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Looking for an eco-friendly substitute for wrapping paper? Consider furoshiki

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Much of the paper that wraps holiday gifts is not recyclable. Unless you choose to save and reuse it, it probably winds up in a landfill. An eco-friendlier option is an ancient tradition from Japan that's getting some renewed attention. From KCRW, here's Megan Jamerson.

MEGAN JAMERSON, BYLINE: At a workshop in Los Angeles, Tomoko Dyen holds up a piece of fabric. She's about to demonstrate furoshiki, the Japanese art of wrapping things in cloth.

TOMOKO DYEN: So let's start how to wrap it.

JAMERSON: The word furoshiki refers to both the wrapping style and the cloth itself. That cloth is generally square and three times the width of the item being wrapped. Dyen orients the fabric like a diamond on the table in front of her, then picks up a six-inch cardboard box.

DYEN: And then you put this in the middle.

JAMERSON: The wrapping technique from here is kind of like what you would do with wrapping paper. But instead of Scotch tape and plastic ribbon to hold the folds in place, the fabric ends are tied in a square knot or bow tie on top.

DYEN: I mean, either way, it's kind of pretty, but...

JAMERSON: Dyen is from Tokyo but calls LA home. She told the workshop that in Japan, furoshiki has long been considered old-fashioned. But it's getting popular again. It dates back hundreds of years in Japan. The word does not mean gift wrap or anything like it.

IRENE TSUKADA SIMONIAN: Furo of furoshiki is bath. Shiki is a sheet.

JAMERSON: Yes, a bath sheet. Irene Tsukada Simonian owns a gift shop in LA's Little Tokyo where she sells furoshiki cloth. She says back in the day, only the wealthiest Japanese had their own bathtubs at home, so most people went to a public bath.

SIMONIAN: And you brought the furoshiki with you. And you would use the cloth to put down, and you'd stand on it. And then you would wrap your own clothes with it while you bathed.

JAMERSON: And you used the cloth to bundle your toiletries and carry them to and from the bathhouse. Since then, it's evolved into a way to carry everyday items, food and to wrap gifts, says Hana van der Steur. Her mother is Japanese, and she grew up watching her use furoshiki for different things. Now she runs the gift shop at a craft museum in LA, where she sells imported furoshiki cloth from Japan.

HANA VAN DER STEUR: So it's, you know, kind of like the anti-plastic bag. It's reusable.

JAMERSON: A variety of furoshiki are on display at the gift shop, including patterns with flowers, cats and otters. Japanese furoshiki cloth is often made from cotton or silk and has a hemmed edge. Van der Steur says that traditionally, the cloth is returned to the gift giver to use again and again. And you don't have to buy new furoshiki cloth. You can recycle any fabric, even old clothes.

VAN DER STEUR: You can just use any square piece of fabric. Just cut it to size. If you want, you can - you know, you can get fancy. You can hem it. But you don't even have to do that. Sometimes the raw edge is kind of nice.

JAMERSON: Back at the furoshiki workshop, participants say this is a great way to avoid not just wrapping paper but also small plastic carrying bags.

(CROSSTALK)

JAMERSON: Kristen de la Tori (ph) came to the workshop with a plan to wrap her holiday gifts this way. But now she says she'll carry furoshiki in her purse and use them when she buys a few small items at the store.

KRISTEN DE LA TORI: So I'm really excited about kind of the - either upcycling things or, you know, recycling.

JAMERSON: And avoiding waste during the holidays is the kind of gift anyone can give to the planet. For NPR News, I'm Megan Jamerson in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHIN GIWON PIANO'S "SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Megan Jamerson