Tying the Knot: The magic of Mizuhiki that brings people together

Mizuhiki, a word closely associated with the Japanese word musubu (connection, tying) are twines of “washi” rice paper tied in knots to decorate gifts and small envelopes. 

Its cultural significance lies in it being a beautiful finishing touch on presents, and as a symbol of affection or togetherness, just as the word “musubu” would imply. 

Mizuhiki’s origins in Japanese culture are still unclear, yet many historians believe that its history goes as far back as 607A.D., when a Japanese envoy from China presented a gift to the Emperor of Japan. This gift, decorated in red and white twine was used to represent wishes for a safe journey, and was said to have been incorporated into the Japanese culture of gift giving thereafter.

The variations of knots all have a deeper meaning, with each fitting to the needs of the respective social contexts in which they are used such as weddings, births, funeral services and hospital visits. Yet, when put into simple terms, the core meaning of each Mizuhiki knot is derived from how easily the knot can be undone. 

The first category are knots called “Musubi Kiri” or “Awabi Musubi”, knots which are difficult to unravel once they’ve been fully tied. The way that this Mizuhiki tie holds its form symbolizes the wish of the giver for an event to occur once and only once. Commonly used for weddings, funerals and get well wishes, the knot symbolizes stable relationships and feelings of condolence. 

“Musubi Kiri” or “Awabi Musubi”, knots which are difficult to unravel

The second form, “Cho-musubi” or the bowknot style, is one that can be tied and re-tied many times over. This type of knot is used for most celebratory events (excluding weddings), such as for the birth of a child, promotions, entrance/ graduation ceremonies and coming of age ceremonies. The ability for the knot to easily be re-tied represents occasions that are joyful regardless of how many times they occur. 

“Cho-musubi”, know that can be tied and re-tied many times over

Placing beauty and meaning in the small details, Mizuhiki has given a way for gift givers to express what’s often hard to put into words. The ability for the receiver to appreciate the gift itself and the delicate thought that went into the tying of it is a form of communication on its own.

With younger generations slowly straying away from tradition, the Mizuhiki industry has looked to innovation in efforts to create a fresh image of this commonly seen knot. 

Yet through the ages, the Mizuhiki knot continues to transform an exchange of tangible things into something more, representing all of the joy, empathy and sentiment that gift giving is meant to be. 

For more on Japanese crafts and culture be sure to check out our other articles and our Instagram @pieceofjapan .

Traditional envelope with a less traditional fish shaped knot
Knots that mimic Japanese confectionaries
Mizuhiki knots used as a chopstick holder and ornaments for seasonal, celebratory chopsticks

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