Furoshiki - simplicity marries utility and trendy
Keiko Nakano took two ends of a cloth, meticulously folded them, tied knots, wrapped a book in it. This is Furoshiki, an age-old Japanese tradition, which is simple and minimalist - traits which are inherent in that country's cultural fabric.
"Furoshiki," Mrs Nakano, who is the wife of the Japanese Ambassador to Jamaica, Masanori Nakano, said, "is a square cloth, which has been used traditionally to carry clothes, books, [and] gifts, but the word means 'cloth for bath'."
This square cloth was used in traditional Japanese baths in the 14th century, when the change of clothes was wrapped in Furoshiki.
The need for Furoshiki evolved as a necessity for the upper class to mix, mingle and network - not on golf courses or at fine dinners, but in the bath, which was the haute meeting point.
"The bath was more of a social or business gathering," said Nobuko Mackay. "Each Furoshiki had a family crest as identification and to avoid any mix-up of clothes, and it served dual purpose - one as a bag, and the other as a bath mat."
The use of Furoshiki evolved, and soon traders used it to carry and protect their goods or gifts. The cloth now had embroidery, which gave it strength and ornamentation. Colours also had key significance - red for celebration, navy blue for solemn occasions, purple for respect, while the Wasabi green is neutral and can be used for different occasions.
"Furoshiki now comes in many colours and patterns," Mackay said. Traditionally, the cloth was made of silk or cotton, and is now spun in rayon, nylon and chirirmen (fabric made with silk that has indentations on the surface). The designs are a mix of traditional Japanese and also have Egyptian influence (Karakusa) or tie-dye (originally Indian technique, and called Shibori in Japanese).
DECLINE IN USAGE
The use of Furoshiki declined post-World War II, with the introduction of paper bags, then plastic bags.
"I remember my grandmother visiting us when we were young," she added. "She always brought a big wooden box full of goodies; this box was wrapped with Furoshiki, which she carried on her back."
In Japan, it is considered rude and impolite to bring any gift without wrapping it.
"It is also a tradition to untie and open Furoshiki and then present the gift. Otherwise, it is thought that whoever you are giving this gift to has to give something back," Nakano said.
"If you are invited for dinner and you have to bring something to them, you would want to wrap it. Why not Furoshiki?" Nakano said, as she wrapped a gift tray loaded with Jamaican goodies - coffee and a range of sauces.
This cloth, which exuded the love and warmth of grandma, is slowly getting renewed interest, as environment conservation takes centre stage.
Furoshiki can be a good substitute to gift-wrapping paper, which is ripped and thrown anyway, and can be a keepsake as a gift itself - aesthetically appealing and reusable.
This cloth can be a also an 'essential' for those seeking retail therapy.
"If you carry Furoshiki in your purse, it doesn't take space and you don't have to ask for a plastic bag if you happen to do some last-minute shopping," said Mackay. "Just take out your Furoshiki and make a bag to carry your shopping."
Furoshiki is environmentally friendly, which also prompted the Japanese government to encourage its use. It is also a tool for disaster preparedness - Furoshiki can be folded to make a smoke mask, a headgear when earthquake strikes, wrap a cushion cover and to protect one's head; as a sling; and if any important documents need to moved, they can be wrapped and tied on the back to carry.
As many common practices of decades past are returning as vogue, Furoshiki is trending too for those seeking simplicity in the versatile, ecofriendly and the chic.