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Painting of a man with a tenugui tied around his head.

What are tenugui?

Tenugui (手拭い) is a thin Japanese hand towel made of cotton. It is typically about 35 by 90 centimeters in size, plain woven and is almost always dyed with some pattern.


Tenugui are said to have been in use since the Nara period (710-794 AD).
These useful items were used not just as towels, but also as scarves, as dishcloths, and once it began falling apart, they became household rags for cleaning.

There is an abundance of designs, from traditional to adorable

A tenugui with a traditional motif

A simple black and white pattern. If it has the town name or company name on it, it can be used as a souvenir or a present.

A cute tenugui with a pattern of hedgehogs.; photo by senov

Lately, because of the abundance of designs and colors, the number of tenugui collectors are on the rise.

Tenugui specialty shops exist.; photo by Tatsuo Yamashita

Tenugui specialty shops that sell a variety of patterned tenugui have become very popular. Since they’re always very convenient no matter how many you have, people unintentionally gather collections.

Also excellent for interior decorating; photo by Brian Jeffery Beggerly

Because tenugui are a long patterned rectangle, they look like paintings. Specialty shops also sell frames in order to use them as decorations.

They have various uses!

Wear as a head-covering to protect yourself from the sun 

Because it’s made from thin, breathable cotton, it’s good as a sunshade.

As a towel

You can use it to dry yourself after you wash your face or to wipe the sweat off on hot days. It’s widely used as a towel because it dries quickly after it’s wet.

As stylish wrapping

If you wrap a bottle in it and bring it to a party, you’ve used it in place of wrapping paper and after it’s unwrapped it can be used for other purposes, making it economically friendly!

In the beginning it was simply a sheet of cloth, and all these ideas came second.
Other ideas are such as using it as a bandage in times of emergency, a temporary bag to carry items when you’re on the trip, or it can be used in a myriad of ways when you’re on a camping or hiking trip.

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