Furoshiki - a 400 year old solution to a very modern problem


Furoshiki is the art of wrapping presents using cloth. It started in Japan during the Edo Period (1603 - 1868).

Furo  means “bath” and shiki  meansspread”. The original Furoshiki were used to wrap the clothes and toiletries of bathers in the public baths and keep them separate from other people’s.  Quickly people realised they were a very practical way of carrying goods in general.  As textiles became cheaper in the  1800s, Furoshiki began to be mass produced and used for more decorative purposes like gift wrapping.  Presents would be given in person, unwrapped and then the Furoshiki taken back home with the gift-giver to be reused.  

The custom flourished for some time, until the arrival of plastic bags and western culture in Japan after the Second World War. Gradually Furoshiki began to die out. Then in 2006, Japan’s Minister for the Environment Yuriko Koike launched a campaign for its reintroduction as a means of combatting today’s throwaway society and cutting down on waste.

In today’s environmentally conscious world, Furoshiki is gradually increasing in popularity - and becoming a global trend.  After all, it has several clear advantages over traditional wrapping paper.  If you are all fingers and thumbs when it comes to wrapping, Furoshiki is for you.  There is no need for cutting or tape and if you do make a mistake, you can simply unwrap and start again without worrying about torn paper.  Cloth is much better for the environment than wrapping paper, not least because it can be reused (after a bit of ironing!)

And Furoshiki makes for a more meaningful gift than just using a roll of wrapping paper. Just like Japanese kimonos, Furoshiki wraps have traditional imagery that reflect the occasion or significance of the gift giving. For example a Furoshiki wrap with chrysanthemums means ‘good fortune’ and ‘longevity’ and would be given at a wedding. Plum blossom signifies ‘new hope’ and would be used to wrap a present for a new baby.  The cloths are folded and knotted around the gift and handles added for heavier items.  

These traditional designs are still produced today, albeit it in brighter graphic print, but you can really use any material you have lying around the house as long as it is square.  Fantastic tutorials exist on social media like Pinterest and it is a fun and easy way of developing a new skill and impressing your friends.  Go on, give it a try!