Collections: Tenugui

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. – William Morris

My tenugui

My tenugui

Tenugui (pronounced ten-oo-goo-ee), Japanese hand towels, are both useful and beautiful! They can be found in every Japanese home, and available for purchase in just about every store or shop. They come in an unlimited selection of motifs and colors to fit any decor, or match any interest or hobby. From Star Wars to Santa Claus, Hello Kitty to Halloween black cats, Mt. Fuji to geisha, there’s a design to suit everyone’s taste. While more traditional Japanese motifs appeal to me, two years ago I found one for Meiling of geisha wearing traditional wigs and kimono, playing traditional Japanese musical instruments in the garden – all the geisha are skeletons! If you can imagine it, it’s probably appeared on a tenugui!

Tenugui shop I visited in Japan. I found out their designs are copyrighted, so they weren't happy about me taking pictures. I did buy five towels from them though which smoothed things over.

Just some of the variety available in a tenugui shop I visited in Tokyo. Yes, there are whole shops that sell nothing but hand towels!

Made from 100% cotton, the creative and beautiful tenugui designs are silkscreened on to long bolts of 13″ wide fabric, then cut into lengths approximately 35″ long. A wide variety of designs are available all year, including seasonal or holiday designs (Christmas and Halloween tenugui are very popular). Well-know artists sometime design for tenugui, and many of these are worthy of being framed.

Sushi chef often wear a tenugui headband

Sushi chefs often wear a sweatband made from a tenugui

Tenugui are these days are mainly purchased and given these days as gifts and souvenirs but they still can be found in the kitchen in Japanese homes and are also used in the bathroom and for other tasks around the house. Tenugui are also used as headbands to keep sweat from running down the face, and the knots used to tie them on are often particular to the job being done. If you’ve ever watched The Karate Kid, the headband Ralph Macchio wears as he learns karate is made from a tenugui. The towels can also be used as gift wrap, especially for bottles of wine or sake. The more tenugui are used though, the softer and more absorbent they become, which after the design is their main appeal.

Summer designs and colors, including one with Mt. Fuji

Summer designs and colors, including Mt. Fuji

Indigo blues: Chidori (plovers), antique firefighter logos, waves, and Totoro

My indigo blues, with some of my favorite motifs: Chidori (plovers), antique firefighter logos, waves, and Totoro

These handy towels have become my favorite souvenir to bring home from Japan, and I always pick up a couple when I visit. They’re affordable (about $7 each), pack easily, and most of all, are both useful and beautiful! My oldest ones are more than two years old, and show little to no signs of wear even though they’re in constant use.

The legendary dog, Inu Hariko. I found this towel in Kyoto - every tenugui in the store was frame-worthy.

My favorite Japanese motif: the dog of legend, Inu Hariko. I found this towel in Kyoto. The cotton is a higher grade than the others, and every tenugui in the store was frame-worthy.

If you’d like to see the amazing and beautiful variety that can be found with these towels, check out my Tenugui board on Pinterest!

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10 thoughts on “Collections: Tenugui

  1. anexactinglife says:

    They are both beautiful and quirky (in a good way!) I read recently that most people in Japan carry a hand towel because paper towel is not provided in public restrooms – do you know if that’s true? I have taken to collecting tea towels on my travels.

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    • Laura says:

      They are quirky, or at least they can be. The design choices are limitless, or so it seems. Regular tea towels seem to be more in use these days, but tenugui are quintessentially Japanese.

      People in Japan typically carry tissue packets to use to dry their hands in bathrooms. You’re right, there are no paper towels, but I’ve recently seen some hot air dryers in public restrooms. Interestingly, there also are no napkins given out in restaurants, paper or otherwise.

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    • Laura says:

      My jaw dropped when we walked into that store – I couldn’t believe the variety. It was VERY had to choose. The pandas are cute, but I decided to go with some more traditional Japanese designs.

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    • Laura says:

      My daughter-in-law took me to the store, in Shinjuku, I think. I don’t remember. They weren’t happy with me snapping the picture, as some of their designs are trademarked. But, you can find tenugui in department and souvenir stores all over Japan.

      I knew about them but only because I had seen people wearing them as headbands, or as souvenirs given out at festivals and such. I didn’t know until recently that they came in so many wonderful designs.

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    • Laura says:

      Yes! You can order them from Amazon, although I’m not sure about what kinds of designs you’ll find. If you Google “tenugui” you can find other online shops that might have a wider variety of designs.

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