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Furoshiki is a traditional Japanese wrapping cloth. Learn how to use this creative wrapping technique to wrap gifts, and much more.

A furoshiki bag in the process of being wrapped, by Flickr user Torek (aka Kirainet).

Have you heard of furoshiki? These traditional Japanese square cloths are getting a lot of attention lately, as a "green" alternative to wrapping paper and plastic shopping bags. Furoshiki means "bath spread" -- in feudal Japan, they were used to bundle and protect people's clothing at public bath houses, but over the years, their standard use has been to tie up any bundle you can imagine (they've even been used as baby carriers). The word is pronounced something like "f'-ROHSH-kee".

The term is a general one, not referring to any particular size or pattern, though most are around one-and-a-half to a little over two feet on a side. They usually have a printed pattern and a stitched hem around the edges. Unlike wrapping paper, which is often too creased and weak to effectively reuse, furoshiki can be part of a gift, and can be used again and again. They can also be tied up in various ways to make an "instant bag."

See much more about furoshiki, including diagrams, videos, alternatives, and places to shop, after the break!



The Japanese Ministry of the Environment has championed the use of furoshiki, which lost popularity in Japan with the rise of the plastic shopping bag (recently, they have mostly been used to tie up lunch boxes and act as a placemat during the meal). The Minister of the Environment, Yuriko Koike, created a version made from recycled plastic bottles, called mottainai furoshiki. Mottainai means, "it's a shame for something to go to waste without having made use of its potential in full."

They have created a page, also available as a downloadable PDF, showing many ways to wrap and tie furoshiki. If not using furoshiki as gift wrap, you can use them to protect and carry two books, or a watermelon, or bottles of wine. If you are using a furoshiki as a gift wrap, why not print out the PDF and include it with the gift?

For more information on the history and cultural uses of furoshiki, check out this 1994 article from The Tomen Journal. The author explains that there's a knack to tying them so that they're the most useful, so don't be discouraged if the furoshiki shoulder bag you made doesn't work out the first time. If you want even more details than that, try this Google Books excerpt of Kunio Ekiguchi's Gift Wrapping: Creative Ideas from Japan.

InfomapJAPAN has another great article about furoshiki. They mention that one of the supposed traditions surrounding gift-wrap furoshiki -- that the cloth should be returned to the giver with a small gift inside -- is debatable.

Layers of Meaning shows some furoshiki-type products, like a laptop computer wrap and a cloth with built-in handles, and refers us to Life in Kyoto, a site with particularly pretty photos of furoshiki in use.

A recent exhibit in Tokyo of new furoshiki designs by numerous artists also touched on this trend.

There are a handful of interesting videos about furoshiki at YouTube. Check out the following:

  • Furoshiki (KKS News) (about 2.5 minutes): English narration, but it's drowned out by a Japanese dub. Some fast animations of folding techniques, as well as a furoshiki fashion show. "Furoshiki is wonderful! Furoshiki is joyful! Furoshiki is useful! Furoshiki is beautiful!"
  • Kakefuda Kyoto - Famous Furoshiki Store (about 8 min): English narration. One of the shop's workers demonstrates folding technique in more detail than the previous video, showing several styles of carrying bag and various wrappings. (Ironically, though, check out the very non-green packaging of the ladies' purchases at the end of the video! A furoshiki in a package in a paper bag. Japan is famous for over-packaging.) Probably the most useful of these videos.
  • How to FUROSHIKI wrapping (a little over 1 min): no real narration. This is similar to the Kakefuda video, in that it seems to have been shot in the same location and features the first "teardrop" style of bag shown in that video. It's less informative, but it's shorter, and of lower quality, meaning it's an easier download.

Furoshiki can be made of various fabrics, but are often made of rayon chirimen crepe. Rayon chirimen crepe cannot be hand-washed: it will stiffen if you soak it in water. It must be dry-cleaned (or just never washed -- dry cleaning isn't the most eco-friendly process). For this reason, you'll see some furoshiki made of other fabrics. The Life in Kyoto site mentioned above says that cotton ones are to be tied tightly, while silk should only be tied loosely.

If you're interested in trying furoshiki, but don't want to spend the money for the authentic Japanese model, why not try it with a bandana or a large, thrifted scarf? Imports aren't very eco-friendly anyway, and furoshiki are often used in just the same way that non-Japanese people might use a big, square scarf.

If you sew, you could also make your own from any fabric you like: just handkerchief-hem a square of fabric (the blog Mommy Cooks has some good instructions for furoshiki, if you need them; there's a similar "make a furoshiki" article at eHow). If you want to make an "authentic-looking" furoshiki without using rayon chirimen crepe, consider polyester or cotton chirimen crepe, which are washable. Fabric Tales is a wonderful place to buy Japanese-style fabrics, but if you want something from your local craft store, go for a colorful synthetic crepe.

If, however, you'd like an authentic furoshiki, try the following resources:

[suggested by this post on Spluch.]



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  • Marcianna

    Soooo glad I ran across this on Stumble Upon! I have been trying to use Canvas bags for a few years now in regards to the environment, but honestly they are bulky and annoying if you have to take several of them shopping with you to a grocery store. Being so stiff they dont fold down well if you need like ten or more at a time! (I only go shopping once a month!) But... I can see how you can easily fold down many, many furoshikis and simply tie them up in another one! This is definitely going to be a new Market habit for me. Thank you so much for the article! (Oh yay! I found this right before Christmas too! Maybe I cant start the trend around Ohio also!)

    Reply
  • Marcianna

    Oh By the way... What is the proper Pronunciation? My Japanese is a little rusty... (aka: nonexistent! lol)

    Reply
  • Kitty

    One of the YouTube videos has a translator translating for a furoshiki shop worker, and he called it furoshki. I heard one Japanese announcer pronounce the middle "I" but it was very faint. The emphasis is mainly on the O, which makes it sound like a polish Deli food.

    FWIW, kitty

    Reply
  • sakurasaku

    Thank you for such a comprehensive guide. When I was growing up in Japan, furoshiki was considered old-fashioned, but it has been experiencing a resurgence lately, boosted by the green movement. Ever since I read about a furoshiki wrapping demonstration that was held at Kinokuniya Book Store in Manhattan, I have been wanting to get into using them. They will make wonderful (and reusable) gift wraps for wine bottles this holiday season and they are so easy to make...just sew a square! I think the trick is to use a thin-enough (but durable) fabric with a good drape for the ease of tying.

    Reply
  • J LaRoche

    I recently started making furoshikis locally in Portland Oregon. Take a look at my site ecoshikis.com. With so much information online about furoshikis, I was surprised how difficult it was to find them in the US. I'd love to be a part of making this a common practice in the US. What a simple and creative way to give a gift and to reduce the use of disposable paper wrap.

    Reply
  • 5 Comments / 1 Pages

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