Furoshiki (風呂敷), is a traditional cloth wrapping technique, used to transport clothes, gifts or bento; plenty of stuff really. Furoshiki come in various forms and designs and there are many ways of folding the cloth depending on the object that is wrapped.
Today, Furoshiki are mainly used to bring gifts, although they started as bath mats during the Edo Era. Pretty big change, right?
Let’s find out more!
Furoshiki means “bath mat” or “bath spread” (風呂 furo = “bath”; 敷き Shiki = “spread”). They are believed to have origins as far as the Nara Period (奈良時代, 710 – 794 AD).
However, its oldest representation bring us back to the Heian Period (平安時代, 794 – 1185 AD), where, according to paintings, people used Furoshiki to wrap their clothes and transport them on their heads. At the time, they were commonly called Hira-tsutsumi (平包, “flat wrap”). There are also traces of the word Kokoromi-tsutsumi (衣包 “clothes wrap”、古路毛包) being used to refer to them.
Towards the end of the Muromachi Period (室町時代, 1336 – 1573 AD), Daimyo (Japanese feudal lords) used Furoshiki to wrap theirs clothes when they went to take a bath or to wipe their feet when they came out of it. There were also Furoshiki with the Daimyo’s respective Family Emblems so that they wouldn’t mix-up each other’s clothes.
It was only during the Edo Period (江戸時代, 1603 – 1868) that Furoshiki came to be called the way it is today. It was during that period that Sentō (銭湯) came to become very popular within the Japanese population, especially in ancient Tōkyō: Edo. When people went to the bathhouse, they would use a Furoshiki to bring necessary stuff to the Sentō or wrap their clothes in them so that they wouldn’t mix them up with someone else’s, they’d spread the cloth on the floor and change their clothes on top of it etc… That’s how Hira-tsutsumi came to be associated with public baths and came to be called the way it is today, first as Furoshiki-tsutsumi (風呂敷包), and then simply as Furoshiki.
Modern Day Furoshiki
Today, in Japan, Furoshiki are mainly used to exchange gifts. However, they are also often used to simply carry stuff around, you might see people carrying a huge variety of objects by simply tying up the corner with this cloth.
Gift-wrapping has become an art in Japan, demanding lots of skills. There are many ways of tying a Fursoshiki, depending on the object you’re wrapping. Wether you’re carrying a bottle, a bentō or a quadri-triangular object, the wrapping technique is different.
Furoshiki come in various forms and sizes too, you can buy a small piece of cloth to wrap your lunch, just as you can buy one to carry your Futon to your new house!
When offering a gift to someone using Furoshiki, it is customary that you open the gift yourself in front of the recipient and then give the gift. However, the cloth is not part of it! So if you’re offered a gift wrapped up in one, make sure not to steal it. It is even considered that you are supposed put something in the Furoshiki before giving it back to the owner.
There are countless occasions to use Furoshiki in Japan, given that gift giving is a long time tradition that is very much present today, especially so during Setsubun and at weddings. Therefore it’s very easy to buy one, you can even get one in the airport!
What do you think of Furoshiki?
Were you ever offered a gift wrapped in one?