The art of packaging
A furoshiki is a large piece of fabric, often decorated with traditional patterns, that's been used for centuries to wrap everyday objects in Japan.
A simple piece of cloth?
This technique, which has its codes, was already used during the Heian period (794-1192) under the name of hiratsutsumi, to transport clothes when travelling.
At the end of the Muromachi period (1338-1573), the furoshiki was widely used when going to public baths (furo means “bath” and shiki means “something to spread out”) - people wrapped what they needed in the cloth when going to the baths, and then stood on it when changing. They then wrapped their clothes in it once changed, so as not to mix them up with anyone else's.
While it's really just a piece of fabric with a square shape, a furoshiki is so useful! It was used for many purposes, with more always being discovered. Everyone used them, in several sizes and especially with different patterns, so as not to confuse them with each other and also to show off their personal style, or their family colors.
Furoshiki were used to wrap and carry everything until the Meiji era (1868-1912), when a new fashion arrived: the bag, imported from Europe!
A range of uses...
A furoshiki is traditionally made of silk or cotton, although today it's often made of synthetic materials for easier maintenance. Families keep their silk furoshiki for special occasions, to wrap special gifts or envelopes containing money (shugi).
Everyday furoshiki are often used to transport food, for example to a picnic during hanami or in the new year to carry jubako (stackable food boxes). It is also very practical - as well as attractive - when transporting a bottle. The kimono that you might take with you on a trip also gets wrapped in a furoshiki, since it's made up of a lot of cloth and is quite heavy.
Nowadays, furoshiki are available in a wide variety of sizes, from 35cm up to an XXL size of 238cm! The exclusively square shape of yesteryear has given way to something more rectangular, better suited to new uses.
It's true that today furoshiki are less used than before, but they're still seen, particularly during special events, to wrap a bento or store clothes in a suitcase.
Taking out a furoshiki always has a certain effect when giving someone a gift. The item is unwrapped before being offered, in order for the gift-giver to keep their furoshiki.