The art of Furoshuki wrap

An ancient Japanese practice which uses cloth to wrap objects for transport, initially used for wrapping sacred objects, temples and shrines


IT’S your best friend’s birthday. Due to the restrictions that are in place during the Movement Control Order, you can’t just drop by at your friend’s place to hand your present personally.

Still, you know you need to make it personal and meaningful before you get the gift delivered to your friend’s doorstep.

Now, how about wrapping the present using the Furoshiki method, an ancient Japanese practice which uses cloth to wrap objects for transport. It is elegant with a high aesthetic value that would certainly impress the recipient of your present.

The term (furo) which means bath and spread out (shiki) has been practiced since the Nara Period (710-794) to protect valuable items.

It was initially used for wrapping sacred objects, temples and shrines. Later, it was incorporated to transport personal items and clothing to and from public bathhouses.

The unfolded cloth can also be used as a bathmat, once it is spread out. Now, isn’t that practical?

It’s no surprise since Japanese art is well-known for its functionality that the Furoshiki method was first intended for practical use.

Your present can be wrapped in prints with a certain character that might please your friend. After all, Furoshiki prints come in a variety of forms, from traditional Edo period patterns, copies of Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, modern art collaborations, company logos, animal prints and custom designs.

Reviving a Dying Art

Furoshiki’s popularity saw a decline when plastic bags were introduced during the 1970s.

However, years later, the art managed to make a great comeback, thanks to more environmentally-friendly groups, especially among climate change activists.

After all, one would also have to pay extra if they request for a shopping bag.

The no plastic movement and environmentally conscious consumers of today have reconsidered Furoshiki as a substitute for plastic shopping bags.

Former Japanese Environment Minister Yuriko Koike created the Mottainai Furoshiki in 2005, which is made from recycled plastic bottles and printed with designs that were created by an 18th-century Japanese painter.

Koike, who is currently serving her term as the governor of Tokyo, promoted this initiative to increase environmental awareness and reduce the usage of plastic.

It is during this period that the spread and contemporary practices of Furoshiki was widely used.

Nowadays, Japanese school children are using this method to carry their Bento boxes.

Gift-givers have also adopted this method as an environmentally-friendly way to wrap gifts.

Making a Furoshiki

If you really want to get going and start making a Furoshiki, the first step you need to consider is to choose the right fabric or cloth.

The type of fabric should not be see-through and it must be sturdy enough to support the weight of the object that would be wrapped.

It shouldn’t be thin because we don’t want others to know what’s wrapped inside the cloth, and it also shouldn’t be too thick that you might find yourself breathing tirelessly trying to tie the ends.

A popular choice for Furoshiki fabrics is cotton due to its durability. Fabrics that can be used for wrapping objects are bandanas, tablecloths, scarves, cloth napkins, pillow sheets or tea towels. A reversible pattern is also a good choice.

The cloths should be square in shape where the common sizes are 45cm x 45cm and 70cm x 70cm.

When it comes to wrapping, there are many methods which can be found on the Internet. For example, the Kousa Tsutsumi method can be used to wrap slender objects, while the Bin Tsutsumi is used for wrapping bottles.

Marriage between Japanese and Malaysian Art

Now that you’ve mastered the art of Furoshiki, you might want to give your presentation a local touch.

Perhaps a marriage between the elegant Japanese Furoshiki and colourful Malaysian Batik would be a great idea.

After all, batik is back in fashion. While the older and conservative crowd would use it for formal occasions, the younger generation has also managed to infuse batik in their daily wear.

In times of Covid-19, many are seen using batik material and patterns as their face masks.

Create Your Own and Win

Recognising the great potential between the best of both worlds, The Japan Foundation, Kuala Lumpur (JFKL) is organising its very first “Furoshiki Design Contest”.

The competition is only eligible for art and design students aged 18 years and above, and those who are currently enrolled in public or private universities, colleges, vocational or any other educational institution in Malaysia (as of Jan 1, 2021).

Participants need to submit their designs by Feb 28, 2021, with the theme “Malaysia + Japan” and only one entry is allowed per individual.

The winning prizes are RM1,500 for third place, RM2,000 for second place, while the champion will bring home RM2,500. All three winners will be awarded a certificate.

It aims to showcase new creative talents in Malaysia through the creation of Furoshiki designs that incorporate diverse Malaysian and Japanese cultural elements.

The panel of judges for this competition are First City University College deputy dean and assistant professor Dr Debbie Gan, Gahara founder and creative director Nik Faiz Nik Amin and artist Nini Marini.

JFKL looks forward to seeing original fusion designs that feature imaginative and unique Malaysian and Japanese cultural combinations.

Further information on the contest, contest guidelines and its entry form is available at www.jfkl. contest/. For more inquiries, you can reach out to [email protected].