IN JAPAN A GIFT IS NOT A GIFT unless it comes in fancy packaging. In fact, nothing leaves a shop that is not beautifully wrapped. Gift wrapping is considered an art form among the Japanese. There are schools in Japan dedicated to teaching the art and craft of packaging; those wanting to make a career out of gift wrapping can get training and certification. The art of gift wrapping has gained some prominence in Hong Kong in recent years, but it is still early years here. A few schools here offer courses in the art, and one is the Hong Kong College of Technology (29261222/ 23802832; www.hkct.edu.hk ). A five-session course costs HK$500 for tuition and HK$250 for the materials. The teacher, Grace Szeto Siu-mui, is a protegee of world-renowned gift wrapping expert Yoshiko Hase. Ms Szeto's expertise has been sought by department stores such as Seibu and organisations such as the YWCA and the Hong Kong Jockey Club. She has been training floor staff in shops and teaching classes in gift wrapping appreciation for the past two decades. 'Hong Kong has only a handful of gift-wrapping teachers,' she says. 'Unlike in Japan, it is hard to make a career here out of this discipline.' According to Ms Szeto, the only channel to get a proper certification in gift wrapping in Hong Kong is through Yee Long Trading (2967 1738), an agent that holds examinations on behalf of the Cut Ribbon Flower and Art Association in Japan. Yee Long also imports high-end gift-wrapping materials. 'They hold exams once a year in Hong Kong. You can also go to Japan to take the exam, but you would have to arrange for your own interpreter,' she says. Readers who are not already dialling to sign up for Ms Szeto's classes may find the following tips handy when they are dressing up gifts. Wrapping a bottle of wine 1 Put the bottle in the centre of the wrapping paper (one or two layers). 2 Wrap the paper round the bottle, with the bottle top showing. 3 Hold the bottleneck tight and secure it with an iron wire by twisting the cross point. 4 Create pleats on the bottleneck. 5, 6, 7 Rotate bottle for the best angle for the bow. For a more dramatic effect, twist a bundle of coloured plastic straws into a geometric bow and attach it to the wire. 8, 9 Choose a ribbon long enough to conceal the wire and tie a bow. 10 With a thick ribbon, a single bow suffices. With a thin one you may tie a double bow. 11 For an elaborate decoration, you may have two bows, one single and another double, to create layers. Secure the second bow on to the bottle with a decorator's wire. Ribbons may be embedded with thin wiring so you can twist them into different shapes. Pull the wire to tighten the bow knot and create a three-dimensional effect. 12 Squeeze wrapping paper for a wrinkled effect. Cost of packaging - less than HK$10. Finishing touches A piece of wrapping paper can cost anything from HK$2 to HK$50. Paper made in Japan is the most expensive. Ms Szeto says that discerning givers of gifts do not think about the expense when buying gift wrapping paper. 'You can feel the quality from the texture, and expensive wrapping makes the gift look expensive,' she says. The plastic straws used in the demonstration are imported from Japan. Each costs 40 HK cents. 'If you are creative, ornaments can cost you almost nothing,' she says. 'I sometimes snap off something from a dried flower arrangement at home to adorn a gift or pick up knick-knacks lying around. The ribbon that comes with a box of cakes is also excellent for gift wrapping.'