Upcycled DIY Japanese-Inspired Holiday Gifts

As the holiday season approaches, it is a time for family, friends, quality time and of course- exchanging gifts! Rather than consuming more, small steps can transform old products into creative new gift ideas for everyone. Upcycling not only has a direct impact on the environment but also unleashes creativity and finds new ways to repurpose materials and possessions into innovative and creative new ideas.

In Japan, the idea of limiting waste has been around for centuries, known as Mottainai, the idea is ingrained in the culture and is believed to originate from Buddhist philosophy.

Mottainai is the idea that there is an intrinsic value to everything and that items are not to be wasted, as the literal translation explains “don’t be wasteful”. From children’s literature and embedded in the Japanese curriculum, the concept of Mottainai can be seen all over Japan, especially in Kamikatsu, an entire town found in the Katsuura District in the Tokushima Prefecture which is committed to zero waste. Each resident of the small city works to reuse and repurpose and sort all waste to ensure that it is either recycled or composted, impressively reducing 80% of the garbage produced by the city, with a goal of being completely zero-waste by 2020.

CEO and founder of Tourist Japan, Ben Julius, notes that tourists are often pleasantly surprised by the overall cleanliness they see while visiting and the Japanese approach to waste. Julius says, “International visitors are amazed by the respect and attitude towards waste in Japan and both the understanding and awareness  to the impermanence of possessions and their interdependence in society”. Tourist Japan shares tips with travelers and  reminds them to be mindful of their waste.

Japanese brand Upcycle Stitches is an example of modern-day upcycling that honors traditional Sashiko–a stitching technique that dates back to the Edo era, Upcycle Stitches has an online shop and holds workshops and live streaming online tutorials promoting Sashiko in new and inventive ways. NEWSED is another example of upcycling taking a modern approach to repurposing with a sharp focus on design and integration seen in Japan.

Co-founder and curator of Upcycle That, Judy Rom, says she started in order to inspire people to look at waste differently. Rom says, “I believe that a shift occurs when we start to look at waste as a resource. It inspires us to get creative and use what we already have! I love that upcycling is universal. It doesn’t matter where you live, or how much money you have; anyone can be an upcycler”.

Rom has seen a recent shift in attitude noting that “People are definitely becoming more aware of their waste. Last year we saw the ‘no straw’ movement emerge and the results have been inspiring. Our eyes are opening to how our habits impact the world and environment around us. We can fix the problems we face, we just need to be creative and open to shifting our habits. Upcycling and reusing are great ways to reduce waste”.

Rom shares a simple DIY idea for the holiday season to make a simple holiday bow from an old magazine. Upcycling old magazines in this fun and creative way is an easy example of how to not only reuse something most people have in their homes but a great way to save money for gift wrapping.

Upcycle That shares the full online tutorial for this DIY holiday gift bow seen below:

Upcycle christmas gifts

Materials to Make a DIY Gift Bow

  • Upcycled paper (magazine pages, wrapping paper or other repurposed paper. For a Japanese touch use Japanese printed paper including motifs such as cherry blossoms -sakura, cranes, Chrysanthemums or Koi fish)

  • Scissors

  • Ruler

  • Pencil or pen

  • Tape and/or stapler

How To Make a DIY Gift Bow

Cut upcycled paper in 3/4 inch strips. 10 strips of repurposed paper are needed in order to make the holiday gift bow. A standard magazine page is just the right size for this project.

upcycle gift ideas

From the 10 strips, there will be 4 groups: 3 that are full length, 3 that are an inch shorter, 3 that are 2 inches shorter and 1 strip that is 3 inches long.

Upcycled gift ideas

Fold the paper strips in half. This will serve as a marker for the middle of the strips and will be helpful for the next steps.
Take a strip and turn it over. Fold a loop and bring the end of your strip on top of the folded middle marker. Tape or staple it down. The good side of the paper will now be on the top/outside of the loop.
Repeat this for the other side of the paper strip. It will end up with a figure eight.
Repeat the process for the other 8 long strips. Take the short strip and circle loop it.
There will now be 3 groups of the same sized figure 8s. Take each of these groups and arrange them into a star. Tape or staple the star groups together. Fit the circle loop inside of the smallest star group.
Insert the star groups into one another. The smallest goes on top, followed by the middle sized and then the largest one is on the bottom. Tape loops work really well for attaching the star groups together.

Voila! An easy and simple DIY gift bow to make any holiday look great and feel great having reused paper. The Upcycle that team pairs their holiday bows with reused brown craft paper and added a sprig of evergreen to add some extra holiday flair.

Rom shares a few other simple everyday tips to help reduce waste saying to think twice before throwing something away. “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. There are two ways [we] like to upcycle. The first is by thinking about the potential of the material to become something else. For instance, outdated clothing can be reworked into new styles. We’ve seen some really cute drawstring bags lately made from old jeans. The second way we like to upcycle is when we want to make something specific, like shelves. To do this we think of the style we want and what materials would work. We might use pallets, reclaimed wood, crates, even skateboard decks. The ideas for upcycling are endless.”

For other Japanese inspired ideas like this cute cat planter pot or using manhole covers to create prints there are plenty of gift ideas for this holiday season.


Nikki is an author and writer specializing in green living ideas and tips, adventure travel, upcycling, and all things eco-friendly. She's traveled the globe, swum with sharks and been bitten by a lion (fact). She lives in a tiny town with a fat cat and a very bad dog.

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