The Japanese have a great love and appreciation for beautiful things — be it art or nature — and they love making even ordinary things beautiful. They also enjoy giving gifts. Putting these two things together, we have furoshiki.
Furoshiki is the art of wrapping something in a cloth. The furoshiki cloths sold in the stores for the purpose of wrapping can be large or small, silk or cotton or synthetic. They can be plain colored, or with elaborate designs. You can buy many shapes and sizes, but the most common are square cloths about 18 to 24 inches on a side.
I like this idea… a sort of reusable wrapping for gifts. In the US, a lot of people have switched to using pretty decorated paper bags for gift giving. At our home in the US, I have a stash of these gift bags — some that I have purchased, but many that I have reused from gifts I have received. It is the same idea here. When you give a gift, you choose a pretty cloth to tie it up in. The wrapping becomes part of the gift. When you receive a gift, you have as part of that gift this pretty wrapping cloth to keep, or to use for giving another gift. I like that you get to collect these pretty things and then share them the next time you give a gift. I like that you get to choose the wrapper that seems most appropriate for the gift, and the person receiving the gift. Maybe that seems silly, but it is like putting a little bit of yourself into the gift.
Anyway, the practice of using wrapping cloths here in Japan dates back a long time. Originally they were used as a dressing mat and to bundle ones clothing together at the public baths — furo means bath. After that, peddlers and merchants used them for bundling their wares together, and people used them for carrying packages. You can read more about the origins here:
The cloth in this picture was actually given to me as a gift. It is a pretty textured silk cloth, with a simple graphic design. I used this cloth to wrap a birthday gift for my husband. I added the ribbon — which came on another gift. Most furoshiki-wrapped gifts don’t have ribbons. the cloth as it is tied around the gift makes its own sort of “bow” on the gift.
You can buy books about creative ways to tie these furoshiki cloths around gifts of all shapes and sizes. There are ways to tie them around wine or sake bottles, and methods to wrap just about any odd-shaped object. You can also buy handles to tie the cloths to, to make it into a purse-like bag. Very creative!
I plan to buy many of these pretty cloths while I am here, and use them when I go back to the US.