The furoshiki is a square cloth, dyed in a variety of colors and patterns, that is used for wrapping, storing, and carrying things. The name "furoshiki," which combines the words "furo" meaning "bath" and a form of the verb "shiku" meaning "to spread," dates back to the Edo Era(1603-1868) when public baths were in fashion, and people carried their belongings in a square cloth, then spread the cloth for use as a bath-mat.
Over the years, people realized the versatility of these cloths and began using them in many ways. Very large furoshiki can hold futon (Japanese bedding set) and small furoshiki can wrap just one teacup. The typical furoshiki is 70 square cm and until very recently, Japanese would not leave home without one.
They are folded like a napkin or handkerchief when not being used, so a furoshiki will conveniently fit in a briefcase, purse or backpack.
I would love to get our local natural food store, and the food coop we belong to in Bozeman, to start providing furoshiki as one of our choices at the check-out-stand. They now give shoppers a choice of using a plastic bag or purchasing a cloth bag (or, of course, you can bring your own cloth bags or reused plastic bags -- this is what we do now.)
I'm going to experiment with wrapping miscellaneous groceries in a furoshiki to see if it might be a practical thing for the Real Food Market to begin offering as a choice.
May 17, 2006, at the Foreign Press Center/Japan found Japan's Minister of the Environment, Ms. Yuriko Koike demonstrating the use of a furoshiki she designed and produced, which is made of recycled PET bottles. She encourages the audience to start using furoshikis instead of the many, many paper and plastic bags used to carry purchases home. Here is an excerpt from her talk:
I am introducing this furoshiki [square cloth used for wrapping objects] that I designed and produced myself. The picture is a bird-and-flower painting by Ito Jakuchu [1716–1800], a Japanese painter who lived in the middle of the Edo period [1603–1868]. At first sight it might look like a scarf, but I made it as a furoshiki. I called it the “Mottainai Furoshiki.” Mottainai [waste not, want not] is a Japanese word that is extremely difficult to translate. This furoshiki can be used as a scarf, but I also suggest that you take it with you to the convenience store or other shop and use it instead of a plastic shopping bag to carry home your shopping. The furoshiki is very familiar to the Japanese, but it is not used very much these days. So I am now involved in a campaign to revive this piece of Japanese wisdom about the environment. I have tied the two corners of this cloth. If you tie the four corners, you can used it to wrap up this globe. (I am the environment minister, so I brought along a globe!) You can also use it to carry two bottles of wine, which I’m sure you all like very much. You can wrap the two bottles like this and then take them to your friend’s house. The good thing about the furoshiki is that it can be used to wrap both round things and square things. And this furoshiki is made in my constituency of Toshima Ward. It is called the “Red Furoshiki of Happiness.” The design shows how you can use it to wrap things. Both of these furoshiki use fiber recycled from PET bottles.
later in a question answer period, Ms. Koike elaborates on what she is doing to encourage furoshiki use in Japan:
... department stores like Mitsukoshi have (now) set up furoshiki corners. Previously furoshiki were hidden in a corner of the kimono section, but we have been asking stores to put them right in the center as much as possible ... Also, recently I have been recommending Japanese companies and foreign companies as well to make furoshiki instead of expensive paper bags when they are offering a service ... Furoshiki are a familiar item for Japanese, but I was delighted that foreign companies have shown a good understanding of the furoshiki idea as well.
How to tie a furoshiki around round objects such as a bowl of fruit or a melon, from WAKU:
This Two Knots Wrapping(Hikkake-zutsumi) style is used for rectangular articles. It is useful when the diagonal length of furoshiki is not long enough to be tied. Two corners facing each other on the short side of the box are just twisted around each other and each corner is tied with the nearest on the long side of the box. The style looks neater when the two knots are aligned in the center of the bundle.