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Traditional Cloth Used to Combat Climate Change (October 3, 2007)

Otsukai-zutsumi for wrapping square objects (©MIYAY Co.,Ltd)
A square cloth that came into use over 1,000 years ago is basking in the limelight as a tool to combat global warming. Called furoshiki, these cloths can be used to wrap things of any shape and have even been known to transform into purses or handbags. Compact when folded and great for repeated use, the furoshiki is a perfect example of the three Rs of environmental conservation: reduce, reuse, and recycle. More than just a great way to wrap up your belongings, the furoshiki also epitomizes the Japanese tradition of gift wrapping.

The Face of Wrap Culture
The custom of wrapping objects in a square cloth first started about 1,300 years ago during the Nara period (710-94). Historians have confirmed that a style of folding known as hira-zutsumi, in which the four corners of a cloth were drawn up without being tied in a knot, was used for the safekeeping of valuables. The word furoshiki (literally “bathing cloth”) is said to date from the Muromachi period (1333-1568), during which cloths folded in the hira-zutsumi style were used when taking a bath to wrap clothing or to spread out on the floor. The use of furoshiki to wrap objects became widespread during the Edo period (1603-1868), and customs regarding how to fold furoshiki for different gift-giving occasions were eventually developed. This gave way to Japan’s unique wrapping culture, which is still in evidence today and is rooted in the idea that giving someone an unwrapped object is disrespectful.

Until about 30 years ago, furoshiki could be found in almost any household, used as shopping bags or for moving and storing objects. The cloths can be made from a variety of materials, including silk, cotton, and synthetic fiber, and designs range from the ornate to the ordinary depending on the intended use. Furoshiki are near perfect squares typically measuring 50 cm or 68 cm across, though sizes vary greatly.

A furoshiki as an accessory (©Kyoto Wa-Bunka Institute MUSUBI)

A Tool to Combat Global Warming
The outstanding feature of furoshiki is their ability to wrap absolutely anything. In addition to the standard style of wrapping square objects known as otsukai-zutsumi, other folding and knotting techniques can be used to wrap rectangular or cylindrical shapes - to keep two bottles together without breaking, for example. Aside from formal occasions, people usually tie their furoshiki in a knot to make them easier to carry. With a little knotting know-how, a furoshiki can even become a shoulder bag or purse.

Despite their long history, furoshiki are a less common sight nowadays due to the prevalence of plastic and paper bags. However, their benefits are being reevaluated as environmental problems escalate. Using a furoshiki instead of a 10-gram polyethylene plastic bag prevents 61 grams of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere, for example, making the reusable furoshiki a potential trump card in the battle against climate change. As campaigns to bolster furoshiki usage spring up around Japan, cloths made from recycled plastic bottles are even making an appearance. Trendy designs have become more common, and the cloths are even being used in interior decoration as wall hangings and cushion covers. Now especially popular among young people, it appears that furoshiki culture is entering a new golden age.

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Copyright (c) 2007 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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