I’m standing at the cashier in
Mitsukoshi, and mutter my usual “Fukuro
irimasen” (I don’t
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 doesn’t say so, but it’s
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
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 family’s 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. I’m
sure there are lots of other ways to use them, depending on your
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 don’t
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)
& “Tsutsunde, musunde, furoshiki
ni muchu“ (in japanese only)
& “Furoshiki ni shitashimu”
(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!