Mar 19, 2008

The all-purpose furoshiki

The Japanese are famous for packaging. Even when you buy vegetables at the market, they wrap or tie them up in very pleasing ways. Department stores wrap up your purchases to take home. Gifts are wrapped, tied and decorated in elaborate ways.

There is also the humble furoshiki (furosh-ki), a nearly square piece of cloth that can be wrapped and tied in many different ways depending on what is inside. These wrapping cloths can be utilitarian in a plain, solid color cotton or beautifully and elaborately dyed chirimen silk and it is versatile and re-usable. You can carry watermelons to wine bottles in furoshiki. It can be used as a shopping bag, a laptop wrap, or used to wrap up your kimono and accessories. They can be used to wrap up your lunch. Sometimes, instead of a handbag, I wrap everything in a furoshiki and carry it with me. It looks sort of like I am running away from home. Now days, furoshiki are often used as giftwrap.

There is a Japanese word, “mottainai.” It has become a catchphrase for Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, equating it roughly to the English phrase "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" (It might include "Repair", too.).

Here is an excerpt of the 88th Commencement Speech she gave at Connecticut College in 2006: “Recently I was in Japan. They told me they used to be very conscious of this concept of mottainai, but we are losing it. Since I went there, they have revived that concept. The Japanese custom, before they became very affluent, was to tie gifts in a piece of cloth, which they called furoshiki. They tie it so you give the gift but you keep the cloth. So, you recycle it, you reuse it. Now, of course, we use paper and every time you use paper, remember that is a cut tree. That is a tree that has died to produce paper.”

More about furoshiki in this article “The Japanese Gift for Shopping”

1 comment:

  1. I discovered furoshiki last year via an ebay site and bought some not knowing really when or where I would use them. They are so useful I'm so pleased I got them, I carry one with me in my handbag wherever I go now - such a useful item. A brilliant invention.