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Japanese Hand Towel Custom: Q&A w/Misao Yamamoto

Japanese Hand Towel Custom: Q&A w/Misao Yamamoto

Posted on | October 14, 2010 | 1 Comment

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The past year, PeopleTowels has crisscrossed the country speaking to the public and organizations at festivals, conferences, and events about how the small act of B.Y.O.Towel can save trees, water and landfill space.  Consistently, we found people wanted to know more about this traditional Japanese custom as we introduce it in the US.

So, we decided to interview people who grew up with B.Y.O.Towel culture and let them share their personal experiences with you. This is part 1 of a 2 part interview series.

Our first interviewee is Misao Yamamoto from Anjo, Aichi Prefecture, Japan.

PT: Tell me about yourself. What brings you to the U.S.?
MY: I’m 29 years old, an oriental belly dancer and spa therapist. This is my 4th time in the US and I came to learn American Tribal Style Belly Dance.

PT: PeopleTowels was inspired by the Japanese custom of carrying your own personal hand towel everywhere you go. Could you tell me about your personal experience with this custom?
MY: I started carrying a hand towel for school when I was about 3 or 4 years old. My mother gave me the towel and it’s considered good manners to have your hand towel when you’re out. My mom always reminded me every time I left the house. For children, moms can also clip the towels to the kids’ shirts or bags so they won’t forget them.

I often receive hand towels as gifts so I don’t have to buy them myself. I also love giving hand towels as gifts. I consider a person’s personality and individuality when I pick out a towel design. It’s also a nice way to thank someone who has done something nice for you. Hand towels are also good gifts to give acquaintances or people you don’t know very well because they are practical and everyone can use it.

PT: Do you know why the Japanese have such a custom?
MY: I’m not sure exactly why, but I think it started with people using tefuki* then people started using handkerchiefs and now hand towels. So it’s normal for us to carry hand towels. It’s also ecological.

There are also no paper towels in public restrooms in Japan so we bring hand towels to wipe our hands. Some high class department stores might have hand dryers and paper towels but most places will not.

Hand towels can also be used as a coaster, especially for icy cold drinks so they don’t drip everywhere or wipe your tears when you’re crying.

PT: From your perspective what are the benefits of carrying a personal hand towel?
MY: It keeps you clean and it’s ecological and economical.

PT: Can you describe the hand towels in Japan? Where are the towels usually sold?
MY: Hand towels in Japan are mostly cotton material and usually sold on the first floor at department stores. We have to buy hand towels often so department stores have them at the most prominent part of the store so everyone can easily find them.

PT: Are there certain common practices, such as how often a towel is used before washing or how it’s carried by men, women and children.
MY: I put my hand towel in my pocket or handbag and take it with me everywhere I go. I wash it everyday when I get home. I have about 10 hand towels.

It’s also common practice for women when they’re wearing a skirt and sitting down to place a hand towel on her lap.

PT: What is your favorite towel and does it have a story?
MY: Not especially. I don’t buy hand towels for myself very often because they’re often given to me as gifts. I like towels with organic cotton material and lovely designs.

PT: What do you think we can do to help the US adopt this very sustainable custom of carrying your own hand towel everywhere you go?
MY: Encourage people to think about ecology and that carrying a hand towel is very ecological.

I think it’s also important to offer many attractive and cute towel designs for people to choose from so they want to bring them everywhere.  In Japan people also bring their own reusable bags to the grocery stores because the stores charge you for bags. It’s also getting more popular to carry your own chopsticks and mug.

PT: Does Japan do anything to promote or to market the idea of personal towels instead of paper towels?
MY: No, carrying your own hand towel is a habit now and we don’t use paper towels. The hand towel is like how people used handkerchiefs in the past.

PT: What do you miss now about Japan and what will you miss about the US when you’re back home?
MY: I miss my lovely good friends in Japan and I will miss the good friends I met in the US when I’m back home.


*Misao blogs regularly in Japanese on Colorblog and Blogger.

*tefuki – Rectangular shaped traditional Japanese hand towels about 35 x 113cm. They can be used as towels, gift wrap, bandana or for decorations.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks again for speaking with us, Misao!

    Comment by sam — October 29, 2010 @ 1:01 pm

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"This is such a great product! I have a 2 year old with autism and certain sounds make her really distraught. When we are in a public bathroom with only air dryers and no paper towels, it's instant freak out/melt down time. We love always being able to towel dry and keep one in her diaper bag, my purse, and in the car. 2 are on standby on wash days. It's good for her sense of security, it's good for my sense of sanity, and it's good for the earth. Everyone wins! Thank you! "
--Julie Robinson
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