“ It ‘s a present for you, ” he said .
“ Thanks, but what ‘s it for ? ” apart from its polka-dot design the fabric was grating, flimsy and unhemmed .
“ A fortune of things. You can wrap stuff in it, ” he explained.
Reading: Tenugui: A Cloth Without Limits
“ Wrap stuff in it ? ” I imagined a tramp carrying his blase possessions in a fabric on a stick. The endowment confused me, but I pretended to be grateful. finally my ally left and the fabric found a home in the closet. I had nothing to wrap anyhow. And I did n’t intend on wandering the worldly concern – at least not so far .
To the water closet with you !
My first feel with tenugui was awkward to say the least. A assemble of fray fabric made a strange give. It did n’t seem useful at all. I had no idea the simple fabric has such a deep history or wealth of uses .
In Its Simplest Form
At first glance a tenugui does n’t look like much. It ‘s rub edges and thin constitution resemble a exploited torment – at least to this Westerner ‘s eyes. I even felt that the detailed images and patterns of some tenugui would be better served on canvases or posters than on vulnerable cloths .
And sometimes that ‘s all tenugui are- plain cloths or rags. In fact, tenugui are sometimes used as rags for drying one ‘s hands or clean. So it ‘s no surprise that tenugui ‘s kanji tenugui 手拭い（てぬぐ ） is written with te 手（て） for hand and nuguう 拭う（ぬぐ ） for wipe. But these “ hand wipes ” are the plainest, cheapest and least impressive of the tenugui syndicate. even tenugui ‘s kanji fail to paint an accurate mental picture of the fabric ‘s beginning and capabilities .
The Origin of Tenugui
In world tenugui have a distinguished pedigree. According to Kamawanu Shop ‘s “ A Rambling talk About Tenugui ”, original tenugui date back to the Heian era, 794 to 1192 A.D. A meter of peace and aesthetic exploration, The Metropolitan Museum of Art calls the Heian era Japan ‘s cultural nirvana. Developed alongside long-familiar cultural traditions like kana script, waka poetry, yamato-e paint dash and narrative works like The Tale of Genji, it ‘s easy to see how tenegui got lost in the crowd .
Heian era tenugui were an expensive commodity. Tenuguiya.jp describes them as finely weave cloths of silk or hemp used in ceremonies and religious rituals. Since techniques of mass production had yet to develop, framework make remained a conscientious and dearly-won action. As a result, prices remained beyond the means of common people .
Tenugui would not become commonplace until good after the Heian menstruation. Fabric making techniques improved throughout the Kamakura and Edo periods, driving fabric prices down while increasing the add. once tenugui became low-cost, the fabric ‘s versatility fueled its widespread use. More durable than newspaper, the fabric could be washed and reused. But most importantly, tenugui filled the needs of the clock time – becoming headwear, belts, wallets, and protective and cosmetic envelop. With boundless uses, tenugui became a necessity .
finally tenugui became so cheap they could be used for cleaning both the family and its inhabitants. Tenuguiya.jp states that the unfold of onsen and practice of routine bathe fueled tenugui ‘s popularity, making it a bathhouse basic. With contemporary towels placid years away, tenugui faced little contest .
But bathe was n’t the entirely cultural practice to embrace tenugui. The fabric ‘s versatility made it a basic of summer festivals – worn as headwear, belts or used as a prop up. Tenugui besides served as headbands for kendo practitioners – soaking up effort and protecting their heads from their bulky helmets. The fabric even became a tool of the hell. The japanese image of a thief would n’t be complete without a tenugui tied off under his nozzle, a mask hiding his identity .
And where would a rakugo storyteller be without a tenugui ? Performer Katsura Sunshine explains, “ Rakugo features a lone storyteller… who, using entirely a fan and a hand towel for props, entertains the audience with a comedian soliloquy followed by a traditional floor. ” That towel, a tenugui, shape-shifts in the performer ‘s skilled hands. With a little imagination it substitutes for any prop up the act may call for .
Birth of Style
utility was n’t the sole cause of tenugui ‘s popularity. competition between artisans and a growing requirement for style fueled the fabric ‘s aesthetic development. As tenugui evolved into a fashion accessory, better designs translated into higher profits for sellers .
But the rival was n’t entirely economic. According to Kamawanu, design contests fueled artisans ‘ cutthroat competition, giving give birth to new dyeing and print techniques .
These techniques allowed artisans to do things they never could before. For the first time tenugui featured multiple colors, detailed patterns and beautiful images like landscapes, wildlife or people. The most beautiful designs became cosmetic pieces to display and admire.
however, designs were n’t based on aesthetic alone. As tenugui trended, they trickled into the commercial scene and became promotional goods. Tenuguiya.jp explains that businesses, kabuki actors and sumo athletes sold or gave away tenugui adorning their names, images or logos. Families bought tenugui bearing their kamon 家紋（かもん） or family crests. sometimes fabric bearing the owner ‘s information evening substituted for meishi 名刺（めいし） or occupation cards .
Advances in framework production transformed tenugui from an expensive ceremony tool to an everyday item enjoyed by the masses. And thanks to newfangled dying and printing techniques the homely fabric evolved into a fashionable manner accessory and make of art .
Don’t Call it a Comeback – Tengui in Modern Society
finally tenugui fell out populace prefer, replaced by handkerchiefs, cotton towels, single-use napkins and early modern fabrics. Cheap and disposable forte goods like hats, purses, credit card bags, isolate cases, benou boxes and wrapping wallpaper substituted for the antique fabric. Buttons, snaps, zippers and velcro revolutionized invest and accessories, making tenugui seem childlike and antediluvian .
But as australian architect Harry Seidler said, “ full design does n’t date, ” and recent necessity has given tenugui raw life. possibly in the rush to modernize, tenugui ‘s better points were overlooked .
What sets tenugui apart from today ‘s fabrics ? Its thin fabric dries fast, so it ‘s still ideal for scavenge, bathing or as a handkerchief or headband. Since they do n’t hold dust, tenugui are great for wiping surfaces like windows, counter tops, sinks, television screens and monitors .
Tenugui besides have personality. Kamawanu explains that as a solution of the dye process, particularly hand dying, no two tenugui are the same. natural dyes may differ in color and force leading to unlike results. Weather, temperature and humidity besides affect the dying process .
Use affects tenugui arsenic well. Gotokyo.com states, unlike other fabrics that degrade with use, tenugui actually improve. Repeated manipulation softens the fabric making it more comfortable against the clamber. As it ages a tenugui fades and creases, reflecting it ‘s history and the quality of it ‘s aim. As a consequence no tenugui are precisely the like .
Tenugui are popular with eco-crowds. Gotokyo.com describes tenugui as “ a commodious and eco-friendly tool of life based in traditional japanese culture. ” Since they are reclaimable and biodegradable, tenugui have little environmental impact. As such, tenugui are perfect for today ‘s environmentally conscious societies – peculiarly in Japan, where the mottainai or waste-not philosophy has given reclaimable items excess prestige .
My favorite expression of tenugui is one my friend besides appreciated – they make great omiyage or memento. Light, easy to transport and distinctly japanese tenugui make the perfective gift from Japan. Local cloths commemorate celebrated imagination. For case, Nara ‘s tenugui might feature deer. One I bought from Ehime has a mikan, or mandarin orange, corner. My blue Tokushima tenugui celebrates the area ‘s indigo dye inheritance. The Kyoto International Manga Museum even sells tenugui commemorating Japan ‘s vintage manga series .
A true will to tenugui ‘s eternity, the fabric is enjoying renewed popularity today .
A Lesson Learned
I recently contacted my acquaintance and re-thanked him for his endow. He laughed when I revealed my original reaction, but seemed please with my newfound love for the japanese fabric .
“ Do you want to know why it ‘s unhemmed ? ” he asked .
“ There ‘s a reason ? ” I said .
“ It makes it easy to wring out and allows it to dry fast. ”
even the lack of a hem, the feature that initially turned me off, has an advantage .
speak of my supporter ‘s giving, it ‘s nobelium long stored away in a box in the closet. When I carry a bentou, I use the giving as a wrap. It helps get me through Japan ‘s sweltering summers as a headband or hand-towel. And when I go to the onsen, I bring it along. I should probably invest in more tenugui .
But my favored tenugui hang on my wall. I used to feel the beautiful images were wasted on a “ rag, ” but is n’t canvas fair a rag besides ? A post horse just a assemble of wallpaper ? My collection reminds me of the places I ‘ve been or the festivities of the season. They besides stand for the lesson I learned. Although it can be mistaken for a simple fabric, tenugui is one of Japan ‘s most utilitarian traditions and I plan on celebrating it whenever necessity calls. Gotokyo.com puts it best, “ Tenugui have no rules – they ‘re only limited by their drug user ‘s resource. ”