USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

All Wrapped Up

John Clammer brought up an interesting point in our most recently assigned reading entitled, Aesthetics of the Self:  Shopping and social being in contemporary urban Japan.  “A Japanese is as likely to give as much attention to the wrapping – the material, the way it is folded, the ribbons used to secure it – as to the contents of the package.”  This cultural attribute became crystal clear to me on our last night in Kyoto, after we stopped at a carryout burger joint for dinner.  This place did not have anywhere to sit, so you had to place your order through a window and wait on the sidewalk until it was ready.  We watched through the glass as the burgers were delicately prepared, all of us salivating with hunger.  As soon as the final bun was placed atop the last burger, we were all ready to bust through the window and devour them instantly.  But to our disappointment and confusion, we had to wait another ten minutes.  Each burger was then wrapped in tin foil, followed by a label-bearing paper wrap, then stickered shut, and finally placed neatly in a bag, before being presented to us.  During this entire process, we kept on asking, “Why can’t they just give us the food, I don’t care about the wrapper, I just want to eat.”

I thought more about this concept of the packaging being “intimately linked… and part of the same philosophy as the service”, and began to understand how it elicits a fundamental cultural difference between Americans and Japanese.  We as Americans are often only concerned with the product, and not the process or the wrapper.  We are a culture of instant gratification.  We are only focused on the burger, and could care less about how it is presented to us.  The Japanese are religious about their presentation.  Even the smallest and most trifling details of everyday life are thought about; the packaging of shaving kits and soaps in the bathrooms of our hotels, the wrapping of rice pockets from a convenience store.  They care as much about how you arrive at a product, as the product itself.

Thinking architecturally, I feel the same cultural attribute can be applied to Japanese design philosophies and histories.  While many architects, and especially students of architecture, are more concerned with the “aha” moment of their design, the Japanese take great care in the wrapping of their projects.  This is especially applicable to many of the gardens and shrines we have recently visited in Kyoto.  Walking through the winding garden of Heian for nearly an hour, the garden culminated at a bridge overlooking a small lake, arguably the group’s favorite moment of the Kyoto leg.  But it was the process by which we arrived at this point that made it so special.  The sequencing, the compression and expansion of spaces, the careful and deliberate procession to finally arrive at the “burger”.  Without this wrapping, the end wouldn’t have had the same affect.


Filed under: America, Clammer, Japan, kyoto, Shopping, Wrapping


The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu