Steal This Japanese Tradition to Go Greener

Japanese culture is well-known for being polite, respectful, and esthetically beautiful. Japan also has a reputation for being a technological marvel, which is sometimes absolutely true, especially if you spend sometime wandering around VR arcades in Tokyo. Yet other parts of Japan are far more traditional, and that gives us the gift of seeing both Japanese history and its expectation of being self-sufficient through something very humble: the tenugui.

In Japanese, “te” means “hand” and “nugui” is “to wipe.” Basically, a tenugui is a handkerchief. However, Japan doesn’t really do things very basic. The country’s rich history in printmaking and textiles means that a Japanese handkerchief is something you probably carefully selected.

 Designer ecology 

A tenugui can be masculine and simple, or very feminine and flowery. They can be very traditionally Japanese, or much more modern. Since the tenugui is a staple of Japanese life, modern designers even create special collections sold in the accessory sections of most Japanese department stores. Sometimes they are very thin fabrics that fit best into smaller bags, or they can be more like the thickness of a washcloth. Microfiber gives you a little of the best of both worlds.

Many Japanese people still carry tenugui around while out and about for the day. This is partly because of Japan’s tradition of self-reliance, and partly just an element of life, because many older public restrooms don’t provide hand towels or dryers. You’re supposed to bring your own, and while not always convenient, this tradition is beautiful for our environment. 

Wipe your hands of waste

It’s reported that in the U.S., we use more than 13 billion pounds of paper towels, and that number is growing yearly. Of course, many facilities now offer electric hand dryers, but those still use energy. If you tend to travel with a bag or backpack, adopting Japan’s tenugui tradition is another way to help our planet stay green and blue.

Curious to try it? The most ecological way to get started would of course be to just add a washcloth or linen napkin you already have to your usual day bag. The cloths can serve more than one purpose, as Japanese people often use cloth to wrap things (like their lunch box), and in summer, you’ll often see people dabbing away the heat using their tenugui.

If you want a little more inspiration from Japan to add to your daily rituals, these are some cute options from Amazon that might be worth checking out. (These links are connected to Amazon’s affiliate program, so if you choose to buy from them, we might receive a small renumeration from Amazon.) To maximize your greenness, consider including them in an order of a few other items, as Engadget reports that our addiction to fast delivery might be reducing the ecology of online shopping. That should change as more electric vehicles are added to delivery fleets.

If you like some of the options with sets of hand cloths, keep in mind that gifting one to a friend might inspire them to go green right along with you:

The best way for us to create more ecological change is through our behavior. It’s inspiring to see others making different choices. You’ll never know how much one person seeing you drying your hands with your own reusable towel in the restroom could echo around the world.