Bento item of the week: Juunishi (Chinese Zodiac) print furoshiki

Juunishi (十二支), more commonly known as the Chinese zodiac in the west, is the 12 year cycle with animals assigned to each year. If you're a fan of the manga and anime Fruits Basket, you probably know that the juunishi legends are the key to the storyline. In Japan, juunishi are still far more important to people who believe in astrology and the power of the heavens to influence their lives than the Western month-by-month zodiac. Everyone knows their eto(干支), or the animal assigned to the year they were born.

nezumi-dorei.jpg2008 is the year of the rat (nezumidoshi). If you were born in the years 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984 or 1996 (add or subtract 12 for more years), in 2008 you are a toshi onna (年女)if you're a girl, or toshi otoko (年男)if you're a guy, and you may either have a lot of good or bad luck, depending on who you listen to. My father's born in a rat year, so we'll be keeping an eye on him. If the notion of being a rat-woman (or man) doesn't appeal to you, keep in mind that the kanji for rat, nezumi(鼠)is used for both rats and mice, and in the juunishi itself the kanji assigned to the year of the rat is 子年, combining the kanji for child and the kanji for year. Most rat-year related merchandise is, in typical Japanese fashion, achingly cute, like the little ceramic bell shown here.

Furoshiki (風呂敷)are traditional square cloths used to wrap things. Folded or wrapped and knotted, they can perform the same function as a bag, which folds totally flat when not in use. Furoshiki have had a mini-resurgence in popularity recently as an eco-friendly and attractive alternative to disposable plastic bags. Whenever we went on a long car trip when we were growing up my mother would make enough onigiri for all of us, and wrap them up in a furoshiki. I loved feeling the still warm rice balls bumping around together in the cloth. The onigiri got a bit misshapen, but they tasted great.


This juunishi themed furoshiki (click the picture for a bigger view) is traditional yet quite modern I think. It's 74cm (29 inches) square, which is quite large, so it's a bit large for a single bento box, but you could wrap it around your entire lunch. Or use it for wrapping up a whole picnic, where it could double as a tablecloth. It's made of rayon chirimen (a kimono fabric with a crepe-like texture) so it should wash out easily, though I'd handwash it if possible. It would even make a nice wallhanging. It also comes in red, but I like the navy blue better.

  • Size: 74cm (29 inches) square
  • Material: rayon chirimen
  • Price: 2100 yen (plus 300 yen shipping in Japan)
  • Made in: Kyoto
  • Link

(Tip: You can make an individual bento box sized furoshiki with a square piece of cloth that's about 3 times longer on the diagonal than the length of your bento box. Quilting 'fat quarters' are great for making these.)

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