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How Much Wrapping Is Too Much Wrapping?

When it comes to product packaging, Japan firmly follows the rule of presentation over conservation.

By 1 min read 9

Several years ago, I had one of my first bits of “culture shock” when I bought a box of cookies at a grocery store in Shinjuku, only to find out that each of the cookies was individually wrapped. All those extra layers of plastic, separating me from my beloved chocolate cookies made it a bit difficult to finish the entire box in one sitting (but don’t worry, I did).

Recently I went into a bakery to buy some melon bread, only to watch them put the melon bread in a small plastic bag, put the bag in a bakery box, and put the box in a larger bag. I mean, all I wanted to do was eat the melon bread.


Many foreigners, (myself included) typically fall into one of three camps regarding excessive packaging in Japan. The first group is appalled at the amount of waste produced by the “let’s individually package everything” culture in Japan. The second, much smaller, group loves how fancy even the most mundane products are in Japan. The third group (the one I fall into) just thinks it’s a bit troublesome and silly to have to open up several rounds of packaging every, single time they buy something.

On one hand, it is helpful when convenience stores separate your food and nonfood items (or your hot/cold items), so the food doesn’t get messed up. On the other hand, though, when I buy a box of individually wrapped cookies, I can’t help but wonder how much am I paying for the cookies and how much am I paying for the packaging?

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  • Rimi says:

    I saw it on Begin Japanology about the existence of separate bins for every kind of waste materials. I am sure that the plastic ones are not always burnt. Recycled maybe. In India, we have to tell the shopkeeper if we want to have it on the way or have it packed.

  • zoomingjapan says:

    That’s something I also find very annoying. I use the same plastic bags again and again until they fall apart. I hate wasting plastic bags, wrappings and stuff. I’ve never seen another country that wraps stuff multiple times before I moved to Japan.

    In situations like the one in your comic, you could usually tell them not to wrap it at all, but there are so many things – especially snacks – that you have to buy that way and then unwrap like 4 layers before you can eat them. *shrugs*

  • Berta says:

    I usually tell them ぶくろだいじょうぶ if I don’t want one or if I’m going to eat it immediately, especially when at the bakery at the station near where I live (literally 3 minutes away).

  • rayray008 says:

    If you do not said to eat on the spot,I think they are wrapping in order to bring back home. If you bought multiple,It is thought also be divided into others. A wrapping also has the meaning to stop dryness and there is also a meaning that as not to touch by hand until just before you eat as much as possible. But only one melon-pan… normally would be until double packaging lol

  • Radityo K says:

    “I can’t help but wonder how much am I paying for the cookies and how much am I paying for the packaging?” Couldn’t agree more about that. In some store, the same thing happened here In Indonesia.

  • CJ Takeda says:

    Just today at Mister donut. One wax paper for each donut. A medium paper bag and a plastic because it’s raining today. Itadakimasu!

  • Vamp898 says:

    As long there exist an good recycling system (which does in Tokyo), its not too bad. Maybe a bit useless, but thats culture. We could argue hours if mankind itself have any use, so im still fine with that. I think i defently fall into the second group, it always fills me with joy to see how much someone cared to make the experience doing simple everyday stuff as pleasurable as possible.

  • Antoine Michael says:

    That makes me wonder about the plastic bags situation in Japan.
    What are their plans to cut the use of plastic bags in the country ?
    Everybody knows they are not good for the environment so how do you dispose of them?
    I’ve got a stock at home that I try to reuse but most of them end up to be my trash bag.
    Apparently, there are no problem burning plastic bags in Japan. They claim that the dioxin emission is almost inexistent because they incinerate trash with extremes temperatures. hmm…

  • Zao Zhu says:

    Wow, that’s so surprising to hear! It’s funny, because here in Canada, some places have moved toward encouraging the use of reusable bags, and asking people if they want a bag for a fee. It’s really cut down on the amount of waste, but also giving rise to situations where someone would buy 10+ items at a grocery store and still not be given bags by default.



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