Pojagi of Korea and Japanese Furoshiki: Cultural and Symbolic Differences

Pojagi of Korea and Japanese Furoshiki: Cultural and Symbolic Differences

Recently, I participated in a workshop on Korea's traditional cloth, "Pojagi (褓子器)." Pojagi means "a cloth used to wrap or cover things" in Korean, similar to the Japanese furoshiki. In Japan, Pojagi is often introduced as "Korean patchwork." However, in Korea, you can see Pojagi displayed as tapestries in restaurants and cafes in bustling areas, and it's also sold as souvenirs. Many Japanese might recognize it, even if they don't know its name.

Pojagi has a history of about 1,500 years on the Korean Peninsula, with traditional fabrics depicted even in Goguryeo murals. Due to the cold climate, rooms were built small, and instead of furniture, people used Pojagi to organize folded bedding and personal items, hanging them on walls. This lifestyle led to the development of Pojagi.

While I view furoshiki as part of Japanese culture, I realized that Pojagi is equally a significant cultural element in Korea.

In my previous job, I frequently traveled to Korea, where I was often treated to Korean barbecue. Korean barbecue always involves wrapping the meat in lettuce or perilla leaves, and there are dishes like "Ssam-bap," where various ingredients such as sashimi, kimchi, and rice are wrapped in leafy greens. The word "Ssam" means "to wrap" in Korean. "Samgyeopsal" and "Ssam-bap" both contain "Ssam," meaning "to wrap," and "bap" means "rice." "Bossam kimchi" is also well-known, where "Bos" sounds like "Bok" (福) in Korean, meaning "fortune," and "ssam" means "to wrap," making it a "wrapped fortune" dish.

Reflecting on this, Korea has many "wrapped" dishes!

In Korean historical dramas, you can often see numerous beautiful Pojagi. It was widely used and cherished by both the royal palace and the common people, but faced the risk of disappearing during the domestic turmoil of the Korean War. Nowadays, old Pojagi made by grandmothers are rarely found in households. However, Pojagi has revived as a handicraft and has been recognized as a cultural element over the past 10-15 years. In Japan, more people are attending Pojagi classes, and with the Korean wave, it has become even more popular than furoshiki!

In contrast, thinking of "wrapped dishes" in Japan is challenging, but there are many "tied dishes." Onigiri is Japan's soul food, but rather than "wrapping," it seems more like a "tied" dish. We say "tying onigiri" rather than wrapping it. Many regions also refer to it as "omusubi." Additionally, many people think of konbu-maki (rolled kelp) and mitsuba (trefoil) in clear soups as examples of "tied dishes."

The term "omusubi" is said to originate from the Japanese mythological deity "Kamimusubi," with "omusubi" (御結び) used in rituals and "onigiri" for food in some regions. There are also regional differences in terminology between eastern and western Japan. Shintaro Orikuchi, who discussed the Japanese belief in musubi (tying), expressed that scooping water is called "tying water," suggesting that "musubi" means incorporating the soul within the water into one's body. Japan has many "tying cultures," such as shimenawa (sacred ropes), mizuhiki (decorative cords), and kumihimo (braided cords). I also read in Iwao Nukada's book that the origins of the words for "son" and "daughter" relate to the concept of "tying."

Both Japan and Korea have the same furoshiki culture, but I feel that Japan places spiritual significance on "tying," while Korea emphasizes "wrapping." It's fascinating to see the differences between two countries that both have floor-sitting lifestyles.

I love Korea and Pojagi, but as a Japanese, I definitely favor furoshiki. I also believe that furoshiki should break away from traditions and forms, becoming more playful and enjoyable!

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