Getting to know “tenugui”
It is said that tenugui were already in use during the Nara Period (710-794). Tenugui are flat-woven cotton cloths that are about 90 cm x 35 cm in size. Many have elaborate resist-dyed or printed patterns. During the Edo Period (1603-1868), common people started using them as well. They are used for various purposes, including drying hands or bodies, covering heads, or as aprons.
As cultural modernization progressed and towels became more common, the use of tenugui became less and less common. However, in recent years, there has been a re-evaluation of the convenience and appealing design of tenugui, and more and more stores have started selling them in the past 10 years or so. They have again come to be used as daily commodities or souvenirs.
Tenugui are divided into several types according to the fineness of the cloth; from fine to coarse, the major fabric types are “tokuoka”, “oka” and “bun (sori)”. The finer the cloth, the higher the designability.
In addition, they are divided into two types according to the technique used to decorate them: “chusen” dyeing and printing.
Features of chusen tenugui
Chusen is a traditional method of dyeing using stencil paper. Since the dye infiltrates the cloth, the patterns appear on both sides. When the tenugui is used for a long period of time, the dye fades, giving it a well-aged look.
Features of printed tenugui
Compared to chusen dyeing, printing can produce patterns or characters that are more detailed, as they are printed using a silkscreen. Since patterns are printed on just one side, the back side is a solid color, unlike chusen tenugui. On the other hand, it is difficult to color the entire surface through printing.
How are tenugui made?
A stencil is placed on a wooden frame to which resist paste will be applied. A roll of washed and dried fabric is folded to the size of a tenugui and the stencil is placed on the fabric. The resist paste is then applied to each piece.
The resist paste does not stick to areas covered by the stencil, only to areas where a pattern is engraved.
The fabric is placed on a bench and dyes are poured using a watering can. Once the dyes have spread over the entire surface, they are pulled below by a compressor.
The fabric is turned over and the process is repeated.
The fabric is placed into a machine that washes the fabric to remove the paste. Afterward, the fabric is washed again by hand to remove the paste and excess dye.
The fabric roll is dried in the sun.
The dried fabric roll is folded to the length of a tenugui while the pattern is inspected. The fabric is then pressed under a roller to smooth out wrinkles. Afterward, both sides of each tenugui are cut by hand and each piece is folded.
Tenugui can be used in various ways; the following are some examples.
Use instead of a towel or handkerchief.
Use to wrap plastic bottles or wrap gifts.
(3)For covering heads
Wear around the head instead of a bandanna or headband.
(4)Worn around the neck
Wear around the neck instead of a scarf.
(5)As a mat
Use instead of a place mat.
Frame and display like a painting or textile.
Other than the uses above, tenugui can be used in many more ways, including being used as masks or as strainers. Find your own unique way of using tenugui!
Tenugui are available in souvenir corners in sightseeing spots and airports, museum stores, inns and department stores throughout Japan, as well as in specialty stores including “KAMAWANU” and “EIRAKUYA”. In addition, as tenugui with unique local patterns are often available, you might want to ask if tenugui are available when you visit local tourist information centers or souvenir corners. Moreover, tenugui are relatively inexpensive when compared to other Japanese souvenirs (ranging from about several hundred yen to 1,500 yen), so it would also be fun to build a collection of tenugui in various colors or designs.
Tenugui in an abundance of colors and designs
【Mame-shibori (bean motif) 】
Small polka-dots on a white background. Polka-dots can come in different colors including black, blue, or red. This is the most classic design.
【Asa no ha (hemp leaves) 】
The name was given because the geometric pattern looks like hemp leaves.
【Seikaiha (blue ocean wave) 】
A design in the motif of an ocean wave that makes you feel cool.
【Komori (bats) 】
Unique tenugui designed in the motif of bats.
【Kaga-yasai (vegetables) 】
Tenugui designed in the motif of vegetables produced in the Kaga area
【Kyoryu (dinosaurs) 】
An original tenugui sold in the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum
【Nippon (Japan) 】
A pattern expressing Japanese culture through pictures of sushi, cherry blossoms or other objects
【Fuji-san (Mt. Fuji) 】
Tenugui designed in the motif of Mt. Fuji, which has been recognized as a World Heritage Site
* Some designs are available for a limited time only and may not be available now.