Tenugui is a beautiful, but practical piece of art dyed with an ancient dyeing technique called Shibori. Add it to your home to garnish or use in the kitchen.

A Japanese Tenugui is a handy piece of fabric, always in gorgeous Japanese patterns, with an almost infinite amount of uses. It is one those endearing, everyday, handcrafted Japanese objects that once you know what it is, you simply can’t live without.

What is Tenugui

In the most basic sense, a tenugi is a piece of cloth, usually cotton, that can be used in countless ways. With its soft frayed edges and delicate texture, a tenugui looks a little like a rag, and you know what, there’s no reason it couldn’t be used as such.The name tenugui 手拭い in fact comes from the words hand and wipe, so it’s the Japanese cousin of the handkerchief.

As a lightweight handtowel, it is certainly an indispensible accessory in these hot summer days. However, given the craftsmanship and history that goes into creating tenugui, using it just to wipe up sweat and spills feels a little wasteful.

Typically around 3 feet long and 1 foot wide, its shape makes it an excellent fashion accessory, worn as a headwrap, or head band. It is also perfect for gift-wrapping, and as a gift in itself. Japanese Tenugui can be used as a canvas for some fine artistry, which means they can also be hung up for view, tapestry style.


Historically it’s said that the tenugui was created during the Heian period, around a thousand years ago, which was a time of great cultural evolution in Japan. Tenugui cloths were originally considered luxury items, crafted from silk or fine cotton and hemp; however, as fabric production techniques evolved, tenugui became far more affordable, and their real everyday uses were explored, creating in the tenugui we see today.

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 time of peace and artistic exploration, The Metropolitan Museum of Art calls the Heian era Japan's cultural enlightenment. Developed alongside well-known cultural traditions like kana script, waka poetry, yamato-e painting style 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 woven cloths of silk or hemp used in ceremonies and religious rituals. Since techniques of mass production had yet to develop, fabric making remained a painstaking and costly process. As a result, prices remained beyond the means of common people.

Choice of different types of Tenugui

If you’re in the market for tenugui there are three main factors to consider: its intended purpose, the quality of the cotton, and authenticity of the material.
If you’re looking for a tenugui that’s going to be used for gift-wrapping, it’s better to go with something perhaps a little thicker. It will make your life easier if you pick a repeated pattern rather than a full image which will be distorted during the folding.

If you’re wanting to ensure that what you’re buying is of the best quality it’s safest to got for the authentic, and be sure to buy a made-in-Japan product. Made with the quality cotton, expert hand dying and always sold at an affordable price point, you really can’t go wrong.