Tuesday, August 12, 2014

etegami made from gift boxes

etegami bee on a candy box card
Japan has two gift-giving seasons, one in the summer and one in the winter. But that's just the tip of the iceberg of the myriad occasions on which social rules require the giving of gifts. Proper etiquette also requires a response from the receiver, in some cases a return gift of 1/3 to 1/2 the value of the original gift! The customs differ from region to region, and in these days when company employees and civil servants are being transferred frequently from one area of Japan to another, the rules of gift-giving-and-returning can be very confusing even for a native Japanese. I don't worry much about rules, but I do make it a habit (from the heart) to send hand-painted etegami in response to every gift I receive, and sometimes even in place of a gift that might be expected from me if people didn't already assume I was ignorant of such customs.

Many years ago,  a woman in my etegami group showed me a thank-you card she had received from a woman to whom she had sent a box of sweet melons. The woman had simply cut a postcard-sized chunk from the cardboard box the melons had been packed in, being careful to cut it from a part of the box printed with an image of a melon. Then she wrote "thank you" with a permanent black marker, addressed it, stuck a postage stamp on it, and mailed it to my friend. It was simple, it was creative and considerate, and most important of all, my friend was utterly delighted with it. This was my introduction to etegami made from gift boxes.

Since then, whenever possible, I make my thank-you cards from the boxes that the gifts are packaged in. Especially if they are pretty boxes, or printed with a brand logo that is prized all over Japan. Fortunately, there are a lot of pretty boxes in Japan, and I never have a shortage of material for making box cards.

My own personal rule is to add an etegami element to every box card. To the flowery box card (top) that I cut out of a box from a famous Hokkaido candy company, I added a bee that I had painted on a washi card, then cut out and glued to the box card. I glued an etegami shrimp to the light brown card embossed in gold letters with the name of a famous shrimp cracker maker in Nagoya. To the red card that I cut from the box of a well-known Chinese dumpling maker in Tokyo, I added an etegami dragon. Each of these cards were made for the giver of the treats that came in those boxes.

etegami shrimp on a shrimp crackers box card

etegami dragon on a chinese dumpling box card

Because these box cards already have printing on them, I chose not to add any words of my own. The message of delighted gratitude that I want to convey is clear enough, I think.  But if there is enough open space so as not to make the card too cluttered, I might add a quote or words of my own. Like the cookie box card below, to which I added an etegami albatross and a Robert Frost quote. The body of the albatross is placed right over the cookie brand name because I wanted a clean "canvas" to write words of my own. I think I should have spread the writing further to the left and right side of the card. But I need to remind myself of the etegami motto: "Awkward is okay; in fact Awkward is great!"

etegami albatross on a cookie box card


  1. MERCI DEBBIE pour cet enseignement............
    THANK YOU DEBBIE for this education,lesson..........
    beautiful etegamis! and yours friends will be happy!

  2. WOW!!! This is called "thinking (or THANKING) outside of the box"!!!

    This is tremendous! Thank you for this wonderful idea! I would never have thought of it in a million years. Wow! (Yes, I'm excited.)

    And your bees are simply amazing........

  3. Adds a whole other dimension to them. Love these Debbie!

  4. These cards are great; even more when you have the explanation. Very interesting ! Thanks a lot !

  5. This is brilliant - very creative recycling!

  6. What an interesting concept. Something to keep in mind next time we receive a present... in a box...