Wrapped in beauty


Furoshiki: wrapping up gratitude in a single piece of cloth

Tenugui hand towels, shikimono rugs, mashikiri traditional room partitions - Japanese people have found a variety of ways to use a single piece of cloth.Among them, the furoshiki is a square cloth that has long been useful for storing and carrying things as well as for wrapping gifts.The furoshiki is a single piece of cloth that can be adapted to suit different lifestyles and situations.The culture of furoshiki, which has been nurtured and carefully passed down through the generations, tells of the Japanese spirit of bringing people together by expressing gratitude along with the item being wrapped.

Etsuko Yamada, a representative of Musubi, a brand produced by Kyoto-based furoshiki manufacturer Yamada Textile, explains the allure of this simple square cloth:"Japanese people have developed the art of tying and wrapping furoshiki in certain ways to create shapes to suit a variety of needs. The idea of using cloth as a tool can be found all over the world, but in Japan, the feelings of the people gifting the furoshiki have been passed down as part of our culture."

History of Furoshiki

Japan's oldest furoshiki has its roots in the Shosoin Repository, which houses and preserves treasures from the Nara period (710-794).At that time, furoshiki were called tsutsumi and they were used to protect valuable items such as costumes for dances from exposure to humidity and sunlight.

By the end of the Heian period (794-1185), they were widely used as koromo-tsutsumi to wrap and carry the costumes of aristocrats. In the warrior society of the period of unrest known as the Sengoku Jidai (1467-1615), they were also used to wrap and deliver kenjohin, or offerings to people of high status, such as feudal lords or the shogun. In this way, the Japanese culture of wrapping things in cloth has been passed down through the generations for centuries.

The term furoshiki became firmly established in the Edo period (1603-1868), when bathing culture spread to the general public.The word furo originally meant a type of traditional sauna, but by the Edo period, it had come to mean bathing in hot water. When people at that time went to a bathhouse, they used a cloth to carry a change of clothes and to lay on the ground to stand on when they undressed prior to bathing. The cloth that had been known as tsutsumi for generations, and the cloth used in bathhouses were combined into one, and the name furoshiki eventually became firmly established in Japanese society.

Consequently, merchants began to wrap old clothes and knick-knacks in furoshiki and sell them to the general public. In some cases, the skill of the merchant was measured by how beautifully they handled the furoshiki and how they wrapped their wares in front of their customers. In this way, the furoshiki came to function as a kind of marketing and communication tool.

Yamada-san says that the furoshiki also reflects the spirit of the Japanese people:"In Japan, people place importance not only on the practicality of an object, but also on the aspect of spirituality. This may have given rise to the idea that a different realm can be created when an item or space is separated using one piece of cloth. In fact, I believe that when goods are handed over wrapped in furoshiki, it is not only for physical reasons, such as to prevent dust and dirt from sticking to the cloth, but also to express the respect, as it is important to the Japanese to deliver goods to the recipient in a clean and untainted state, in both a physical and spiritual sense."

The beauty of design - composition, color, patterns and motifs

The spirit and wishes to be conveyed through the furoshiki can also be seen in its design.According to Yamada-san, the traditional patterns that have been used since ancient times are called kissho.Various natural motifs refer to auspicious items to express people's feelings of gratitude."One well-known traditional furoshiki pattern is the pine, bamboo, and plum tree motif, known as shochikubai.The evergreen pine symbolizes longevity, the supple bamboo symbolizes vitality and flexibility, and the plum tree, which blooms at the beginning of spring, symbolizes hope.Another popular design features a pattern of scales, which represents powerful creatures such as dragons and snakes, and thus has connotations of good health, which is why more and more people have been buying them in recent years due to the pandemic."

"Furoshiki designs are also chosen to match the seasonal attire of the wearer.Vibrant patterns are chosen for a gorgeous kimono for a special occasion, while darker colors and subdued patterns are chosen for a kimono worn on a day of mourning.In recent years, furoshiki with more casual designs have been on the rise, and not all of them have the same deep meanings carried over from the past.
However, there are still many customers who purchase furoshiki foremost for what is being expressed through the design."

Furoshiki are often decorated with auspicious and celebratory motifs.

Various ways of wrapping and tying

Furoshiki culture has developed through the development of different uses and wrapping styles to meet the needs of the times. Furoshiki has been enriched by the accumulated wisdom of daily life that has been passed down through the generations.Furoshiki can change its form depending on how it is wrapped and tied. For example, a single furoshiki can be transformed to create bags of various shapes and styles.

How to make a furoshiki bag

*Place the furoshiki with the side you wish to form the outside of the bag facing up (in the photo, the red side will be the outside of the bag).
Then fold it into a triangle as shown.

Tie the left and right corners of the triangle into a knot as shown.

The knots should be placed around quarter of the length of one side.

Tie both ends with a single knot and then turn the furoshiki inside out.

Tie the remaining ends tightly together (use a double or square knot).

Your furoshiki bag is ready for use!

Recently, we are seeing furoshiki with a water-repellent finish applied to the fabric, and some people use them as outdoor bags, or childcare bags that can be double up as diaper changing sheets or spill sheets, as well as eco-friendly shopping bags that can be used to carry vegetables or frozen foods without worrying about condensation or meltwater. In addition to these everyday situations, furoshiki have also been developed as part of disaster prevention kits that can be used as emergency carryout bags or as an improvised sling.

Furoshiki can also be used to add a festive look and feel at a special occasion or celebratory time of year. Additionally, demand is growing for furoshiki as a sustainable packaging material that does not generate waste.Explained below, using a furoshiki to wrap two-bottles is an eco-friendly and convenient method to gift some wine to friends that does not require cushioning material and allows the bottles to be carried without hitting each other.

How to wrap two bottles

Place the bottles in the center of the furoshiki, diagonally on the left and right sides, facing away from each other and slightly apart.

Fold the front flap over the bottles to the back as shown, then roll the bottles away from you, which will roll up the fabric.

The end of the cloth should be in the middle between the bottom of the two bottles.

Stand the bottles up so that the ends are sandwiched between the bottom of the two bottles.

Tie both ends tightly together using a square or double knot

Your two-bottle furoshiki wrap is complete!

Furoshiki culture spreads overseas

Furoshiki can be used repeatedly, in various situations, as a way to incorporate a little Japanese art into one’s daily life. Consequently furoshiki culture is attracting increasing attention overseas at a time when the SDGs are becoming increasingly relevant.

Musubi participated in FUROSHIKI PARIS, an event held in 2018 in the square in front of City Hall in Paris, as well as collaborating in the Gifts Unwrapped (2021-2023) exhibition and worshop currently being held at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. The response overseas has been beyond anything the participants could have imagined. Yamada-san says she was particularly pleased to hear visitors say, "I didn't realize that one piece of cloth could have so much potential."

"The furoshiki is a simple square of fabric that contains the culture and lifestyle of the Japanese people. I believe that by wrapping and tying furoshiki, or by the simple act of actually touching the material, people from other countries can come to feel more familiar with Japan. We hope that people will enjoy wrapping, tying, and using furoshiki in their daily lives in ways that match the culture, customs, and climate of their country and region. I am excited to think that the culture of furoshiki may expand further around the world in this way!"

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