What item can be used as a scarf, tablecloth, handbag, lunchbox bag, wine bottle wrapper, gift wrap and wall art? The versatile furoshiki! Eco-friendly and chic, the furoshiki has been used for centuries in Japan to protect and carry personal items as well as reusable gift wrap. During your visit to Japan, why not take a few of these versatile and portable Japanese souvenirs home for family and friends?
BY Sarah B. Hodge
When you break the word furoshiki into its parts, furo means “bath” and shiki means “to spread out.” Furoshiki were originally used to wrap sacred items at shrines and temples, and later to carry personal items and clothing to and from public bathhouses. Once unfolded, they could be spread out as a bathmat.
Later, it became popular to use furoshiki as an elegant wrapping for gifts. The tradition of wrapping, or tsutsumu is readily seen throughout Japan. Wrapping items implies respect towards the recipient on gift-giving occasions, so wrapping gifts with furoshiki lends elegance and special meaning.
Furoshiki’s popularity as an everyday carrying item declined with the introduction of plastic bags in the 1970s, but today environmentally conscious consumers are returning to this ancient art form.
In 2005, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, then Japan’s Minister of the Environment, created the mottainai furoshiki. (Mottainai means non-wasteful.) Made from recycled plastic bottles, it is printed with designs created by an 18th-century Japanese painter. Furoshiki prints can range from the traditional, like Edo-era patterns or copies of ukiyo-e woodblock prints, to reversible prints, modern art collaborations, company logos, animal prints, and custom designs. Shops like Kyoto-based Musubi offer a dazzling range of traditional and modern furoshiki prints, including collaborations with well-known designers.
You can purchase licensed Tokyo 2020 furoshiki from the Tokyo 2020 Official Online Shop in several patterns, including the Tokyo 2020 logo and the elegant Nishijin Ori furoshiki woven in Kyoto.
Tokyo Musubi opened their first furoshiki shop in Jingu-mae in 2005. Displaying around 500 furoshiki from the traditional to the modern and whimsical, you’ll find clever and creative ways to wrap furoshiki displayed around the store, as well as English-language books on furoshiki tying. Parent company Yamada Sen-I was founded in 1937 as a manufacturer of furoshiki. The name of their brand “MUSUBI” comes from “born” (musu) and “beauty” (bi) in Japanese. In addition, “musubi” means “to knot or tie,” making it the perfect name for this ancient art.
Tokyo Musubi: 2-31-8, Jingumae Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-0001 Japan
How to use:
There are hundreds of ways furoshiki can be tied depending on the purpose, such as gift-wrapping a bottle or box, lunchbox, purse. Wrapping can be tailored to the specific shape of the object being wrapped, like rolled calendars or hanging scrolls.
A traditional furoshiki cloth is not perfectly square. This is because the cloth used to be cut from kimono material lengths. Nowadays, most commercial furoshiki are square. They are highly portable (you can keep a folded one in a pocket or bag as a makeshift shopping bag or picnic mat), reusable, and make great souvenirs as they take up very little space in luggage.
In addition to more common uses like lunchbox wrappers and gift wrap, other suggested uses include:
For wrapping, the object should be approximately one-third of the furoshiki’s diagonal line. The following traditional sizes tend to work well for a range of objects:
In addition to Tokyo Musubi, you can purchase furoshiki at numerous outlets around Tokyo, including Asakusa Kururi, Uguisu Store, Link Collective and Karakusaya. Many of these also offer wrapping classes (in Japanese) to teach various ways to use furoshiki, or you can pick up a bilingual English-Japanese book at bookstores or Tokyo Musubi.
A freelance writer for Tokyo Weekender magazine and Stars and Stripes Japan newspaper, Sarah has also contributed to a number of websites including Spiritual Travels, BentoYa Cooking and Thanks for The Meal.