A gift without wrapping is like a cake without frosting, and what’s so fun about that? However, the waste associated with difficult-to-recycle wrapping paper means that, for many people, only reusable materials are enough.
You don’t need to tell the Japanese. Centuries ago, they elevated the practice of wrapping gifts with cloth, known as furoshiki, to an art form.
For a lesson in the history, design and wrapping techniques of furoshiki, The Times turned to a primary source: Yamada Sen-i, a manufacturer and wholesaler of furoshiki, founded in Kyoto in 1937. The company, which owns the furoshiki brand Musubi, with retail stores in Tokyo and Kyoto, offers more than 500 designs, including traditional motifs such as cranes and flowers, as well as contemporary designs, ranging from 350 to 35,000 yen ($2.35 to $235).
In a video call last month from the company’s Kyoto headquarters, Kensuke Kawamura, Yamada Sen-i’s chief designer, and Ayano Hasui, head of international sales and press, shared their tips for wrapping, reusing and gifting furoshiki.
With over 25 wrapping techniques included in “The Furoshiki Manual,” available on the Musubi website, the design options are virtually endless. But they all come down to the same thing, Ms. Hasui said: “Showing your attention to the recipient.” The discussion has been edited for length and clarity.
What is the history of furoshiki?
AYANO HASUI Furoshiki has been used for over 1,300 years. There is a record from the Nara period, from 710 to 794, and it shows people keeping valuables wrapped in a cloth called tsutsumi which was an ancestor of today’s furoshiki.
As time passed, people began to use it in daily life.
In the 15th century, for example, people carried their clothes to public baths with furoshiki.
The name furoshiki comes from “furo”, which means public bath in Japanese, and “shiki”, which is a type of sheet or mat.
Now, using furoshiki as a bag is the most popular thing, both for yourself (plastic bags are no longer free in Japan, so we use them when we go to the supermarket) and for gifts.
How big is a typical furoshiki and what is it made of?
HASUI We mainly sell three sizes, the smallest is 50 centimeters. [almost 20 inches], the medium one measures 70 centimeters and the large one is usually 100 centimeters. It’s a square, but it’s not actually a perfect square. That’s one of the traits of a furoshiki. There is a slight difference between the width and length. That’s because it makes it easier to wrap.
KENSUKE KAWAMURA Traditionally we use silk. However, today we have developed furoshiki made from more sustainable materials such as organic cotton or recycled polyester.
What about the patterns, decorations and colors commonly found in furoshiki?
KAWAMURA [Holding up a navy blue furoshiki with a stylized floral pattern on half of the piece] This is a fairly traditional pattern. The main pattern is always on the bottom half of the furoshiki, because when we wrap it, the main pattern is in the center.
Traditional patterns include auspicious motifs such as cranes, turtles and pine trees.
[Holding up a furoshiki printed with peonies in bright colors] This contemporary furoshiki is actually the company’s best-selling design; We collaborated with the French designer Adeline Klam (the first time we worked with a foreign designer).
This motif is quite traditional, but the coloring and design are very contemporary.
What is a basic technique for wrapping with furoshiki?
HASUI [Using a pink and light green furoshiki with a plum flower pattern] We recommend working with reversible furoshiki because this creates a beautiful color contrast.
In a basic technique, you place the furoshiki at an angle, so that it is diamond-shaped, and place the gift box in the middle. Then you pull the bottom corner over the top of the package and tuck it under.
Next, lower the top corner of the furoshiki onto the box and fold the bottom corner up into a triangle, so the reversible side is visible.
Then you pinch the right side of the furoshiki and press it over the edge of the package and do the same on the other side. Make sure the corners are sharp.
We will tie the ends with the most classic tie, called ma-musubi in Japanese, a kind of square knot.
And then you just tie them into a simple bow.
And then you take the fabric out of the loop so you can see the reversible pattern.
Any tips or suggestions on wrapping techniques?
HASUI The size of the furoshiki is really important. The gift should be one-third of a furoshiki for the best fit, which means the gift should take up one-third of the horizontal space if you are looking at a furoshiki arranged in a diamond shape.
KAWAMURA If you want to show your thoughtfulness, choose seasonal patterns or patterns that a person likes. For example, if I want to give something to my father, maybe I choose a pine pattern because it has the meaning of long life.
On what occasions do you present gifts with furoshiki?
KAWAMURA When I go to a friend’s house, I always bring wine like this. [Displaying a furoshiki with two bottles double-wrapped inside.]
HASUI Making the double wrapped bag is not that difficult. Arrange the furoshiki in a diamond shape, as before. Place the two bottles horizontally in the middle, bottoms facing in, but make sure you have an inch or two of space between the bottoms.
Lift the bottom corner of the furoshiki and cover the bottles. Roll the bottles away from you until you have used the entire piece. Lift the corner of the fabric at the bottom and tuck it between the bottles. This will be the cushion between them. Then you lift the bottles and stand them up. And on top of that we make ma-musubi, the classic knot.
How can you reuse a furoshiki?
KAWAMURA My wife and I use them for gifts and always wrap the cushions in furoshiki. We can change it very easily depending on the season. We never buy pillowcases.
HASUI After unwrapping the wine, you can use it as a bag. And aside from that, there are a few ways to use it as an organizer for your travels. And it can be framed: you can use it as a wall decoration. The trait of furoshiki is versatility.