TENUGUI: The unique and multi-purpose Japanese handkerchief | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan

TENUGUI: The unique and multi-purpose Japanese handkerchief

By Nam Chi Aug 24, 2018

This post is also available in: Vietnamese

When travelling in Japan, have you every come by the shelves of colorful, eye-catching Japanese handkerchiefs? Have you been gifted with one and wondering how to utilize this rectangular thin towel?

After this article, you will surely be surprised with the variety of usage within this object.

The Japanese handkerchief – TENUGUI

The Japanese handkerchief – also known as the tenugui dated all the way back to the Heian era of Japan and has accompanied the lives of Japanese for thousands of years. It is a hand towel made from cotton and is popular for its versatility as well as its attractive appearance. Thanks to the advancement of technology, we no longer see the old boring plain tenugui. In modern days, tenugui are turned into works of art with fun, vivid prints. Anyone, no matter the age, background or taste, can surely pick for him or herself a suitable tenugui.

Let’s go through what the tenugui can be used for!

  1. A wiping cloth

Just like other handkerchiefs, the basic function of the tenugui is for cleaning or wiping. The material is cotton, hence its ability to absorb moisture well. It becomes super handy in summer times when Japan’s temperature is rising immensely. A tenugui stored in your backpack or handbags can help dry out sweats or drinks spilled within seconds!

For old tenugui that have worn out and lost its appealing look, please do not throw them away! These can be re-used as a wiping rag for the kitchen, dining tables or any surfaces that needs cleansing at home.

Old tenugui can be saved to use as wiping cloth at home.

  1. A stylish and eco-friendly wrapper

If you are residing in Japan, it might be time to say “sayonara” to plastic bags, and instead, get yourself a tenugui for holding stuff when going out. Tenugui is most popular in Japan for wrapping bento boxes and water bottles. Wrapping your bento with tenugui will free you from the fear of food spilling inside your bags, and give your simple lunch box a more classy look.

Aside from bento, small gifts can also be wrapped in tenugui. As it comes with many beautiful prints and images, it can act as a special gift-wrap paper, but much more sustainable and re-useable. The cloth itself can be a bonus gift for friends and families. Not to mention, picking the fitting tenugui for your loved ones can be a fun task, too!

  1. A placemat when dining

Since very young age, Japanese children are taught to use the tenugui not only for wrapping but also placing underneath their lunch boxes when eating. This helps increase the aesthetics of the meal and at the same time, your appetite. Also, it prevents slopping food out on the table and keeping your silverware from touching the table surface. Even adults in Japan make use of this tenugui mat when enjoying a homemade bento.

Tenugui as a placemat

  1. An accessory

Traditionally, kendo practitioners use tenugui as a headband before putting on their protective masks. The cotton cloth soaks up their sweat and prevents it from dropping into their eyes.

Nowadays, tenugui acts as a flexible fashion item. It is not rare for young people to use it as headbands, as belts or even as neck accessories. Ladies can sometimes use tenugui to decorate their handbags to add a final touch to their outfits.

Tenugui can also be a fashion item.

  1. A decoration

Last but not least, if you happen to receive a tenugui that comes with patterns you cannot really incorporate into your outfit, or you feel like it would be a waste for food wrapping, why not turn it into a wall decoration at home? Carefully framing a lovely tenugui makes an awesome home décor item just as well as any painting does.

In Japan, there is a special larger type of tenugui rolls that are available for house interiors, but do not be afraid to go bold, and come up with your own tenugui piece! You can always sew them to one another in order to create a unique wall hanger or display them in glass boxes as a collection.

Tenugui comes in diversified patterns, can be used for many functions and can also be purchased at a wide range of prices. In the Japanese 100-yen shops such as DAISO or Seria, you can buy a tenugui at a very affordable price. For those who long for tenugui that are a bit more luxurious, many clothing stores or specialized shops in tenugui can be found anywhere in Japan.

A fun fact about tenugui: it is a cotton towel without a hem. Tenugui is meant to be made without a hem to be wringed easily and to help it dry quicklier. So, feel free to use and wash your tenugui every day!

Tenugui comes in a variety of patterns, suitable for all ages!

Let’s go find our favorite tenugui today, and have fun using this convenient Japanese handkerchief!

Nam Chi / Vietnam