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Tenugui and Furoshiki: The Perfect Japanese Souvenirs [How-To Guide w/ Video]

Tenugui (hand towels) and furoshiki (wrapping cloths) have been used in Japan since ancient times. Here's a short guide on how to use these pieces of fabric.

What are Tenugui and Furoshiki?

Tenugui and furoshiki are simple, traditional Japanese cloths with patterned designs. With the invention of other products, their popularity had decreased for a period of time, but in recent years they've been reclaiming the spotlight with more and more people looking for eco-friendly lifestyle adjustments. They come in many different designs and can be used in various ways. Read on more to find out about these continuously evolving items.

You can purchase tenugui and furoshiki at specialty shops and 100 yen stores. Many shops set up a special area for them around summertime, so be on the lookout for them!

Tenugui

Tenugui are rectangular cotton cloths. It's believed that the tenugui first took root in the lives of Japanese people around the Kamakura period (1180 - 1333). Then, during the Edo period (1603 - 1868), which saw an increase in cotton cultivation, tenugui began to be widely regarded as a fashion item in addition to its practical uses such as wiping sweat or water away from the face or washing your body with during a bath. It was also used as protection against the heat or cold, and was worn on people's heads during festivals.
With the emergence of towels and handkerchiefs, it saw a decrease in usage for a period of time. However, its usefulness has now been rediscovered, and with it, a new wave of popularity and an increase in a variety of cute and stylish designs.
One point of note is that tenugui are sold with the ends seamless. By choosing to not fold back the ends and sew them, the cloth is able to dry quickly. In the beginning, you may be bothered by the frayed ends, but you'll find that as you keep using it, the fabric will naturally stop unraveling in the perfect spot. Try using a tenugui with the same sense of "nurturing" a pair of jeans over a long period of time!

Furoshiki

Furoshiki are used to wrap and carry objects or store them away. They are almost perfectly square-shaped and come in various sizes and materials, ranging from pure silk to rayon. It's said to date back to the Nara period (710 - 794). As for its name, there are various theories for its origins, such as "wrapping clothes and other items in when taking a bath (furo)" and "being derived from the name of a portable stove called furo that was used for boiling water in tea ceremonies".
In the past, it was common to have multiple furoshiki in a Japanese home, but with the spread of paper and plastic bags around the 1970s, it became temporarily obsolete. In recent years, with an increased interest in the environment, the washable and reusable furoshiki have been brought back and are gaining popularity over disposable bags! Like tenugui, there are more and more modern and stylish designs widely available.

Types of Traditional Japanese Patterns and their Meanings

There are many modern designs to choose from, but if you're buying them as a souvenir from Japan, why not select a traditional pattern? Here are 3 commonly used designs for furoshiki and tenugui.

Spotted Pattern

The meaning behind a spotted pattern (mame-shibori) is "the continuation of one's family line." If you plant one bean (mame), you'll bear many fruit. This pattern is based on this saying, and as such, the pattern is used as a prayer for bearing many children. From a design aspect, it looks similar to the polka dot pattern of modern times, so it's an easy-to-use pattern.

Wavy Pattern

The wavy pattern is a traditional pattern that is said to originate in ancient Persia. The same pattern is duplicated throughout the design, which depicts waves that continue endlessly. This auspicious pattern is imbued with feelings of appreciation towards the vast sea, and is used to pray for eternal happiness and a peaceful life.

Arabesque Pattern

The arabesque pattern is a pattern of vines stretching out and intertwining in all directions. The image of the ivy ceaselessly growing and stretching on is a sign of strong vitality. It is a pattern that stands for prosperity and longevity for the household.

Easy and Convenient Wrapping Techniques

Wrapping items is one of the main, handy uses of tenugui and furoshiki. Although "wrapping" is a simple action, there are actually many ways to go about it, so let's go over what and how to wrap items with these cloths.

Wrapping with Tenugui

There are many ways to wrap items with a tenugui. It's really great in that you can simply wrap a cute object with the tenugui and give it to someone as a present. The rectangular and horizontally-long fabric is thin yet durable. Tenugui are truly amazing since you can use them to wrap so many different items! Definitely give it a try for yourself.

・A cute "flower wrap" for wrapping presents
・A simple "bento wrap" for wrapping bento boxes (lunch boxes)
・"Bottle wrap" and "two-bottle wrap" for wrapping plastic bottles, "holder wrap" to give it a "holder" (grip on the side)
・"Mandarin orange wrap" for wrapping mandarin oranges and oranges

It's a truly outstanding item that can be used to wrap pretty much anything!

*Pictures below are of "bento wrap" and "two-bottle wrap".

Wrapping with Furoshiki

The square-shaped furoshiki, which are larger than tenugui, are perfect for storage. You'll see just how useful furoshiki can be, and you'll be surprised at what kind of things it's capable of wrapping. With a furoshiki, you can even easily wrap a wine bottle.

・An untied "flat wrap" for wrapping boxes, "messenger wrap" to wrap firmly and securely
・"Double wrap" for wrapping long objects, "pole wrap" for a visually stunning wrap
・"Bottle wrap" for wrapping bottles, "two bottle wrap" for wrapping 2 bottles
・"Flower wrap" and "rose wrap" for a cute wrap
・"3-place wrap" to securely wrap watermelons and decorative plants

 

Use It as a Decoration!

Recently, there's been an increase in designers for tenugui and furoshiki, so there's a large variety of modern and stylish patterns available. There are also designs by foreign artists, too! In addition to wrapping items, you can use them to decorate a room in your own style!

Tenugui Interior Design Example

If you want to use a tenugui to decorate a room, the easiest and most basic way is to insert it in a frame and display it. Another recommended way is to hang it on the wall like a tapestry. When using it as a wall decoration, it may be better to choose a large pattern. Some people use it as a place mat or, with just a few adjustments, as a noren (curtain in front of doors).

Furoshiki Interior Design Example

It's also common to decorate with furoshiki by putting it in a frame or hanging it like a tapestry. Some people also use them in place of tablecloths, window curtains, or blindfolds. Using it as a cushion cover by wrapping it around the cushion and tying it is also highly recommended! It's really easy to do, so try it out sometime!

Small Everyday Uses

Tenugui and furoshiki can also be incorporated into your everyday life in various ways. They're not bulky, so you can hide them in your shoes while you're out and about or traveling, and easily pull it out when you need it!

Practical Uses for Tenugui

Tenugui can be used in a variety of ways. First, try using it for its original intended purpose - as a handkerchief or towel! The fabric is thin and quick to dry, so if it gets a bit dirty, all you have to do is wash it and hang it up, and it'll dry in no time! If you hang it around your neck during meals, it can be used as an apron.
If you fold it nicely, you can also use it as a book cover, potholder, wallet, and a plastic bottle cover. Try it out!
Check out the advanced examples to see how it's used to spruce up a basket!

*The pictures are of a potholder and how tenugui can be wrapped around a basket.

Practical Uses for Furoshiki

Furoshiki can be a part of your life by transforming into a bag! There are many people who can be seen walking around outside with a furoshiki bag, which is made just by tying its ends up securely. There are also people who use it as eco-friendly bags or tie it on a baby stroller for storage. For long trips, it can be useful to separate your items in your suitcase, or to hold your clothes. It can also easily be turned into an extra bag to use when you've accumulated too many things.

As a Fashion Item!

It might come as a surprise, but tenugui and furoshiki can also be worn as a fashion item! Pick out a pattern that you like, and try matching it with your outfit.

Tenugui Fashion!

As a fashion example for tenugui, you can use it to tie up your hair. It has a nice texture with great breathability, and many people use it in their everyday fashion as a shawl, too! Another great example is to tie a patterned tenugui on a plain bag as an accent.

Furoshiki Fashion!

Furoshiki can be used as a shawl when you're feeling a little cold, or even as an apron while you're cooking.

Use Them for Just About Anything

Lastly, while this article has gone over the many uses of tenugui and furoshiki, there are still many other ways that they can be used.

Tenugui
・Keep you warm
・As a bandage during an emergency (You can rip it if you pull at it vertically)
・Face washing item

Furoshiki
・Picnic sheet

They're simple cloths, but with some creative thinking, there are still many ways that they can be used! Come up with new ways to use them, and find your personal favorite!

Where to Buy Them

Hamamonyo PARCO_ya UENO Location

Hamamonyo's products have beautiful colors and unique textures that showcase the skills of the artisans. Including tenugui and furoshiki, they have many interesting products that are born from unique ideas. For instance, with the Layered Picture Tenugui, a part of the cloth is transparent, and another design is placed under it for a layered effect. There's also the Tenugui Book, which might surprise your friends if you give it to them as a souvenir. With this tenugui, you can enjoy it like a picture book with each fold, then tie it up with a string. Since it's located close to Ueno Zoo, this branch also sells panda-print tenugui!

Hamamonyo PARCO_ya UENO Location

PARCO_ya 4F, 3-24-6 Ueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Kamawanu Daikanyama Branch

Kamawanu is one of the most well-known stores for stylish tenugui. The shop has a lovely Japanese-style atmosphere. They have a wide selection of tenugui with modern designs and vivid colors. There are also many seasonal designs, so you can learn about Japan's seasonal events.

Kamawanu Daikanyama Branch

23-1 Sarugaku-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

mamegui GRANSTA Branch

Mamegui is another brand created by the previously introduced Kamawanu. Kamawanu's tenugui are usually about 33cm x 90cm in size, while mamegui's tenugui are made in a cute size of about 27cm x 27cm that fits in the palm of your hand. The store sells candies and teas as well, which you can buy with mamegui wrapped around it.

mamegui GRANSTA Branch

JR Tokyo Station B1F (Within GRANSTA), 1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

Make sure to get your hands on a tenugui or furoshiki when you're visiting Japan. Wrap up your belongings, and try incorporating them into your everyday life!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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