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.
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.