I am enamored with Japanese modern handicraft. Origami and amigurimi, the abundance of cute stationary, their sewn decor. The sensibilities of modern Japanese craft tend to value resourcefulness, compactness, and simple aesthetics all which are present in the traditional use of furoshiki.
The word furoshiki originally referred to cloth used to wrap up clothing and personal belongings in public bath houses. Eventually their use spread to covering and transporting just about everything – think of it as a basket with an indefinite shape. The use of furoshiki fell out of favor when our enemy the plastic bag hit the scene in Japan. Now people all over the world are returning to the use of furoshiki as a way to make improvised carry-alls, lunch box covers/handles (and can double as a place mat), and gift wrap.
The Japanese actually had a specific term for their style of gift wrapping: tsutsumi. Tsutsumi-style wrapping involves a mentality that doesn’t seek “pizazz” but instead values the understatement. Tsutsumi doesn’t need flashy bows or mountains of sparkly paper. In fact, one tradition says that part of what is wrapped SHOULD show. It’s elegant and modest.
How does this aesthetic inspire me? Well, when I can, I like to wrap presents in cloth or a reusable package. It saves paper and resources and best of all, the simplicity often delights the recipient more than ripping off cheaply printed tissue ever could. For my friend Cris’ birthday last year I gave her a large kerchief and a book, so instead of getting a cheap bag or finding a box to fit them properly, I lightly pressed the kerchief and then wrapped the book using it as a furoshiki. This year I intend to give at least 1 scarf, so I will use the scarf itself to tie the rest of the gift package together instead of ribbon. Also in the past, I’ve presented friends with nice purses or totes and tucked in pens, gum, and a notebook to round out the gift itself – tying a reusable ribbon around the handle attached to a card makes it obvious that it’s a gift.
Half of the fun of gift-giving is the presentation; if you feel inspired by the tsutsumi aesthetic or want to learn how you can incorporate furoshiki into your daily routine, check out this page by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment (http://www.env.go.jp/en/focus/attach/060403-5.html) which shows you some common ways to package items using furoshiki. The image is also linked there as a .PDF so that you can download and share with friends.