Zoe Sofianos: It's All About The Wrapping

As a design and illustration student, I’ve become enamoured with finding out the differences and similarities between Japan and Canada in terms of advertising, packaging, illustration and graphic design.

Packaging must be the number one difference. I started to notice certain things like just how MUCH packaging there is. Japanese culture has deep ties to cleanliness and purifying, and you’ll almost always see a package of sweets or crackers with individually wrapped food inside the bigger package. A lot of emphasis is placed on presentation, and giving someone a neatly wrapped cookie on their desk is much more presentable than crumbs and having it touch the (possibly
dirty) surface.
Why is presentation and packaging so important here? It elevates the act of whatever you’re consuming. Eating a cookie wrapped individually in a beautifully designed packaged is an entirely different experience than one on a plain napkin. You can find single, incredibly expensive mangoes presented in a lovely box wrapped with ribbon to buy as a gift for someone. The presentation surrounding the mango seems to be what is important. This isn’t just a mango heaped in a pile with a hundred others like it. This mango looks more delicious, more sweet, because it’s been placed in its own box – I imagine the gift receiver savouring each bite.

My quest right now in Japan is finding interesting or appealing packages and seeing how it makes the food taste better. The most noticeable difference between Japanese and Canadian packages is the sheer amount of cuteness-appeal they use here. Everything seems to have a character reminiscent of Hello Kitty or Totoro.

However, I have noticed some things that are pretty alarming to me – using a cute design for a package where it really shouldn’t be. One example is an alcoholic apple cider I picked up at a convenience store. The illustration style looks straight out of a story book, with an adorable young boy in an orchard holding an apple, big smile on his face. The can does say "Osake" (alcohol) near the bottom but the largest type just proclaims "Ringo" (apple). I’d be a bit worried about leaving it in the fridge if I had small kids.

The other day one of my classmates offered me a strawberry wafer wrapped in bubblegum pink plastic, I asked her why she liked them so much. "The package is really cute!" she said. Indeed it was, and I wondered if the bubble letters and bright pink colour of the wrapping made it taste sweeter.

Sapporo, Japan
Zoe Sofianos is an Illustration & Design student at Capilano University. Zoe is studying abroad at the Hokkaido College of Art & Design (BISEN) in Sapporo, Japan.  


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