the art of furoshiki

Eco bags are all the rage now but there is an even cooler way to stash your gear and save the earth at the same time.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - by ELAinE donG star2­green@thes­tar.com.my

HISAKO Sube is the go-to per­son when it comes to the art of furoshiki, which is a Ja­panese wrap­ping cloth used in gift-giv­ing and car­ry­ing things around. She has been an origami teacher for 10 years and seven years ago, started do­ing demon­stra­tions on furoshiki.

“It is not dif­fi­cult. Origami is more dif­fi­cult. Be­sides furoshiki is part of my cus­tom, so I’m very fa­mil­iar with it. My mother and grand­mother used it.”

The 66-year-old has been liv­ing in Kuala Lumpur with her hus­band Hei­hachiro Sube for 20 years, and even though they came for her hus­band’s work, now that they are re­tired, they are stay­ing on in their adopted coun­try.

“I go back to Ja­pan twice a year, but now our home is here,” she says with a smile.

“In Ja­pan, furoshiki is part of daily life, es­pe­cially with the eco-move­ment go­ing on now. If you go to the su­per­mar­ket, all you need with you is furoshiki, and you can do your shop­ping.”

Of course, furoshiki is first and fore­most known as the art of gift-wrap­ping, and Hisako shows me her col­lec­tion of furoshiki, mostly made of chir­i­men, the same silk used to make ki­monos.

“Gifts are of­ten ex­changed dur­ing three ma­jor sea­sons in Ja­pan, the new year, the Ochugen sea­son in Au­gust, and the Oseibo sea­son in De­cem­ber. Dur­ing this time, we give gifts to our chil­dren’s teach­ers, for teach­ing them in school, to close friends, fam­ily and to our em­ploy­ers.

Hisako ex­plains a cru­cial point in the us­age of furoshiki: “When you are given a gift wrapped in furoshiki, you should take it away, un­wrap it and re­turn the furoshiki to the giver im­me­di­ately. That is the cus­tom. Furoshiki is very ex­pen­sive to buy, es­pe­cially the ones made of silk. The stan­dard size is about 64cm by 67cm, and that costs around Y3,000 (RM100).

“Usu­ally, when you give back the furoshiki,

you add on a lit­tle to­ken to the giver. It can be some­thing small, like a hand­ker­chief or small towel. But this is not a must. A gift is given with the best in­ten­tions and from the heart, so as long as the re­cip­i­ent re­ceives it in sin­cer­ity, it is enough,” ex­plains Hisako.

Furoshiki is of­ten de­signed around aus­pi­cious sym­bols. In Ja­pan, cranes, bright blooms, balls and ev­er­green plants and trees are con­sid­ered signs of abun­dance and hap­pi­ness, so you will of­ten find these mo­tifs on furoshiki.

So far, Hisako can’t find furoshiki in Malaysia, and she gets her sup­ply when she goes back to Ja­pan. Apart from the stan­dard size of 64cm by 67cm, larger furoshiki are more prac­ti­cal for daily use. The sizes range from 90cm to 120cm. For nor­mal use, cot­ton or ny­lon furoshiki is used.

As Hisako showed me sev­eral ways to make bags with just a cou­ple of ties and knots, I’m be­gin­ning to see the ap­peal and prac­ti­cal­ity of it.

In­stead of cart­ing around bags on no-plas­tic-bags Satur­days, all you need is a few pieces of cloth tucked into your bag. You can eas­ily sew fab­ric squares for this, and the de­sign is yours for the choos­ing.

For truly one-of-a-kind bags, the hum­ble furoshiki is your an­swer.

If we all adopted this age-old cul­ture of wrap­ping, think of how much pack­ag­ing we save ev­ery year. Dur­ing fes­ti­vals, and we have a lot here, I shud­der at the amount of paper giftwrap, paper gift boxes, rib­bons, plas­tic wraps and gift bas­kets that we use and dis­pose of with­out a sec­ond thought.

What if this year, we start wrap­ping thought­ful lit­tle gifts in­stead of os­ten­ta­tious shows of sur­face gen­eros­ity and ul­ti­mately, wealth? A hand­ful of man­darin or­anges and a home­made fruit cake wrapped in beau­ti­ful furoshiki makes a great gift for Chi­nese New Year. How about some tra­di­tional mu­ruku and cook­ies for Deep­avali? Just re­mem­ber to re­turn the furoshiki to the giver!

Furoshiki doesn’t have to be merely a piece of cloth or a tra­di­tion, it rep­re­sents a way of life that harks back to sim­pler times. It sym­bol­ises in­ter­ac­tion be­tween peo­ple in the most or­ganic way – the giv­ing and re­ceiv­ing of gifts in ut­most sin­cer­ity, and thus the ex­change of friend­ship and love. Way be­fore it be­came hip to be an eco-war­rior, the art of furoshiki was al­ready en­trenched in the prin­ci­ple of the three Rs – re-use, re­cy­cle and repur­pose.

Give it a try to­day. The Earth thanks you.

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