Mizuhiki, a decorative string that connects a wish with sincerity

Mizuhiki, a decorative string that connects a wish with sincerity

Articles such as shugibukuro (special envelope for congratulatory monetary gifts) and gift wrappers involve the use of special decorative strings.

Mizuhiki is a form of traditional craft that originated from respect and good wishes for the recipient and from Japanese original manners. Related articles such as betrothal gifts and New Year decorations are deeply rooted in the lives of Japanese people.

Ms. Toshiko UCHINO, a mizuhiki artist, continues to explore new and possible representations while maintaining the traditional technique of knotting.

The tight, beautiful knotting conveys the wish of Ms. Uchino that human relationships be valued.


Mizuhiki artist

Toshiko Uchino


Born in Kumamoto in 1963 and graduated from Musashino Junior College of Art. After working in advertising design and building design, Ms. Uchino began her career as a mizuhiki artist in 1995 and started basketry in 2000. Based on the key phrase, “Utilize mizuhiki in everyday life,” she engages energetically in her activities by making and selling her original works, holding personal exhibitions, running a mizuhiki course in Kumamoto-shi, Kumamoto and organizing workshops around the country. In 2005, she returned to her hometown in Kumamoto with her husband and opened Shirotsume, a commodities shop. In 2016, she was selected as an exhibitor at Kaminote-Nippon Exhibition II. Ms. Uchino has also exhibited her works at Hotel Gajoen Tokyo and Telepia Hall (Nagoya) and acquired a good reputation.

In the photo, she can be seen with her beloved dog Poron.



Mizuhiki is a decorative string for use with a paper-wrapped gift to be presented on ceremonial occasions such as wakes and weddings. Mizuhiki is typically used with a shugibukuro (special envelope for congratulatory monetary gifts) and a bushugibukuro (special envelope for condolence money). Mizuhiki may also be used without either of these envelopes, for New Year decorations, betrothal gifts, the interior of wedding venues and others. It has a long history and is said to date back to the Asuka period. During that time, boxes of reciprocal gifts from China were bound with red and white hemp yarn. The hemp yarn was replaced by paper in the Muromachi period, and the paper was widely popularized in the Edo period in parallel with cultural developments and the establishment of manners. Mizuhiki has many meanings depending on its color, number, knot, shape and other specifics. It can also be used for different purposes depending on the occasion. Although differences exist among regions, it is common practice to bind five strings of red and white or gold and silver mizuhiki on congratulatory occasions such as a betrothal contract or marriage, and to knot them in a style called “musubikiri,” a firm knot which means that marriage should be a unique experience in life and should not be repeated. The reason for binding five strings is that five is considered to be an important odd number in the Chinese Yin/Yang principle.

“The string looks different after each knot. That is the fun and beautify of mizuhiki,” says Ms. Toshiko Uchino, a mizuhiki artist who extensively explores representations with the use of the traditional mizuhiki technique. Ms. Uchino’s works range from everyday items--tableware such as chopstick rests and accessories such as seasonal ornaments--to a one-meter-tall three-dimensional work. They continue fascinating people with their dignified formative art and sophistication that resonates with Japanese people’s aesthetics. “My mizuhiki works are based on ancient Japanese practices and manners. Each knot has a meaning, so I do not want anyone to feel bad after seeing my work. This is why I keep studying using old literature and so on in an effort to obtain the correct knowledge. Breaking with tradition is acceptable if it is based on sufficient knowledge. In my view, however, making a work of art at will and on impulse without historical knowledge is the wrong thing to do,” says Ms. Uchino. Mizuhiki is a form of traditional craft that was developed by our ancestors. It originated from the purpose of adding to a gift respect and good wishes to the recipient. The works of Ms. Uchino also represent the virtues of Japanese people.

The three-dimensional mizuhiki work, Ho-oh (2016), was showcased at Kaminote-Nippon Exhibition II, a popular exhibition of Japanese artists with unique sensitivity and craftsmanship. The nearly one-meter-tall work uses about 1,000 strings of mizuhiki.

The work is exhibited in the Jippo-no-ma room along the Hyakudan Kaidan stairs, tangible cultural properties designated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

“As a child, I was curious about the mizuhiki on shugibukuro envelopes and meals. I used to unbind them for fun,” says Ms. Uchino. She studied art at university and worked in advertising design and building design. In an unexpected turn of events, she participated in mizuhiki classes, which led her to pursue a career as a mizuhiki artist.


“I had no particular motive when I started attending the classes. Deep inside, however, I may have had the potential to appreciate the beauty of mizuhiki. I almost gave up halfway through. I was able to continue because an acquaintance whom I look up to encouraged me to hang on, saying that something good might be waiting for me if I didn’t give up,” she recalls. She kept going to the classes and learned the basics for two years. She then began to teach herself mizuhiki, and held her first personal exhibition in her hometown in Kumamoto in 1998. The meeting with the owner of the gallery also had a significant influence on Ms. Uchino’s method of creating her works. “The owner has a very keen appreciation for art and is able to see through my ambivalence by just looking at my work. Whenever I create a work, I find myself wondering what the owner would think about it. Many of my works use few colors, mostly one or two. The owner also told me the importance of pursing beautiful forms without relying on the gorgeousness of a color. I would like to keep creating works that I can be proud of for the owner and the people who buy my works.” Ms. Uchino has established the foundation of her career as a mizuhiki artist by placing importance on relationships with people and forming connections with them.

(1) Available in a total of 120 colors, the flower-shaped chopstick rests with the kasane combination of colors are perfectly suited for New Year and early spring tableware. (2) The elegant shugibukuro envelopes (with a money clip and an inner envelope in each of them) use handmade ganpishi (Japanese paper made from the fiber of the plant species Diplomorpha sikokiana). (3) The basketry work represents a knitting technique for making products such as baskets. (4) The work, made to look like a plant collection, represents plants with the use of the knotting technique of mizuhiki. Limiting the colors is meant to pursue the beauty of form. (5) The works, mamebonsai (bean pot), consist of clay and dry moss in the palm-sized pots. All of the plants are made with the technique of mizuhiki.

*Items (1) and (2) are available from Shirotsume, an online shop.

Online shop: http://shirotsume.com/shirotsume-Direct

Mizuhiki is made by twisting long, thin strings of paper and applying aqueous paste onto them before they dry and harden. Mizuhiki is available in many different varieties in terms of color, material, hardness, gloss and other aspects. For example, artificial silk threads may be used instead of paper strings. Colored twisted-paper strings may be wrapped with lame yarn film. “Mizuhiki has good elasticity due to being made of twisted paper. It is knitted while being raised. This is not possible with other materials,” says Ms. Uchino. In commercializing a shugibukuro envelope of her own design, she paid particular attention to the wrapper with which the mizuhiki was to be used. “Usually, the fine crepe paper that we call danshi is used for a shugibukuro envelope. I really wanted to make the envelope with a different type of paper, however. I therefore visited numerous washi (Japanese paper) shops and looked for the paper I wanted. I finally came across Ozu Washi, a washi shop in Nihonbashi, Tokyo that sells excellent washi with the glossy color of ecru that is thin but tough. I still use products from Ozu Washi to make shugibukuro envelopes.” The uncompromising and careful selection of an envelope and the mizuhiki to bind it tightly and in a dignified manner... The shugibukuro envelopes made by Ms. Uchino add stunning value to the wish for the well-being of the one that receives it.

Ms. Uchino uses these tools to make her mizuhiki works. They include scissors and pliers for crafting, a stick called the chiribo for winding mizuhiki and a boring tool called the meuchi.

Ms. Uchino’s atelier keeps about 200 varieties of mizuhiki in stock. Based on an understanding of the gloss, strength and characteristics of the material, she selects the strings that are most suitable for a specific work.

■How to make iwaihashioki (congratulatory chopstick rest)

Use a set of five strings. Knot the set in awaji-musubi, the basic of all knotting styles. Place jimaki wire (wire wrapped in colored paper) in contact with the set of strings and wind floral tape around it. Then wind up the wire until the tape is completely hidden. Bend the neck part and obliquely cut the beak part. A crane-shaped iwaihashioki is complete.

Ms. Uchino moved to her hometown in Kumamoto with her husband in 2005. Her life became very busy. Aside from the production of works for personal exhibitions, she had to run the shop selling commodities such as mizuhiki and also respond to media interviews. In 2011, she hesitated to continue with the business of mizuhiki. That was when an unprecedented disaster occurred. “Right after the earthquake, I sent water, food, carry cases and other supplies to the affected areas. I then began to hear people saying that they had nothing to do there. So I went to a temporary house in Yamamoto-cho, Miyagi one year after the disaster, in March, and held a mizuhiki workshop. One of the people who attended the workshop said, “I wish I had died.” From the day of the workshop, however, that person came to know the fun of mizuhiki, began to independently learn how to make mizuhiki and grew capable of creating their own works. I sincerely thought that I should keep up with the activity if what I had learned through mizuhiki would make just one person smile.”

In the summer of 2012, Ms. Uchino sent the small tanabata decorations to disaster-affected people who were living in temporary housing.

A shot from her workshop held in the spring of 2012

Photo: Yuboku Cafe

Her friendship with the people in Tohoku continued after this. Another major earthquake hit Kumamoto in April 2016. This time, Ms. Uchino was among the affected people. “I had never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would suffer from that. Many people from Tohoku and other areas kindly supported us. By being affected and supported, I learned a lot about how disaster-affected people feel guilty for receiving support. I couldn’t do anything but sincerely thank everyone who supported us.” The ties that were formed with Ms. Uchino’s mizuhiki will never be unknotted.

Ms. Uchino’s activities aim to ensure that mizuhiki is used more frequently in people’s everyday lives. She continues energetically with her activities such as exhibitions and workshops for the purpose of popularizing mizuhiki and making its attractiveness more widely known. “All I have is what I have learned from many different people. As a result, I try to share all my skills with others. I would like to give as many people as possible the opportunity to experience mizuhiki.” Ms. Uchino respects traditions and communicates the profound attractiveness of mizuhiki. Her strong wish and activities will continue to “knot” the hearts of many people.


Three books by Ms. Toshiko Uchino are on sale.

Mizuhiki: Kihonno Musubi-to Kurashi-no Zakka (Basic knots and accessories for use in everyday life) (Bunka Publishing Bureau)

Shiawase-wo Musubu Okuru Kazaru Mizuhikikomono (Mizuhiki accessories that knot, send and decorate happiness) (PHP Institute, Inc.)

Origata: Kihonno Tsutsumi-to Kurashi-no Okurimono (Basic wrapping and gifts for everyday life) (Bunka Publishing Bureau)


Take the correspondence course and learn the technique of mizuhiki at home!

■Tenarai, a correspondence course provided by Nihon Vogue Corp.