Wine bottle wrapper and wreath made with furoshiki.
gifts at department stores and clerks usually double- and triple-
wrap purchases. It is often the case that one opens a bag of
cookies to find each one neatly packaged in a separate bag. Or
perhaps you have seen pink bags with cute Hello Kitty faces on
them, protecting mobile phones from potential harm. But the most
beautiful of all wrapping habits must be the time-honored custom
of using furoshiki.
Literally meaning "bath-spread," this square piece
of cloth is said to have its origins in the eighth century, when
people kept dance costumes in what was called koromo tsutsumi(clothes
The word "furoshiki" dates from the early Edo period(1603-1868),
when the wrappers came into wide use at public bathhouses, where
they were spread on the floor while customers undressed, or were
used to wrap clothes and toiletries. Furoshiki range in size
roughly from 70 to 220 square centimeters and are made of silk,
cotton, synthetic fabrics, in solid colors or patterns. Today,
the most frequent occasions for furoshiki use are weddings or
funerals, when visitors bring gifts of money(enclosed in special
envelops) wrapped in small square cloths. At a tea ceremony,
you may also see beautiful, folded furoshiki placed on a small
fan of equally exquisite design. Inside the furoshiki are the
fees to be presented to the host, and again the furoshiki functions
as the second wrapper for the money, which is already enclosed
Japanese people consider it impolite to present money without
furoshiki, even though there are always various kinds of beautiful
envelops in which to first wrap it.
As with many other old practices, furoshiki requires certain
etiquette on the part of user. For example, the left side of
the cloth should be folded first for happy occasions, while the
right side is folded first for unhappy events; for congratulatory
occasions, the cloth is folded with the right side on top, whereas
for occasions of condolence the left side is uppermost. This
practice has been observed even when people wrap gifts with paper.
However, the functions of furoshiki should be more diverse, according
to Chizuko Morita, a copywriter based in Kyoto. Seven years ago,
Morita launched a group to study the charming properties and
uses of furoshiki. The group, which organizes lectures and demonstrations
featuring the traditional cloth, has nearly 400 members.
It is almost magical when group members take a simple square
cloth and transform it into a Christmas wreath. People who often
use furoshiki may have had the disappointing experience of disrupting
the cloth's elegant pattern when wrapping an article, as its
most beautiful part is often hidden inside the folds. But group
members suggest various techniques for wrapping articles like
wine bottles and flowerpots that best present the furoshiki.
In bygone days, people used to carry furoshiki around as a handy
cloth, capable of wrapping things of almost any shape and size.
Morita carries her own furoshiki wherever she goes, including
"People can be creative, folding furoshiki in any style
they like. And furoshiki is reusable, therefore environmentally
friendly," Morita said.