AFW JOURNAL iApril 2002 Number 194j

Japan Unleashed by Annette Kurazono

FUROSHIKI(Wrapping Cloth)

Im standing at the cashier in Mitsukoshi, and mutter my usual Fukuro irimasen (I dont need a bag!).
Instead, I open my rucksack and pull out my neatly folded Furoshiki. I tie one single knot on one side of my furoshiki, another one on the other side. The remaining 2 sides I tie in a Square knot, and voila, I have an economical and handy bag, which looks fashionable, too. The lady at the cashier is stunned. Of course she doesnt say so, but its written all over her face. Often, when I use furoshiki, I get a lot of praise, such as Oh, nihonjin yori jouzu desu ne! (You are better than Japanese), and oh, you even know how to use furoshiki.

Furoshiki are square pieces of cloth for wrapping and carrying things around. They can be made of silk, cotton, even from recycled PET-bottles. They come in different sizes and designs and in any price range as well.
Clothes for wrapping and carrying things have been used as long as man has been using cloth. They can be found in nearly all cultures of the world. However for some unknown reason, they have not been used that much in Europe. In Japan, the origin of furoshiki can be traced back to the Nara Period. In those days furoshiki were called tsutsumi, in the Heian Period they were called koromo-zutsumi and were used for wrapping clothes.
Later on in the Muromachi period, Shogun Yoshimitsu Ashikaga built a big bath house (Ou-yudono) to which Daimyos from all over the country came to bathe. After they took off their clothes they had them wrapped in a silk cloth, which usually was marked with the familys emblem so they would not mix up their things. In the Edo period, public bath houses became very popular among common people. As they did not have vinyl bags and the like in old days, they carried their soap, towels and clothing in a cloth called furoshiki. Baskets or cubicles to hold your clothing, as we have today, where unheard of in the Edo days. People simply would spread out their wrapping cloth on the floor, just like a mat, would then undress and wrap their clothing into neat bundles. When they finished bathing, they would wrap up their wet towels, soap and things for the trip home.
This explains the origin of the word furoshiki: a composition of furo = bath and shiku = to spread out.

Nowadays, furoshiki are used in many different ways, depending on its size. Smaller furoshiki can be used for wrapping up monetary gifts, tissue boxes, small baskets, books, fruits and, not to forget, obento. Bigger furoshiki can be used to wrap bottles, watermelons, big boxes, to make shopping bags, as table cloth or decoration for Christmas/New year. I also use them to keep my cloths organized in a suitcase/ travelbag, and I make covers for my PC and printer as well. Im sure there are lots of other ways to use them, depending on your creativity.
Furoshiki can be bought in the kimono section of bigger department stores (such as Mitsukoshi or Yamakataya), but they are also sold in most smaller kimono shops.
A furoshiki of 45cm x 48cm cost from 500 Yen upwards, furoshiki of 90 x 93 cm start at 1500 Yen and 105 x 108 cm cost from 2000 Yen upwards. Prizes always depend on size, material, design, and probably manufacturer. When you buy a furoshiki, please be aware that some furoshiki have to be dry-cleaned (silk) while others can be hand-washed (cotton). I usually choose the hand-washable ones, as they are cheaper, too.

The reasons, why I love furoshiki are: they are very handy, beautiful, very traditional and yet fashionable. Most of all they are great for the environment as you dont need vinyl bags anymore.
The next time I go back to my home country Germany, I plan on buying loads of furoshiki for Omiyage.

If you want to learn more about how to use furoshiki, please look out for these books by Chizuko Morita:
& Furoshiki nyumon (in japanese only)
ISBN 4-391-12444-0
& Tsutsunde, musunde, furoshiki ni muchu (in japanese only)
ISBN 4-529-03484-4
& Furoshiki ni shitashimu
ISBN 4-473-01828-8

(I personally like this book best, the ways of wrapping are explained in English, the rest-and most interesting parts, are only written in japanese though)
Or have a look at the homepage of the Furoshiki kenkyukai, a group dedicated to furoshiki. You can find a lot of suggestions there, and some explanations are in English, too.

Happy wrapping, everybody!

Furoshiki Kenkyu Kai:E-Mail CXV00174