Life is colorfully decorated by Katsuta Nasen


The tenugui dyed by craftsmen worth appreciating.


A hot bed is hit by heat winds blowing from the ceiling in the factory, where the printed textile is dried. Some area of the textile is still unevenly dried to which Uchiwa fan is used locally to remove the moisture. Like this the textile is steamed after completing dyeing process, making dyes fix well on its surface as well as developing a bright color. Next the dyed textile is washed in hot water, followed in cold water, which is ground water flowing out of the underground 100 meter deep. Finally the dyed goods are dried naturally. I am watching now that tenugui having just dyed are being hung at a drying space inside factory by workers.


Placing a dyed textile into the steamer to fix colors.


Please take a look at the top picture patterned with plum flowers. If you see it carefully, you can notice that the tenugui employs only two colors, purple and red, however it’s presented as if it had more colors using the effect of color graduation or shades. Similarly, the picture 5 patterned with a cat and gingko is dyed with only three colors, navy, orange, and yellow, but appears more colorful as it cleverly uses the contrast of color graduations to white base. We can see a masterful sense Japanese artisan cultivated in elaborating designs printed via the mesh of the screen. It is undoubtedly the characteristic of Japanese tenugui—- Simple but rich.


A steamer is 2 meter high or more.


Being covered with a white cloth, the dyed textile is pulled out from a steamer.


According to the third generation of Katsuta Nasen, Yuya Katsuta, a senior managing director, “We don’t use a machine to dry dyed textiles because we rely on our eyes. We visually check if misalignments have occurred, or colors have been lost or uneven on goods, while we dry them by our hands. This should be the process of inspection.” To complete the process, the dyed textile with 25 meter long will be cut into the pieces of tenugui, each sized 32 to 35cm wide and 90cm long to become the products. It is essential to contain the fine design produced by craftsmen, so that consumers can enjoy simple but fulfilled moments in their life. Furthermore their designs represent the playful spirits of the artisans that also give spices of richness on products.


Tenugui is washed in cold ground water flowing out of the underground 100 meter deep.


In 1784 (Tenmei 4), Kyoden Santou, a famous play writer in Edo period, hosted a tenugui design competition at Shinobazu Pond in Ueno. The year means the special to the Japanese history, when the Great Tenmei famine affected all over Japan, following Mount Asama had erupted in 1783 (Tenmei 3), causing somber and dark condition in a society. The event was held as if to blow out such damages from Japan. The book called ‘Tanakui awase” has been edited showing all those tenugui patterns having exhibited at the event, which we have been archived till today.


Tenugui is just a cotton cloth for everyday use to dry your hands. That’s it. Their function is simple enough. However some tenugui are framed and appreciated by people. Also the people who are in the industry respecting tradition distribute tenugui as small gift (Goshu-gi) to customers on celebrations, such as New Year’s call. Some of the representatives are the steeplejacks (Tobi), comic story tellers (Rakugo-ka), and kabuki actors, who distribute brand-new tenugui on New Year. The ones received the presents, if they are from Tobi or Rakugo-ka, will provide their own tenugui as exchange. Some friends of mine are Rakugoka, so I often receive new tenugui from them when new years arrive. This is how various patterns of tenugui will spread and pile up like business cards, Meishi. That’s it. Tenugui has been exchanged instead of business cards in Japan. This is not only limited to the traditional industry, but companies, shops, and restaurants do it either. Their marketing ability will be tested, whether individual or company, depending on how superior patterns they can provide.



“So which tenugui shall I use first?” I ask myself and select the favorite among the collection.


“How pity a tenugui is used just as a cotton towel because of its boring pattern printed.” — by Shinsho Kokintei.


The tenugui patterned with a cat and gingko is dyed with only three colors, navy, orange, and yellow.


The best tenugui representing beautiful pattern will be framed like an art work, or hung between rooms, on walls, in doorways, or in windows, taking a role of room divider. On the other hand ones with poor patterns can be ended up in practical use only, such functions as drying your hands or skin, or wiping tables like dusters. Having said that, tenugui cannot be found its reason to be tenugui unless they are in use. Even after changing its status to be a worn out duster, a tenugui never lose its simple but fulfilled character. Enclosing everything in a cloth of 32 to 35cm wide and 90cm long, a tenugui represents the world view of Japanese people towards riches of beauty and playful spirits.



Interviewer & Author:Akitoshi Urayama
Photographer:Soudou Kawaguchi



Inquiry:General Incorporated Foundation of Employment Advance Research Center
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