THE TOMEN JOURNAL <WE> (1994.vol.18)

THE TOMEN JOURNAL <WE>(1994.vol.18)

FUROSHIKI A wrap for all occasions

 In today's world, advances in science and technology are occurring at such a dizzying pace that often before you have time to understand a product, it is being replaced by a new and better model. Japan has been at the head of many and of these developments. However, there is one Japanese item that has remained essentially unchanged for centuries - the furoshiki.

 The furoshiki is an oversized square cloth, dyed in a variety of colors and patterns that is used for wrapping, storing, and carrying things. The origin of the furoshiki goes back to the 14th century, when powerful feudal lords used the cloth to wrap their clothes in while they baths in the late 17th century.

 The furoshiki, however, were employed in various ways as people realized the versatility of these cloths. Very large furoshiki, up to 235 square cm., can hold futon (Japanese bedding set). the typical furoshiki is 70 square cm. and until very recently, Japanese would not leave home without one. The fukusa is the smallest type, created to wrap very small, delicate items.

 For centuries, the furoshiki was truly an indispensable part of daily Japanese life. In Edo times, people would lay their futon on top of the furoshiki before going to sleep. fires were extremely common back then, so when people had to get away in a hurry during the night, they only had to throw their belongings on top of the futon, wrap and tie the furoshiki, and leave through the nearest exit. Merchants usually carried their wares inside the furoshiki to transport just about anything you could imagine. When the furoshiki was not in use, people would fold it up like a handkerchief and put it away.

 Why, then, are furoshiki no longer as evident as they once were? The answer
lies in the increasing westernization and industrialization of Japan. Once handbags and paper shopping bags arrived on the scene in the 1950s, people found less reason to bring a furoshiki along wherever they went. When plastic bags made their appearance in the 1970s, the furoshiki seemed doomed.

 However, the furoshiki has managed to hold its own. About one third to a half of all furoshiki sales are wedding related. Newlywed couples will give gifts wrapped in furoshiki to those attending their wedding reception. The knot holding the furoshiki together symbolized the strong union between the two families. Unfortunately, this tradition has also been affected: as more people choose Western-style wedding, they believe the Japanese furoshiki doesn't fit the right image, and therefore prefer presenting the gifts inside a paper bag.

 Furoshiki wrapping techniques have been passed down through the generations, with very little written on the subject. A decrease in furoshiki use means fewer people know how to properly wrap and tie furoshiki. It really does require a knack to prevent the furoshiki from being too looser or too bulky. the furoshiki, in many ways, is similar to the kimono. These two articles are shapeless, designed to wrap around and fit the object inside. For contrast, think of Western clothing, which offers a range of sizes to fit a variety of body shapes. the kimono, on the other hand, traditionally came in few sizes. Therefore, people had to be adept at putting on and adjusting the kimono to fit their own size.

 Interestingly, some professions still make use of the furoshiki. lawyers who need to bring dozens of documents and materials to court, find that a furoshiki is much more convenient to use than trying stuff everything into one briefcase. Public officials also use furoshiki to transport documents are taken out of the furoshiki, it is folded and put away. in this way, the official shows that he has nothing to conceal.

 Some Japanese citizens are trying to revive interest in the furoshiki to prevent it from disappearing completely from Japanese life. If the furoshiki dies out, so will the traditional colors and patterns used on them. They point out that by using furoshiki rather than paper or plastic bags, people can help alleviate the growing environmental problem of waste disposal. Furthermore, they are encouraging people to come up with original ideas for furoshiki, such as for use in interior decoration .

 In any case, the furoshiki can become an integral part of your lifestyle. One you've mastered the wrapping technique, you will be delighted with the convenience this cloth offers. It holds anything and everything!

Furoshiki Kenkyu Kai:E-Mail CXV00174