Do you have any chance that you think about furoshiki as you spend usual lives unintentionally? It is a Japanese traditional culture, which is not particularly novelty, but there are so many stories in this simple flat square cloth. For simple things, interpretation can be wider, and in fact it is deeper.
“It’s just furoshiki, but furoshiki is still worth something.”
Let’s talk all about the furoshiki, that are beneficial to know for those who already recognise it and those who are new to it.
Table of contents
The history of furoshiki dates back over 1200 years ago.
Hemp was used in Japan from the Jomon period (BC 14,000 to 300).
Since cloth was made, it is thought that the act of wrapping things with it was inevitably done. However, Japan’s furoshiki that developed this diversity of use is very rare.
Origin of Furoshiki:
The oldest existing Japanese furoshiki is of the 8th century and is located in Shosoin (Nara).
The Shosoin Imperial treasures have the letters “ka (裹)” and “kou (幌)” meaning “wrap”. After that, Wamyo Ruijusho, the dictionary of the Heian period (AD 794 to 11859) shows “koromotsutumi (衣包)”, meaning “cloth wrap”.
In Masasukeshouzokushou, the book of traditional criterion knowledge written in the Heian period, the 12th century, the expression “Hiratsusumi (平裹 or 平包)”, meaning flat wrap, appears.
You can see the use of Hiratsutsumi (Furoshiki) in “the copy of Ban Dainagon Emaki (The Tale of Great Minister Ban)” of the 12th century.
There is a theory that it became “furoshiki” because the samurai wore clothes on it when bathing around the Muromachi period (AD 1336 to 1573).
“Kokura cotton furoshiki” written in “Sunpuowakemonochou-odouguchou” of Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1616, is the oldest known description. The general name was changed from “hiratsutsumi” to ” furoshiki” around the 1700’s.
Rise and fall in the modern times onwards:
As entering the Meiji period (AC 1868 to 1912), industrial development became a national policy, and productivity increased with technological innovation. Synthetic dyes have come to be used as well. During Taisho period (AC 1912 to 1926) and Showa periods (AC 1926 to 1989), the chemical fibers became popular.
After the Second World War, using bags more than furoshiki became common as the lifestyle became westernised. Plastic bags were offered free of charge to shoppers, and the opportunities for furoshiki to be used decreased. And demand as gifts such as ceremonial gifts became prominent.
Due to the increasing ecological awareness in recent years, the value of furoshiki has been reconsidered as a replacement for plastic shopping bags.
Traditionally thy are silk and cotton. Synthetic fibers such as rayon, polyester, nylon and acetate, semisynthetic fibers combining natural fibers and chemical fibers are also used.
Traditional manufacturing methods include “chirimen (crepe)” and “tsumugi (pongee)”. Chirimen (crepe) has a sense of luxury with the texture of the gorgeous surface and its suppleness. Chirimen (crepe) woven with silk can be divided into thick “Ooshibo-chirimen (large embossed crepe)” and thin “rochirimen (leno crape)”. Tsumugi (pongee) is plain woven with tsumugi yarn, and does not have much gloss and is extremely durable. There is “ro (leno)” which is the thine silk fabric.
Cotton is easy to care, the most common furoshiki material. There are varieties of manufacturing methods such as cotton Shantung, cotton lawn, Tian Shan cotton, broad cotton and Nishijinori.
Rayon shrinks like silk if it contains water.
Polyester is a durable material and wrinkle-resistant.
Nylon is also durable and light, has low water absorbency and quick drying.
Acetate is semisynthetic fiber with silky texture and weak against heat, friction and water.
For dyes, there are natural dyes and chemical dyes.
Aizome (indigo dye):
beautiful deep blue shades, it uses tadeai (dyer’s knotweed) as a dye.
Shiborizome (tie dye):
Shibori (tie-dyeing) emphasises the pattern by the wrinkles of shibori (tie).
Hikizome (drawing dye):
Permeates dyes into the fabric with a brush. There are “mold starch laying” and “pipe drawing” as a method to determine the part the dye does not soaked in.
Inzome (mark dye):
Inzome (mark dye) is a dyeing method of putting marks on the fabric.
Currently, digital inkjet printing and sublimation printing allow you to print based on data files.
Digital ink jet can be used for both natural fibers and chemical fibers.
Sublimation print is a technique of putting a transfer paper once printed with inkjet and cloth together, then sublimation transfer printing by heated roller.
Pigment printing puts a picture on the surface with pigments, and different from dyeing in precise.
Furoshiki is a square and finishes it with threefold seam.
The representative design of furoshiki should be “karakusa (arabesque) pattern.” It was transmitted to Japan from ancient Greece in the Nara period (AD 710 to 794) through the Silk Road. Multiple vines of the arabesque (medicago) intertwined and has meanings such as descendant prosperity.
Common Furoshiki patterns:
“Seigaiha” (blue sea wave) is said to have originated from ancient Persia, and it was introduced to Japan around the Asuka period (AD 538 to 710).
“Asanoha” (hemp leaf) is a geometric pattern shaped like hemp leaves as its name suggests. It’s regarded as auspicious and became a general pattern in the Heian era (AD 794 to 1185).
“Yagasuri” (arrow feathers) is shaped like an arrow feather, and it’s regarded as lucky charm at the wedding since the arrow does not come back when it shoots.
Other traditional patterns include “sakura” (cherry blossoms), “kouyou” (autumn leaf), “ougi” (fans), “kagome” (woven-bamboo), “shippou” (seven treasures), “ryusui” (flowing water), “kumo” (cloud), “kasumi” (haze), “kikkou” (tortoise shell), “matsu” (pine), “take” (bamboo) and so on.
Also, distinguished families added family crests to furoshiki while merchants put “yagoumon” (house name crest).
Furoshiki sometimes makes use of the “whole” pattern of the woven fabric, and various compositions are also used.
“Sumituke” (corner addition) is one that puts a marking in one corner or several of the four corners. Those that have a marking in four corners are called “yosumidori” (four corner take). Dividing at diagonals into two triangles, that each of them containing a different color is called “nanamedori” (diagonal take).
“Gakudori” (frame take) is a style that changes the color of the outer frame of the furoshiki, such as “masudori” (box take) and hishidori” (diamond take).
“Seiudori” (full wings take) is ones with a thick line running straight from end to end of the furoshiki such as “tachiseiudori” (standing full wings take), “koginmigituke” (kogin right addition) and “noshimedori” (noshime take).
“Marudori” (circle take) is one with a circular pattern in the centre of the furoshiki.
“Shihounirami” (four direction glare) has a pattern of the same shape radially from the centre.
Some also have paintings like “kaiga” (picture).
New Furoshiki design:
In recent years, very diverse and innovative designs are also used, and there are original furoshiki with print based on customised photographs and designs.
In addition, products have been devised by applying the principle of furoshiki wrapping to shoes as well.
Furoshiki & Environmental Impact:
Recently furoshiki has been drawing attention as eco goods.
The plastic shopping bags we use at shopping are made of materials such as polyolefin, and there is concern about the negative impact on the environment. Annually, 60 million to 100 million barrels of oil is spent on plastic bag manufacturing, therefore, you can save oil by not using plastic bags.
When incinerating the polyolefin, carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted. If you do not use plastic shopping bags, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted can be reduced as well.
Plastics destroying nature:
500 billion to 3 trillion plastic bags are distributed worldwide annually, and 1 in 3 consumers dump plastic bag as it becomes unnecessary. What makes the plastic bag problem more serious is that the plastic remains semipermanently in nature. Natural creatures are mistakenly swallowing and dying, and it will impact the ecosystem one after another like the domino effect.
Plastics also affect human:
Plastic allows toxins enter the food chain and it affects humans who are positioned at the top of the food chain. Due to rising environmental awareness, measures such as banning plastic bags, taxation and self-restraint have been taken.
Thereat, furoshiki is attracting attention again. Furoshiki excitingly stimulate creativity and lead to people’s cultivation of ecological thoughts. It influences on the brain by creative experience of exercising hands.
People who have become eco-friendly by furoshiki will start making environmentally friendly actions, and will eventually lead to the power to change administration and society as a whole.
Furoshiki Platform as Tool:
Furoshiki can wrap and carry it in whatever form it is. Let’s see the characteristics from a new viewpoint, comparing it with a tablet and smartphone platform.
Furoshiki has the minimum hardware of flat cloth, and it can be utilized by software which is wisdom of how to use.
In the age of analog, the radio was made as a radio and functioned only as a radio.
On the other hand, tablet, a computer device that is square and thin like furoshiki can play both roles in one device with software.
By installing the application, you can also make internet calls and enjoy video games, and it can also have many other functions. There is minimal hardware, and by installing software there, it plays a wide variety of roles.
Furoshiki, which is smart:
This feature is very similar to furoshiki. In the case of furoshiki, the application of the computer can be applied to “learning how to use it”.
It is not necessary to carry 10 or 20 tools according to the purposes. Depending on software called wisdom, one platform called furoshiki will be transformed into various tools, and it can be folded into very compact size like smartphone.
Furoshiki has been existing since 1200 years ago, but it has advanced features like tablets which are high-tech devices.
Furoshiki & Japan:
Furoshiki is a culture that embodies the characteristics of Japan. There are other cultures in Japan that are related to furoshiki.
The roots of fukusa was furoshiki. It expresses the courtesy and regard for people by wrapping gifts, and it’s very Japanese-style. Also when wrapping articles in furoshiki and giving as gifts, it has a meaning to convey people the feelings.
The ones with small dimensions are written as fukusa (帛紗). When wrapping noshi envelops of ceremonial occasions, wrap in the front left for bereavement (such as a funeral), and wrap in the front right for a celebration (such as a wedding ceremony). This same way of manners applies even when wrapping articles in furoshiki.
It is possible to use furoshiki for fukusa and it is difficult to understand exact differences between both. But in general, what we usually use in daily life is called furoshiki, and wrapping money and articles in such as ceremonies is called fukusa.
Fukusa is also used as a tool in the tea ceremony. We call a bag carrying small articles fukusa-basami, and there are tools such as fukusa and kobukusa which is even smaller than fukusa.
Origami which is unique Japanese culture also has a square shape, and you fold a piece of paper to create various things.
Like furoshiki, there is Japan’s representative cloth culture, which is kimono. Wafuku (kimono), the Japanese traditional costume has features similar to furoshiki.
Whereas Western clothes are sewn three-dimensionally, kimono are sewn two-dimensionally. The furoshiki is also a two-dimensional cloth.
When making kimono, people make the best use of the square cloth of the roll, tanmono and make a straight cut, so there is almost no part of the cloth (patch) that is wasted. The spirit of not wasting is alive in wasai (kimono-making).
Yukata are basically made with the same idea and more simplified than kimono.
Kimono which is planar, can be used very extensively, and has no waste, has common features with furoshiki and really Japanese.
Furoshiki which is deeply rooted in Japanese society appear in manga as well, which is another representative culture of Japan.
In Fujiko F. Fujio’s SF manga “Doraemon,” there is the item, “Time furoshiki”.
Also, a typical thief appearing in a Japanese manga carries an ooburoshiki (big furoshiki) of the green karakusa pattern. Furoshiki appears in such crucial and vital scenes of thief operation, which is also an evidence for the high functionality of furoshiki.
Metaphor: “Spreading the ooburoshiki (big furoshiki)”
Ooburoshiki (big furoshiki) has a large size when it is spread, and you rarely wrap such big things.
Hence, for such as the magnificent plans that are actually difficult to realise, things that have only the exaggerated appearances although it’s scanty in content, and blown up stories, we came to say “spreading the ooburoshiki (big furoshiki)” as a metaphor.
Furoshiki is very environmental friendly, eliminating waste. When you feel something wasteful, you often say “mottainai” in Japan.
In the advertising of the Manga Nihon Mukashi Banashi (Japan’s old tales) series, radish and carrot that were left uneaten become “Mottainai-obake”(Wasteful ghosts), which appear on the bedside. “Mottainai” is the philosophical word of the ancient Japanese, “what originally should be is missing.”
How to Use Furoshiki:
How to Use Furoshiki (←More videos here)
Here, we will carefully select how to use a simple, fashionable and convenient wrapping cloth, and introduce a commentary to the video in an easy-to-understand way.
Here are the selection of videos with commentaries added to easily understand how to use furoshiki,, which are fashionable and useful.
This “shizuku bag” (drop bag) is useful for the use of going out for a little while. If the knots of “hitotsu musubi” (single knot) are inside, it becomes a bag of round shaped drop.
When you place the knots outside of the bag, it becomes the “shizuku ryusui bag” (drop water flow bag) with accent of ears.
When closing the mouth of the bag, it changes quickly to a fashionable “purse” for going out.
Furoshiki Today & Future:
Furoshiki culture which was abandoned due to westernisation and modernisation in Japan, but furoshiki has been getting a lot of attention in recent years as environmental measures are encouraged. This eco-friendly trend is worldwide phenomenon, and furoshiki, has the potential to spread all over the world.
Furoshiki in the world:
Looking at the world, furoshiki is attracting attention in some parts. However, few people use it in real life.
Meanwhile, the word, sushi is probably the Japanese that everyone knows about all over the world. The recognition for furoshiki is far behind, but it is a Japanese traditional culture that is as valuable as sushi.
Furoshiki as Eco bag:
Furoshiki as the eco bag requires simple learning how to use it, and steady dissemination activities are necessary. If you do not know about furoshiki, it should look like a bag with a cutting-edge design at first glance. It is also thought that it will become popular as a fashion item with some kind of clue.
The Japanese furoshiki specialised in wrapping and carrying while getting used for other purposes has almost disappeared.
Suggestion of Furoshiki uses:
In order to disseminate it all over the world, it should be prudent to not only convey the wrapping culture that is a feature of the Japanese furoshiki, but also to understand local customs and cloth culture to propose suggestions adaptable to local societies.
It would be great to witness the figure of the furoshiki changing to be accepted by many people both inside and outside of Japan and going vibrant.
When multiplying something with something, a chemical reaction may occur, which produce new things. Let’s talk while multiplying various things with furoshiki.
Furoshiki x Spain:
Here we discuss freely from the perspective of “Furoshiki x Spain,” which was never done before.
Author: Takuya Nagata. Amazon ProfileFollow @nagatackle
Novel writer, Creator. Graduated from UCA, the UK’s university. Discussed Japanese minimalism in the senior thesis. Founder of “MINIЯISM” (minirism), the art movement that contributes to the development of societies, such as ecology and lifestyle. Covered various fields as a writer in different parts of Europe, and later launched the knowledge hub “The Minimalist.”
Once travelled to Brazil and trained football at CFZ do Rio (Centro de Futebol Zico Sociedade Esportiva) in Rio de Janeiro. Played soccer for the Urawa Reds (Urawa Red Diamonds), one of the biggest football clubs in Japan, and toured Europe. Retired at a young age and voyaged alone to England. Established careers as journalist, football coach, consultant, etc. across Europe such as Spain. Knowledgeable in creative and technology fields as well. The founder of “Propulsive Football” (PROBALL), the world’s first-ever competitive mixed football, facilitating diversity and spirit for equal participation in society.
National Museum of Ethnology (Japan), Special exhibition: The world great furoshiki exhibition. Object and heart to wrap in cloth.