I recently visited Japan for the first time and it wouldn't be too much of an overstatement to say that it completely blew me away. Of course I was expecting to see some breathtaking temples, drink some amazing teas and hold some beautiful ceramics in my hands but what did surprise me was the plethora of absolutely gorgeous fabrics everywhere. From the elegant: who knew so many women still wore kimonos? To the simple: a square of patterned cotton stuck to a bathroom window as an alternative to a blind. But my discovery of the trip were furoshiki. Simple squares of material originally used to transport clothes or goods (think Dick Whittington without the stick) they are now more usually used to wrap presents. Apart from being a green option I think this is one of the most fantastic ideas ever. I mean, who wouldn't want to receive a gift wrapped in a beautiful piece of cloth?
But furoshiki are no niche fancy schmancy thing in Japan. I first became aware of them standing in a queue waiting for the loo. I kept noticing that rather than standing waving their hands under a lacklustre air dryer women were pulling lovely cloths from their bags, drying off their wet hands, then popping said cloth back into their bags. After a little more observation and some investigation I found out what was going on. Japanese people have used thin, rectangular cotton hand towels called Tenugui for centuries. Clearly, a number of people still carry these cloths with them (don't you love that continuation of tradition?). But mobile hand-drying has also moved on: some people are carrying a different type of cotton cloth, one backed by towelling, but many others are improvising and using their furoshiki instead. Perhaps they were given to them as gift wrapping or maybe they've just treated themselves - and they wouldn't struggle to find them, they're for sale everywhere.
Obviously, I was sold on the whole idea and bought myself one immediately. OK, when I say one I mean about twelve. But in my defence these little squares of cotton cloth are about the handiest thing ever. Need something to dry your hands on? Check. Need to mop your brow whilst on the tube? Check. Enjoying a picnic lunch and need a handy napkin? Check. I mean really, what's not to love? And when you get home at the end of the day you just pop it in the wash basket and pick up a new one. Who needs a load of tissues or stolen paper napkins when you can have a gorgeous piece of fabric to do the job?
Not only are furoshiki an eco-friendly choice, I can pretty much guarantee carrying one will make you happy. Each time that gorgeous little square of fabric comes out of my bag it makes me feel all warm inside. Never did I ever imagine a visit to a public convenience could leave me feeling so joyous! So that's my plan from now on, gifts wrapped in furoshiki - well, if I can bring myself to actually part with the lovely things that is.