"Furoshiki" are square pieces of wrapping cloths used traditionally in Japan to wrap and transport goods. The word refers to both the cloth and the craft itself. Designs can be very elaborate, elegant, or very simple with no patterns, and materials can vary widely depending on the maker. Common materials are silk, rayon, cotton and polyester. Furoshiki are increasingly becoming popular as an eco-friendly alternative to gift wrapping and elevating the art of gifting. There are many methods of folding the cloth during the wrapping process, depending on the item that is being wrapped.
Furoshiki have a long history dating back to the Nara period in Japan (710-784) and were used for wrapping important items and treasures for nobility. They were initially called "Tsutsumi", which literally means "wrapping". During the Muromachi period (1338-1573), these cloths were used in baths by feudal lords to separate their Kimonos from others, and were adorned with crests and emblems as identifiers. As Furoshiki literally translates to "bath spread", it is said that this is where the term Furoshiki originated from.
When it became common for the public to use baths in the Edo period (1603-1867), Furoshiki was used to not only wrap clothes but also as carriers to transport other items essential for bathing. Eventually, they spread to become a functional everyday item for the masses in wrapping and transporting goods, particularly in commerce. You can think of them as the equivalent of current day plastic, shopping and carrier bags.
In Japan, the use of Furoshiki declined in the post-war period, but there has been more focus of their usage in recent times due to the environmental impact human activities. In 2006, the then Japanese Minister of the Environment Yuriko Koike launched a Furoshiki called "Mottainai Furoshiki" to promote the use of this simple wrapping cloth with deeply rooted history. "Mottainai" means "don't waste what is valuable".
Uses of Furoshiki
There are just so many ways that Furoshiki is used it is impossible to list everything. Here are some examples:
- Wrapping bento boxes of course!
- Wrapping gifts
- Wrapping clothes in your suitcase to keep them organized
- Wrapping bottles and glassware for carrying
- Use as table or furniture cloths or runners
- Used as a general cover for any item
- Folded into carry bags
- As shawls, scarfs or head band
As mentioned, there are also many methods of folding Furoshiki depending on the item, but we'll cover that in another blog.