What is furoshiki?

Furoshiki (風呂敷, fu-rosh-ki) is a type of traditional Japanese wrapping cloth. It can be used in multiple ways, for bundling or gift-wrapping all sorts of things – from lunch boxes or books, to watermelons and bottles of wine. You could even tie it into a handbag or use it as a scarf, a baby blanket or even a wall hanging. One simple and beautiful piece of cloth and the list is endless. You decide!

Furoshiki literally means ‘bath spread’. Possibly dating back as far as the Nara Period (AD 710 to 794), furoshiki gained their name from the Edo period (1603 to 1868), when people used pieces of cloth for bundling clothes while at the public baths. As time went on, and people had a tendency to move around more for business and pleasure, merchants used furoshiki to help transport, protect and decorate their wares. Furoshiki became an indispensable tool in Japanese life.

Modern furoshiki can be made of a variety of cloth, including silk, chirimen, cotton, rayon, and nylon. They are often decorated with traditional designs or by shibori (a type of Japanese tie-dye technique). There is no one set size for furoshiki, they can range from hand sized to larger than bed-sheets.

There are still many furoshiki users in Japan, but their numbers declined in the post war period, probably due to the introduction and wide-spread use of the plastic shopping bag and other modern and disposable forms of packaging. However, in recent years, as environmental issues have become more recognized, Japan has seen a renewed interest in this multi-functional piece of textile. In 2006 Yuriko Koike, the Japanese Minister of the Environment, started the ‘Mottainai Furoshiki‘ campaign, which urges shoppers to use furoshiki in place of plastic shopping bags.