The History of Tenugui

14 set 2023

The history of Tenugui dates back about 1300 years to the Heian period (794-1185). Initially, they were not used by the common folk but were utilized in religious ceremonies for cleansing the body and washing utensils. At that time, cotton was not yet cultivated in Japan, making it scarce, so textiles primarily made of silk and hemp were used instead.

During the Kamakura period (1185-1333), samurai began wearing these towels under their armor, and by the Muromachi period (1336-1568), common people started using them to wipe their bodies after a bath, gradually integrating them into everyday life for practical purposes.


In the Edo period (1603-1868), cotton cultivation became widespread near urban areas in Japan, leading to the widespread use of cotton Tenugui, similar to those we see today. Their uses expanded beyond just drying hands; they were used to dry dishes, as part of clothing (for example, as diapers for babies, under-belts for women's kimonos, or aprons to keep kimonos clean), among various other purposes.

In the late Edo period, due to a prohibition on luxury, common people were restricted from wearing extravagant kimonos. The materials were limited to cotton and hemp, and colors to brown, grey, and indigo, with flashy patterns being banned. However, people always desire to wear something unique. Within these restrictions, a variety of colors and patterns emerged, and people began using Tenugui fashionably as headwear, scarves, or drapes over the shoulders, expressing their personality and beliefs through them. Different professions had distinctive ways of wearing Tenugui, with various names for each style. Popular among the commoners, kabuki actors also used Tenugui as headgear and costumes, incorporating their family crests and distributing them to favored patrons like business cards, while fans collected them eagerly. Thus, one can say that the modern Tenugui flourished in the Edo period, as evidenced by many ukiyo-e artworks from that era depicting people wearing Tenugui.

Later on, dyeing techniques evolved, and during the Meiji period (1868-1912), a method called "Chu-sen" was developed, allowing for complex patterns. This dyeing technique, unlike silk screen printing, soaks the dye deep into the threads without stiffening the fabric, maintains good absorbency and quick drying, and makes the patterns reversible, making it an ideal dyeing method for Tenugui.


Tenugui is a simple piece of cloth that has been used for various purposes throughout history. We encourage you to use this simple fabric freely with your own creative ideas.