Finally, summer is on the way in Tokyo! So to get prepared for this sometimes awkwardly humid season, items to absorb the sweat might be more than essential… Usually you would reach for a handkerchief or a hand towel – BUT! Instead, PingMag is recommending to check out Tenugui – Japanese hand towels. For today, PingMag would like to introduce a variety of these stylish and modern Tenugui.
Written by Ryoko
Tranlated by Natsumi Yamane
Literally, word Tenugui means to wipe one’s hands. These cotton woven Tenugui are the equivalent of today’s hand towels or handkerchiefs. But you probably didn’t know that there are a lot of other uses for Tenugui: use it to absorb the sweat, dry dishes with it, wash yourself in the bathtub or wear it as a head covering or bandana, etc. Also, you can decorate your interiors with it nicely or even make clothes or small accessories with it.
How stylish: the bamboo leaf pattern looks good when used to wrap a bottle of wine.
A cute bunny pattern – perfect for wrapping presents!
The ends of Tenugui are rough-hewn so it can be easily torn. According to the owner of “Cossa,” in emergency situations Tenugui used to be torn and used as bandages or to repair the thong of Geta sandals. In addition, Tenugui in the Edo period was also used by firefighters to protect their heads or as carpenters’ headbands.
Ukiyo-e prints showing the lifestyle of the Edo period. Back then, Tenugui used to be essential for craftsmen! (Courtesy of The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum)
A firefighter wearing a Tenugui on his head. (Courtesy of The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum)
Also, Tenugui was apparently an important apparel for Kabuki actors. Therefore it became a kind of advertisement: if an actor wore one Tenugui pattern that was specially designed for him or one with his house crest on, people who wanted to catch a bit of his celebritiy status wore the same patterns. Oh my, that is just like today with famous actors advertising for clothing brands and other…
The Tenugui on the bottom left has the pictures of a sickle meaning “kama”, a loop meaning “wa” and the character for “nu.” Put together you get “Kamawanu.” This word was coined in the Edo period to refer to one’s manly spirit. Incidentally, this design became well known to the public after famous Kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro was seen wearing a Kimono of the same pattern.
A Tenugui with the “Kamawanu” pattern.
From left to right: “Kumadori” with various Kabuki make-up; “Misuji Goshi,” a three-lined grid pattern; and famous “Mimasu,” also known as house crest of Kabuki’s prestigious Ichikawa family.
Tenugui is a fair size larger than an ordinary face towel. However, the fabric is quite delicate and it doesn’t get bulky. Therefore it is perfect for carrying around. Also, it’s dyed using a special method so there is no front or back to the fabric. It tends to lose some colour over time, but then the toned-down colours get just as tasteful!
There are also many stylish patterns and designs you find in the more recent Tenugui. Their wide variety of motifs range from cherry, hydrangea, Koinobori and snowmen, to more fancy animal illustrations, such as rabbits and pigs.
A jellyfish pattern, also referring to Japanese summer.
Another summer Tenugui – a Chinese lantern plant.
A ”moon phases” Tenugui for the Mid-Autumn Festival: it is an annual custom to enjoy looking at the moon then.
How about this “rain shelter” Tenugui to cheer you up during rainy season?
A Craving For Tenugui
Tenugui is an item loved by people of all ages and there are certainly fans that always purchase the latest design as soon as it comes out. Also, you might think that it’s favoured more by the ladies – but in fact, there are just as many male fans of Tenugui as well.
Finally, the owner of the “Cossa” shop tells us more about the Tenugui appeal:
Tenugui has a long history and tradition, but there is more to it – it makes people want another one. There is this feeling of wanting to make a personal collection, indeed. I think it’s perfect for a casual present, too. You can think of it like “She or he likes pandas, so let’s give her or him a panda Tenugui as present!” he says.
Last of all, here is the PingMag selection of some of the most stylish Tenugui. Enjoy!
A modern flamingo pattern.
Take a close look… It’s a horde of bats!
A cross pattern for the gentlemen.
This red sea bream pattern is an old motif but updated with a slightly modern touch.
Hiding in the dark: a “Kunoichi” or female Ninja pattern.
Looks like a fork at first glance. Actually it is a comb pattern.
Do you have a favourite one? That is not easy, as there are so many more lovely Tenugui. If you have the chance, watch out for more of those fine patterns!