The Japanese Art of Wrapping and Carrying Things

The Furoshiki, which translates to bath spread, is a form of traditional Japanese cloth that was used to wrap goods in a way that allowed them to be carried around with ease and comfort. It is said that this sensible form of reusing old fabrics dates back to the 8th century, the techniques and usages known today are date back to the Edo period practice of using cloths to wrap together one’s clothes when entering a public bath house. It is said that its predecessor was the hira zutsumi, which was the term for wrapping cloth or flat folded bundle. It was when the early merchants of Japan started using the furoshiki as a means to easily bundle up their goods and transport them easily. It was also used as a way to protect goods from the outdoor weather as well as a means of decorating a gift.

With the rising need and support for environmentally friendly movements, the use of these wrapping cloths has seen a new light. It provides people with a significantly better replacement for plastic bags while providing ways for people to reuse old fabrics. It also allows users to project creativity and environmental awareness as fabrics can be colorful and be used in a diverse set of ways. It is also a quirky and unique way to wrap a gift. 

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Wrap Anything with a Furoshiki Cloth 

Though simple, the furoshiki has quite a history behind it. As stated earlier, this square piece of wrapping cloth has already been in use since the Nara period, which started in the year 710 and lasted till 794. During that time it was known as tsutsumi. The earliest incarnation of the furoshiki was primarily used as a means to store precious and highly protected items. The following Heian period, which started in the year 794 and lasted till the year 1185, saw the application of the tsutsumi in bundling up clothing. It was known as the koromo utsumi during this time. It then came to be known as the hira zutsumi, or the flat folded bundle. It was during the Muromachi period, which lasted from 1336 to 1573, that the furoshiki had gotten its name. It is said that Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the shogun during that time, had ordered the construction of a large and grand bathhouse within the residence he had built in the city of Kyoto. He would often send out emissaries throughout the nation to invite the various feudal lords of the time to stay at his residence. The bathers would then have their items and kimonos  wrapped in furoshiki cloth that prominently displayed their family crests in order to avoid any confusion as to who owns what. It is said that the lords that bathed here would be standing on cloths to dry out or socialize after taking a bath. This is where the name furoshiki had originated from.

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Furo is the japanese word for standing or sitting and shiki is the word for rug. It was not long before the popularity of using furoshiki had reached the common man and the wrapping cloth was seen used for everything such as books, gifts, and merchandise.

In the following Edo period, which started in the year 1693 and ended on 1867, several forms of wrapping cloths were used, such as the hira zutsumi and the furoshiki zutsumi. The terms or forms that were used depended on the application of the wrapping cloth. The term furoshiki was almost exclusively used for public baths. The furoshiki wrapping cloth was used as a means to effectively carry one's clothes and bathing materials. The custom of wrapping one’s clothes then spread out to other applications such as the wrapping of a book or groceries.

Modern day furoshiki is made from a broad range of fabrics. Anything from simple cotton and nylon to silk and chirimen can be used as a wrapping fabric. Furoshiki are often adorn with beautiful traditional Japanese patterns and dyes, known as shibori. After the war, the usage of furoshiki, much like most Japanese traditions, had seen a decline. This is due to rapid industrialization, westernization, as well as cheap production of plastic bags. It is only in recent years that the usage of furoshiki has seen an increase, not only in Japan but all around the world. Nowadays it is common to see the youth of Japan carry around their lunch boxes, called bento, wrapped in a furoshiki pattern.

The Return of the Furoshiki Bag to the Modern World

It was on March 6, 2006 that Yuriko Koike, the Japanese Minister of the Environment, had used furoshiki cloth as a way to increase environmental awareness and reduce the use of plastic.

It is in the promotion of this craft and the increase in the production of modern designs that the use of furoshiki is appealing to the younger generations. For those interested in trying out furoshiki wrapping, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment has created a simple and useful guide for the various applications of the furoshiki.

The use of furoshiki in the modern day is now focused on using it as a bag. The appeal of using a furoshiki as a bag is that it is highly versatile and can be folded in such a way that it firmly secures any size of an object to suit one’s needs. With the increase in the production on better and modern patterns or designs, the use of furoshiki is also seen as a fashion accessory or statement. Traditionally the print or color of the furoshiki has meaning behind it. Traditionally when one receives a furoshiki wrapped gift, the wrapping cloth is meant to be saved and used.

It is very simple to use a furoshiki cloth. There are multitudes of guides and instructional videos online one how to use it. From a simple shoulder bag to a more complex bottle carrier, one simply has to search online to find the instructions. All furoshiki starts with a square cloth. By folding this cloth around an item one can make an environmentally friendly, fashionable, and reusable alternative to using plastic bags.

Furoshiki cloths can come in any size. The common sizes however are 45 cm by 45 cm and 70 cm by 70 cm. There are some that are as small as a child’s palm and some as large as a king sized bed. The furoshiki cloth can also be made to be reversible with prints on both sides of the fabric. The only real requirement for the furoshiki is that it has to be cut into a square. The thickness of the fabric is also something that is left up to the user. As long as the fabric is thick enough that it can hold the weight of the object it carries then it will suffice. It is good to note however that a thicker fabric might provide some difficulties in folding and tying. But then again there are techniques wherein a thicker fabrics are tied up with ribbons so really any fabric is good.

The most basic of wrapping method starts with laying down the square piece of furoshiki cloth flat on the floor, keeping the pattern meant to be seen facing down. Align the corners of the cloth to the four points of the compass. Should the cloth have a striking design on one corn, let that corner face north. Position the gift in the  center of the cloth, adjusting towards the south should the item be large. A good indication of what size furoshiki cloth to use is to ensure that the item to be wrapped is a third of the diagonal line of the cloth. Start wrapping the gift by folding the south corner over the item and tucking any surplus underneath it. Then you fold the northern corner over the folded southern corner in such a way that it overhangs the item. Then take the east and west corners and make them meet in the middle. Use those two corners to tie a square knot. Another way to go about this is to first take the east and west corners and tie a square knot over the item. Then, using the north and south corners,  tie another square knot over the east and west corners.

A Review of the Furoshiki Shoes

The art of Japanese wrapping has recently been adapted into the footwear industry. Vibram, the leader in alternative footwear such as the five finger shoe, has released the furoshiki shoes. These lightweight and unique shoes have caught the world by a storm as they presented a new take on shoe construction. The furoshiki shoes were conceptualized in 2011 after the president of the company, Marco Bramani, had pushed his design team to come up with a one-size sole. It was a challenging task as it required the creation of a dynamic structure sole which adapted to many foot sizes. The inventor of the Furoshiki shoe, Masaya Hashimoto, took inspiration from the craft of Japanese wrapping and packing to create this shoe.

The Vibram Furoshiki shoe is the only footwear on the market which truly wraps around the individual’s foot. It provides a means to dynamically mold around any foot shape. The upper portion of the shoe is made from a lightweight, stretchable, and flexible fabric that will snugly fit any foot shape. The shoe is easily put on as the fabric is secured by a simple hook and loop system that secures the fabric at the top of the heel. This shoe provides comfort in any situation or environment as its sole provides adequate stability, grip, and protection. It also considered to be the best shoe to bring for travelling as it is extremely lightweight and can be folded for easy storage. The shoe is also machine washable.

As stated earlier, this aim for this shoe was to make a one size fits all sole, so the sizing for the Furoshiki shoe is unisex. The Vibram website provides a simple to understand sizing chart which can guide buyers to finding the right fit for them. Make sure to get the right size as going to large might cause one’s foot to slip inside the shoe. Going too small might make one’s toes go past the rubber sole.

The hook and loop closure system is simple and easy to use as one must just place the Furoshiki stretch fabric over the top of the foot and secure the fabric at the top of the heel using velcro. The inside of the shoe almost feel like thin socks and one's toes are free to move. Thin strips of rubber run through the stretch fabric to provide additional support without adding too much weight. One really feels the ground when wearing the shoe and it as close as one can get to walking barefoot while wearing shoes. It is good to note that the fabric of this shoe is thin and thus tears might occur should the fabric snag on sharp objects. It is not recommended that the Vibram Furoshiki shoes be used for intense exercise such as lifting weights or running as it provides no support. It is also recommended that one wear socks when using the Vibram Furoshiki shoes in order to prevent odor from sticking to the fabric.

With the use of furoshiki techniques and influences in the modern day, even the western cultures have started to adopt and adapt this ancient craft. It is highly recommended to try giving out gifts wrapped in furoshiki to your friends when the need arises. It’s a quick, simple, unique, and environmentally-friendly way to give someone special a gift. Try including instructions on furoshiki wrapping when one does this as it gives provides a call to action to reuse these fabrics, show that it is easy to fold, and fun to do. This makes sure that the furoshiki cloth has a good chance of being reused and the message of recycling and reusing items may be spread out.