What are Tenugui?

I'm here today to present to you one of my favourite things to buy in Japan. I'm not much of a shopper so I don't often buy gifts or souvenirs, however I do make sure to pick up a tenugui on every trip to Japan! So far I've managed to collect quite a few.
A tenugui is a beautiful thin towel made out of cotton, born in the Heian period, and they're sold with just about any pattern and colour you can think of in many souvenir shops around the country. I bought my first one on my first trip to the country, when I apparently forgot to bring a towel with me and was out looking for something that would prove useful.
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Other than as a towel they can be used as a washcloth, decoration (I've heard of families who buy one every few months to go with the theme of the new season), wrapping up items such as bento boxes or bottles, as a towel in public bathrooms (many public bathrooms don't have towels to dry your hands), etc. In summer they are especially useful if you wet them a bit before leaving the hotel and keep it around your neck to cool down. Because tenugui don't have a hem, it's easy to squeeze out the water and allows it to dry faster. They make great souvenirs too, because different towns usually have some with a design showing something specific from that area.
And when you back from your trip, they do seem like nice presents to give to family and friends, buying chopsticks perhaps isn't too original anymore... I personally hang mine up on the wall, as if they were posters, though I still use them as towels sometimes too.
There are some for everyone!

Do any of you like to buy tenugui? What other uses have you found for them?


Sam Lesmana