association) celebrates excellence in packaging design by hosting the Japan Packaging Design Awards. The winners of the 2021 Awards were just announced and can be all viewed here (PDF) but we’ve put together some of our favorites!
I may be a little biased but I love this packaging design for honey, made from bees and flowers from the Tokyo suburb of Koganei where I grew up. The minimalist packaging was designed by Tsuto and the honey is available here.
Touch-And-Go Coffee is a really cool concept from Suntory that allows you to order coffee ahead of time and then pick up your specialty brew from a locker at an unmanned kiosk in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district. The modern packaging, designed in-house by Suntory, features your name above your custom order.
Hito to Kito Hitotoki Junmai Sake
This junmai sake was brewed in wooden barrels — a rarity these these days — by Imayotsukasa. The ultra-minimal packaging design from Bullet Inc is inspired by this traditional process and is made from a special heat-sensitive paper called pachika (which is coincidentally the same paper used in these Farewell My Tokyo prints). The sake is available here.
Gujohachiman Natural Water Cider
A festive design by Ayako Ono for a limited edition set of local cider produced in Gujo (Gifu Prefecture), which is famous for their spring water. The design takes inspiration from the local gujo-odori dance. The cider itself is available on Amazon but this limited edition set appears to be sold out.
STIIK is a brand of ultra-thin ohashi made to look more like cutlery than chopsticks. P.K.G. Tokyo created this unusual packaging design which displays only 1 chopstick but actually houses 3 more. So each minimal design contains a set of chopsticks for two people.
Pocky THE GIFT
Designed by creative director Yoshihiro Yagi, the slimmed down packaging design of one of Japan’s most iconic snacks is minimalist yet playful, making the most of a palette of pop colors. Pocky THE GIFT are available at select shops around Japan.
Umeshu The Amber
A set of 3 umeshu (plum wine) bottles of varying vintages (2007, 2009 and 2011) so you can taste the differences. Also designed by P.K.G. Tokyo, the packaging incorporates different plum floral motifs for each bottle that all come beautifully packaged in a paulownia wood box. Available here.
Hakoya Fermented Condiments
Fermented and pickled foods maker Yamatoya created a series of fermented condiments including various vinegars and ponzu. Peace Graphics created this beautiful paper packaging that incorporates the logo of the brand 八幸八 (hakkoya) in a fluid graphic.
Gekokujo is a Japanese word for revolution when, specifically, someone of a lower position overthrows someone of a higher position. Wagashi-maker Tamaiya Honpo created these sugary sweets based on the tradition of cormorant fishing in which fishermen use trained cormorants to fish in rivers. The roles here have been reversed and design firm Spice created this beautiful packaging for the humorous sweets. They’re available here.
Nara Hotel Soap
Nara Hotel and soap-maker Cow Brand Soap are both Kansai-based businesses that were founded in 1909. So for their 110-year anniversary they created a co-branded product. The bold, red packaging, designed by Sun Design Associates, was created as an homage to the packaging of Cow Soap.
Koka City Cardboard Mailing Box
Koka City (Shiga prefecture) tasked local designer Masahiro Minami with creating a unique and playful mailing box that could be used to send gifts to others while promoting the city. The design takes inspiration from the city’s ninja tradition to create a repeating graphic reminiscent of a high-end handbag.