Tenugui(te=hands, nugui =wipe) are Japanese cotton towels. These towels are not only for wiping your hands but also have a number of traditional uses and applications. As far back as the ancient Kofun Era (250 - 538 AD), a clay figurine called haniwa was found with a tenugui wrapped around its head. Tenugui has as many uses as your imagination. There are several ways of using this simple cloth to bring a unique part of traditional Japanese culture into your life. Here are three: (1) Wrapping; (2) Decorating; and (3) Well-being.
We hope that this 100% hand-made pure cotton towel will give you a tangible taste of ancient Japanese culture. As we are never completely able to escape from our hectic daily schedule we sometimes easily forget about the happiness that comes thorough very simple pleasures; Cherry blossoms in the park, the scent of early summer rain, the color of golden leaves, and the purity of freshly fallen snow... We believe that tenugui can help make you aware of the changing seasons, make you take a deep breath, and hopefully bring a bright smile to your face.
Story of tenugui
Japanese tenugui have a long, rich history. A clay figurine from the ancient Kofun Era (250 -538 AD), was found with tenugui bandaged around its head.
Until the Nara period (710-794 AD) tenugui was made of silk and hemp, precious materials that were frequently used in sacred rituals.
During the Heian Period (794-1185 AD) tenugui was expressed as an ancient word "ta-nogohi", with "ta" meaning hands and "nogohi" denotes the act of wiping. It is in this era that the term tenugui originate similar phonetic note.
In the past, although tenugui, was a raw fabric left unprocessed after weaving or left plain--in other words, colored but without patterns-- its functions of wiping, covering, and wrapping bodies or objects, remain the same as today.
During Kamakura Period (1185-1333 AD), tenugui prevailed among Samurai who placed it under their war helmets to absorb their perspiration. It was only after the period between the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1568-1603 AD) and Edo Period (1603-1867 AD) that the use of tenugui spread to the general public.
In the Edo Period, the spread of the public baths accelerated the use of tenugui, which is when people began to pay increasingly more attention to its design and color. The Luxury Banning Act, changed the public demand from luxurious silk to more modest cotton, also spurred the cultivation of raw cotton throughout in Japan.
Tenugui also became an advertising tool and soon appealed to performers and merchants, who started to distribute tenugui to customers and patrons with their own family emblems or trade names printed on it.
By the time of the Meiji Period (1868-1912 AD), an ever increasing demand for tenugui jeopardized the dyeing processes (Katazome), far exceeding its production capacity. Consequently the chusenmethod was devised which ultimately improved and became a major dyeing method in later eras. It is assumed that Chusen first appeared during the early 1900’s as dyes became richer in color and the patterns that appeared began to come in various forms.
Following World War II, cotton fabric became difficult to obtain and restricted the production of tenugui. It is as a result of the Cotton Control Act and other legal restrictions. It is only in recent times that the uniqueness of tenugui has been rediscovered.
Tenugui measure about 33cm (12-inches) wide by 90cm (35-inches) length in a rectangular shape. They are composed of 100% cotton, colored with delicate patterns and rich colors. The designs come mainly from images of daily life, nature or other more traditional cultural elements. Tenugui have many different techniques of coloring that are based on Japan's long history. Currently the two methods most popular are called chusen and tenassen. Both methods require delicate, artistic skill by tenugui craftsmen who have brought traditional workmanship and magnificent skills into this century.
Chusen is an original coloring technique from the Meiji Period (1868-1912), that as evolved to the current coloring method used in the early Showa Period (1926-1989). The original Chusen was a combination of a stencil and special paste used in Katazome, and a method called Itajime-Shibori in which the fabric was multi-folded before being colored. Upon coloration, dyes penetrated into the fabric by placing a megaphone-like device on it with a box-like bottomless wooden structure. Using this equipment the air was blown down on to the fabric either by usuing the mouth or fuigo (a wooden tube). This blowing process was called tsugikomi or fukikomi.
In chusen, a craftman applies dyes onto the fabric with a special paste, and machines suck in the dyes that are applied from beneath. In this way, the method successfully integrates skilled hand craftmanship with the high productivity of machines. Using the chusen coloring technique, tenugui is always reversible, with patterns appering both on the front and reverse sides. The latter method is also superior in the absorption of dyes, which are colored down to the fiber core using a compressor suction, thereby leaving no hint as to which is the front and which the reverse side.
The tenassen coloring method also has a 120-years old history. This coloring technique is famous as the como method in Italy where the world famous printing techinique for scarves and handkerchiefs was born. Tenassen is a different colors, while tenassen uses called nassengata (stencil paper) that requires changing paper for each color used. Sarashi(bleached cotton fabric) measures 12m (39 feet) long and is a fabric set on 25m(82 feet) long nassendai(working table), then nassengata is set properly upon the sarashi. Using keiji (stencil spatula) to apply color on the fabric by one color at a time, it is necessary to have high quality craftmanship in order for the coloring process in tenassen to ensure that each different color of nassengata is set in the same positions, and thus enable finer lines and more delicate color patterns than is possible with chusen. Tenassen is not easy to color down to the fiber core like as is chusen, so most likely there will not be the same tone of color on the facing side as there is on the reverse side of the tenugui.