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Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Furoshiki

Here's a bit about Japan's past that is often overlooked - the furoshiki (風呂敷) - a simple traditional wrapping cloth.

I've been sitting on this idea since January 15 of 2015 for some reason - too lazy to write about it, or I had other things I deemed more valuable to write about or it just seemed to be such a boring little topic.

I mean... it's a cloth...

... and yet, it's one of those things almost everyone in Japan has, needs and uses, but it's rarely talked about because it such an unlikely necessary daily item.  Holy crap... I've already written more about the furoshiki than I thought possible... then again... it's because I've come to realize there is always more than what meets the eye, if one is willing to look.

In use since the Nara-jidai (奈良時代, Nara era of 710-794 AD), the furoshiki (風呂敷), were first used at onsen (traditional Japanese baths) as a means for the bather to wrap up their clothes to prevent mix-ups amongst the goers. Furoshiki actually means' 'bath spread' - furo is Japanese for bath.

Before being used at these bathhouses, the furoshiki went by the name of hirazutsumi (平包), which means flat folded bundle.

Later, the furoshiki was used as a means for traders to protect their goods, and even as a means of decorating packages for presents, as you can see in the image above.

In my head, every time I picture ancient Japan, I can see everyone utilizing a furoshiki... the peasants tying it to the top of a walking stick, perhaps with his meager belongings inside, or perhaps a bento box lunch...

Heck, even the rich and nobility would use a furoshiki to wrap up their valuables. The oldest known furoshiki from the Nara period is housed in a wooden storage house (the shosoin) at Todai-ji (Todai temple) in the ancient capital city of Nara.

Wrapping of things, is, because it's Japan, one of those things which is important to the Japanese. Known as tsutsumu in Japaanese, wrapping things is polite, as giving an unwrapped gift to someone is considered bad form.

Or lat least it was in the old days. I can't ever recall receiving a furoshiki-wrapped present in Japan. Keep in mind that they did like me when I was there... what I am implying is that by the end of the 20th century, the art of wrapping via furoshiki was becoming a lost part of Japanese culture.

In this miniature shrine I created in one of my bedrooms in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan in 1990, that Hokusai wave art at the top is a furoshiki cloth I purchased... not knowing until today what it was I have/had. Not sure where in the belongings it is, but unless it got destroyed in the fire years ago, it's in the basement of the house in Toronto somewhere. I believe I am using a matsuri (festival) jacket as the base cloth for my shrine. No class.
Why has the furoshiki gone down in popularity? Blame the plastic bag. No, really. Having a plastic bag in post-WWII Japan was cool... and I mean for anyone around the world.

But, depending on what side of the environmental coin one is peering at, plastic has become expensive to produce. Plastic is extruded from petroleum-based products, and the last time I checked, we are running out of dinosaurs, hence, petroleum-based products are generally moving up in cost.

Oh, and come to think of it... every time Japan thinks it is in danger of losing some ancient custom to modern society, it strikes back.... like it's oft imposed stance that it should be allowed to kill whales, because it's ancestors used to do so and eat them for protein... because that was all they had... nowadays, Japan need not kill whales for food - culture be damned - because there are other less-endangered forms of protein available to it... like chicken, or even soy beans.

But... in the case of the furoshiki, it's not a bad idea to hold onto the past.

The modern furoshiki can be made of many fabrics, such as silk, cotton, rayon and nylon... and thanks to efforts by Japan's Ministry of the Environment (I worked for the Canada's Ontario Provincial Ministry of the Environment for many a year before and after my sojourn in Japan), the furoshiki is making a comeback.

I suppose. I have no real way of knowing.

Anyhow, the Ministry's Minister Koike Yuriko (surname first) issued the Mottainai Furoshiko in 2006 as a way to promote the furoshiki's use in Japan. This is it below:

How expensive are these cloths? Well, if you were to visit the JapanStore's website HERE you might see a wide range of quality water-repellent furoshiki cloths offered up for ¥3,900, which is US $32.33. It is, by the way, where I first learned about the furoshiki.

It might seem like a lot, but these one's are water-repellent, pretty and can be used again and again. I'm sure other similar type shops offer furoshiki for sale.

Okay, time to wrap up this blog for another day.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

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