Right up there with tigers on the Brink of Extinction list
are Japan's furoshiki. Until recently, Japanese would never leave
home without one of the traditionally dyed, oversized cloths.
But now, they're so ignored that a worried Kyoto businesswoman
has launched a rescue operation - the Furoshiki Study Group -
to fan the dying embers of culture.
In May 1992, Chizuko Morita and some 20 others launched the
Furoshiki Kenkyu Kai (FKK). Modest funding was secured from one
of the 40-plus surviving furoshiki makers (most are in Kyoto),
and the group got to work.
FKK's quarterly newsletter provides the 300 current members
nationwide with article such as an introduction to furoshiki
in other cultures. Furoshiki Talks, held four times a year, combine
a lecture with a practical demonstration on wrapping objects.
(Novices whose expertise is limited to knotting opposing corners
will be amazed at the dozens of variations on binding bottles
This past February, the Furoshiki Talk featured a fashion show
with FKK members as models. The event promoted creative uses
of the cloths with (or as) hats, hair accessories, scarves, bags,
dresses and slacks.
The fashion show helped stir media interest in FKK, and now
Morita's telephone rings almost every day to herald a prospective
new member. While 70 percent of the membership is women, most
in their 50s or 60s, younger adults of both genders have broadened
the group's reach in recent months. The FKK has even jumped borders,
boasting followers in Korea. Morita's dream is to take the Furoshiki
Talks overseas as a means of promoting traditional Japanese culture.
Young Japanese raised on today's hybrid Japanese-American culture
may be surprised to learn how deeply rooted furoshiki were in
their Parents' or grandparents' daily lives. Although there is
evidence that cloths were used for wrapping things as early as
the Nara Period, the name (and history) of the cloth dates to
the Edo Period public bath. Bathers toted belongings to the bath
in a furoshiki-wrapped bundle, and apparently spread the cloth
out and sat on it in saunas as well. Hence the furo shiki ("bath
spread"). Since OLs and their pricey brand-name leather
handbags had not yet arrived on the urban scene, men, women and
children carried their possessions around in cotton furoshiki.
Kids filled them with school materials and tied them around their
By the 1950s, Morita says, leather handbags and paper shopping
bags were finding their way into the culture. Around the 1970s,
the final death blow came: plastic supermarket bags.
Morita is appalled at how close Japanese have come to losing
their heritage, and hates to imagine a future where parents take
their offspring to see furoshiki in museums. For if the "bath
spreads" die out, so will the traditional patterns and colors
used on them. Morita points out that the names of the colors
used in the traditional dyeing process have already changed,
from momoiro to pink and from ai to blue. Further depressing
news is that it's apparently tough to find reference material
detailing the history of furoshiki. They were such an integral
part of daily life that it never occurred to anyone to write
about them, laments Morita.
Yet the FKK founder is realistic. Leather handbags are here
to stay, but furoshiki can happily coexist with them, she insists.
Say "no" to throwaway plastic shopping bags, Morita
urges. Furoshiki are recyclable. By carrying them to the supermarket
or to the dry cleaners, Japanese can do something positive for
the environment and for their culture. Morita also points out
that furoshiki stretch and give to accommodate far more than
shopping bags can. That makes them ideal for sports gear and
traveling, she enthuses.
Morita approaches the furoshiki problem from just about every
conceivable angel. Environmental, cultural, pragmatic . . . She
even acts as a surrogate manufacturer of sorts. Morita finds
it odd that furoshiki producers have such tunnel vision. They
only think of production, not of what the consumer is supposed
to do with furoshiki, explains Morita in frustration. How can
they expect the current generation of Japanese to enjoy furoshiki
if they don't offer guidance in how to use them?
If anyone can spark a furoshiki revival, Chizuko Morita can.
Maybe furoshiki won't be consigned to museum display for some
time yet after all.
For more information contact Furoshiki Kenkyu Kai, tel
(075) 432-2722, fax (075) 432-3832.