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NO, not THAT kind of addiction.  Not to drugs, fortunately.  Not to alcohol.  This addiction costs me about $12 each time I indulge.  This addiction brings me pleasure each time I indulge.  It’s continued to bring me pleasure for many years.  It’s a relatively small expenditure, but carries an impact.  It varies with the seasons, it also has some historical significance.  What the hell is it?  Is it really a shmata?  (rag)  maybe.



Tenugui is one those endearing, everyday, handcrafted Japanese objects that once you know what it is, you simply can’t live without. A Japanese Tenugui is a handy piece of fabric, always in gorgeous Japanese patterns, with an almost infinite amount of uses.  Although the name may seem unfamiliar to you, if you have even a vague interest in Japanese design, chances are you’ve seen one of these before. So what is a tenugui, how do you use it, where do you buy it, and what has it got to do with martial arts? Here is everything you need to know about this little Japanese wonder that packs a big punch!

Like morning glories?  I found the perfect tenegui!


A tenugui is something like a very extended handkerchief.  It can be used to wipe away the sweat caused by a hot summer day.  It can be used as a head wrap, to keep sweat off the brow.  Not so good to wipe a runny nose, but if you’re desperate?

Winter is approaching, how about some koi in the snow, or just some simple Christmas berry pattern?


The Japanese began to use them several hundred years ago when cotton became widely available.  In a pinch, they’re a great hand towel. If you’re little,  maybe even a very small bath towel. But really, these are not towels in the Western sense.  Zero terrycloth.  Frame a tenegui  and it becomes a  piece of inexpensive folk art.  Easily rotated or replaced too.

Rainy season?  Never enough hydrangeas?


Are you out of gift wrap?  If the gift is small, wrap it charmingly in a tenugui.  If you can bear to part with it.

Each time I travel to Japan, I cannot resist the urge to buy just one or two more.  I have yet to regret the purchases, although that isn’t true for some members of my family.  I use them mostly as hand towels in a guest bathroom.  Out of curiosity, I decided to count the number of tenugui I now have.   Approx. 85.  That’s just between you and me.  It’s a solid collection and hopefully far from finished!  BTW,  It would take many many years of use to become a shmata, in my opinion.

The designs are incredibly diverse.  There always new seasonal designs, floral designs, historic designs, modern artistic designs, Japanese patterned designs, animal designs, etc. At the moment, just past mid summer,  I’m looking at a vibrant bright sunflower pattern hanging in my guest bath.  I love it.

p.s.  In Japan, you can easily find tenugui in certain stores.  But they are also available online if you want to dabble.  Here are a few links, if you want to pursue.

(  (raak, one of the best, I think.  Several stores in Kyoto.,a%20new%20tenugui%20brand%E2%80%94kenema.  (sophisticated patterns!)







Dianne Vapnek

In an attempt to slow life's quickening pace, I'm writing to share my personal perspective on the aging process, its dilemmas, the humorous self-deception, the insights and the adventure of it all. I spent the bulk of my time in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA, but manage to get to NYC a few times times a year. I've been a dancer/dance teacher and dance supporter almost all my life. For the past20years, I help create and produce a month-long creative residency in Santa Barbara for contemporary American choreographers and their dancers. It's been incredibly gratifying. This year, I decided it's time to retire! Big change. I also now spend several weeks a year in Kyoto Japan, residing for several weeks in the spring and the fall. I've been magnetically attracted to Japan for many years. Now I live out a dream to live there part-time.

One Comment

  • Judith Swope says:

    Been a very long time since I have heard that word. Usually when I put something on that my mother thought looked like a rag. Certainly not to be worn outside❤️❤️

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