Uncovering the art of Fukusa at Peranakan Museum’s Fukusa: Japanese Gift Covers from the Chris Hall Collection

Let’s be honest. I’m sure you’re just like me, guilty of grabbing the nearest leftover wrapping paper or a tote bag lying around in the house that looks presentable enough as, in the end, the packaging is thrown away once given. But if you want to up your gift game and feel privileged, pay a visit to the Peranakan Museum and Asian Civilisations Museum’s newest exhibition, Fukusa: Japanese Gift Covers from the Chris Hall Collection, where you can discover how intimate gift-giving in Japan is.

Reopened in February 2023, the Peranakan Museum beckons you to delve into the world of gift-giving at its unique exhibition, Fukusa: Japanese Gift Covers from the Chris Hall Collection. Running from 19 April to 25 August 2024, this exhibition showcases Japanese silk gift covers called fukusa, a tradition from the 18th to early 20th century that added a deeply personal touch to each gift. This is not just an opportunity to admire a unique art form, but also a chance to gain inspiration for your own gift-giving!

With a collection of over 80 fukusa, kimonos, and related textiles, the exhibition was only made possible owing to renowned textile collector Chris Hall’s generous bestowment to the museum. So follow me in marvelling at the intricate mastery of fukusa and get excited about trying your hand at engaging in textile-related activities you can find at the exhibition!

Fukusa: Entrance
Step into the marvellously intricate world of Japanese textiles and fukusa!

Unsure what fukusa is and how it’s used in gift-giving? Let me give a brief introduction before we get into the exhibition’s textile wonderland! Fukusa can be equated to a combination of modern greeting cards and wrapping paper, with Japanese silk cloth exquisitely embroidered, woven, painted, and dyed before being draped or folded over gifts.

The most crucial feature, however, is the fukusa’s centrepieces, designed with auspicious symbolic motifs and referential images like butterflies, cranes, and turtles. These motifs and images represent the messages the giver wants to convey to the gift’s recipient.

One example of a fukusa featuring such pictorial allusions is the eye-catching piece that greets you at the entrance. Entitled “Fukusa with feather robe”, it has a stunning design of wings hanging on a pine tree hinting at the Noh play Hagoromo (a classical Japanese dance-drama featuring the traditional swan maiden motif), a story of friendship, kindness, and reciprocity, which are qualities befitting the sentiments behind using fukusa to present gifts. So you can think of fukusa as a fabric novel, where every stitch tells an illustrative story.

At this exhibition, you’ll not only learn about the use of fukusa in gift-giving but also about the vital roles of Japanese silk cloth in fashion, cultural literacy, and promoting Japan on the world stage. The exhibition is divided into sections that explore these aspects, offering a comprehensive and fascinating journey into the world of fukusa.

Once you’ve dived into the history and purpose of fukusa in gift exchange, the next section is its role in fashion. Fukusa asserted their owners’ taste, wealth, and identity, and sometimes even imitated designs from other fashionable garments. A garment on display that you can consider the section’s highlight is the outer kimono with pine and cherry blossoms; an expensive and stylish piece that combines meticulous tie-dying and embroidery on rinzu (Japanese silk satin damask).

Fukusa: Kimono
The star of the show is the outer kimono with pine and cherry blossoms (left)

In this section, you can also observe the similarities between fukusa and fashion through the many designs, materials, and techniques that examine how the politics of dress intersected with how fukusa was designed during the late Edo period.

Fukusa also played an important role in establishing cultural literacy. To deem a gift successful, the recipient must comprehend the meaning of the fukusa’s design, as this speaks volumes of the recipient’s cultural sensitivity and sophistication. It also reflects the fukusa creator’s creativity in weaving messages into the fukusa’s design and techniques.

For example, fukusa designs featuring treasure ships represented the arrival of good fortune, as in the Edo period, people slept with pictures of treasure ships under their pillows in the New Year to rouse dreams of prosperity. 

You can find a fukusa design like this in the exhibition, simply titled “Fukusa with treasure ship”, showcasing gold, silver, and other equally valuable goods filling the treasure ship, with a crane flying alongside as a symbol of longevity.

Fukusa: Treasure Ship
Fukusa featuring treasure ship motifs allowed recipients to sail to great fortune!

After you’ve spotted and admired the craftiness behind including messages in various fukusa pieces, you can head over to the next section. It shows how fukusa and its role in pushing for Japan’s industrialisation have bolstered Japan’s reputation around the globe, particularly in the West.

Once just a luxury item foreign to outsiders of Japan, it became a popular product amongst Westerners due to their fascination with Japanese art. The term used to describe this phenomenon is Japonisme, a French term coined due to France’s craze over Japanese art and design following the reopening of trade with Japan in the 1850s.

As such, local merchants and craftsmen addressed this increased demand for Japanese goods by making new fukusa, which employed new ideas and technologies from the West that dramatically altered textile production and how Fukusa was made.

Fukusa: Western Craze
It is no surprise that Japanese textile art was a hit in the West, especially when you can see the stunning details up close!

Last but certainly not least is the section covering the use of textiles in other cultures’ gifting customs, where a spotlight is shone on those used in Peranakan traditions. This showing of the various cultures’ versions of textile usage in gift exchanges allows you to reflect on the shared artistic and cultural heritage between Japan and other countries in Asia. 

Some of the textiles exhibited include tray covers used when exchanging wedding gifts and vibrant cloths that decorate the front of altars when offerings are made to ancestors and deities during various occasions.

Fukusa: Peranakan Cultural Exchange
In this section, you can immerse yourself in textile pieces from other Asian countries besides Fukusa

If you’re curious about the collector’s insights into the collection, there’s a three-panel screen with a sit-down area where you can watch an interview with collector Chris Hall.

When you’ve completed your exploration of the exhibition, there’s an interactive screen to design your own fukusa! I had a go at it, and it was fun customising the little details, such as the silk colour and symbolic motifs used. When you’re done, watch the fukusa come to life on the giant LED display next to the digital interactive! You can also scan a QR code to download an image of your fukusa and upload it onto your social media!

Fukusa: Interactive Screen
The digital interactive allows you to get creative with your Fukusa design with the many customisations available

Before you leave, visit the Exploration Zone back on Level 3, where you can learn about weave patterns. They have a station detailing the different types of patterns used to create the fabric for making fukusa, as well as a space to design a postcard with embroidery! 

You don’t have to worry about needing nifty fingers when embroidering your postcard. Instructions are provided at the booth, and friendly staff will guide you if needed. Once you’re satisfied with your masterpiece, either take the postcard home to gift to a loved one after writing a message on it or leave it on the shelves provided to pass on the gift to a fellow visitor.

Fukusa: Embroidered Postcard
Take your time in creating your embroidered postcard at the Exploration Zone

Still game for more activities? Fukusa: Japanese Gift Covers from the Chris Hall Collection will also be complemented by a Weekend Festival filled with workshops, demonstrations, and drop-in activities related to embroidery! These activities are held on different dates, so check out the Peranakan Museum’s official website for more information.

So if you’re bored at home, why not weave your way through the world of textiles and embroidery at Peranakan Museum? Get your tickets to the exhibition on the museum’s website today!

Fukusa: Japanese Gift Covers from the Chris Hall Collection

Fukusa: Chris Hall

🗓️Date: 19 April 2024 to 25 August 2024
⏰Time: 10am to 7pm from Monday to Thursday, 10am to 9pm on Friday
📍Location: 39 Armenian St, Singapore 179941


  • S$6/Adults (Singaporeans/PRs) and S$16/Adults (Foreign Residents/Visitors)
  • S$12/Students & Seniors (Concession) (Foreign Residents/Visitors)
  • Free for Students & Seniors (Concession) (Singaporeans/PRs)
  • Free for Children 6 years and under (both Singaporeans/PRs and Foreign Residents/Visitors)

Photos by Glenda Chong and Russell Loh of the DANAMIC Team. Additional visuals courtesy of Peranakan Museum.

Glenda Chong

Down to yap about anything related to K-Pop and pop culture anytime, anywhere.

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