Japanese Tenugui in Tokyo

Posted on 05. Oct, 2012 @ 10:03 pm by in Art, Culture, Tokyo, Travel Views: 5,581

One of the stops on my trip to Tokyo with @GuideYu a few months ago was to a Tenugui shop in Harajuku called Kamawanu.

Tenugui are a traditional Japanese multipurpose cloth. To name just a few of the many uses for tenugui, back in the Edo period people would use tenugui as small towels, or wrap them around their heads to keep the sweat or hair out of their eyes. Tenugui are usually are decorated with traditional Japanese patterns and designs.

Tenugui that I bought at Kamawanu - Click for larger image

One of the tenugui I bought at Kamawanu depicts cats… I don’t like cats, but my wife does, and this was pretty cool artistically, so I grabbed it. It may seem a little weird to put a tenugui in a frame and hang it on the wall, but I swear I got this idea from the shop in Harajuku itself, and the art on this particular tenugui is a recreation of some traditional Japanese art from the 1800s, so I’m going to say that it’s wall worthy. To further justify my wall-hanging case I learned that one of my Japanese friends, @ukti2009, also has a tenugui framed and hanging on her wall. She has the 蚊取り線香 katori senkou pattern tenugui.

Kamawanu is a cool shop. If you are interested in Tenugui you should stop by. The shop name, Kamawanu, is a play on words. The first image is of a sickle, followed by a circle, and then the hiragana character nu. The following image explains everything, but basically in Japanese a sickle is “kama” 鎌, and a way to say a circle is “wa” 輪, and then you have the sound “nu.” In Japanese the phrase “KAMAWANU” means, “I don’t mind” and sort of expresses a feeling of indifference.

Kamawanu Logo

Kamawanu Logo

It seems that the original artwork for my “cat tenugui” was done around 1848 and is called 猫飼好五十三疋(みょうかいこうごじゅうさんびき)(Cats suggested as the fifty-three stations of the Tokaido). I didn’t realize this until I started writing this blog post, but it seems that the images of the cats are also a play on words.

The image on my Tenugui is a small slice of the original much larger image featuring more cats. You can see the entire image here in high resolution thanks to wikimedia commons.

(Click for larger image) 猫飼好五十三疋 Cats suggested as the fifty-three stations of the Tokaido

So, each cat and its pose are a play on words that describe one of the stations on the Tokaido train line.

This website gives some information about the images of the cats and their meaning.
http://www.konekono-heya.com/ukiyoe/myoukaikou.html

For example…

The cat in the lower left of my tenugui is running away with a blue fish.
The blue fish he is running away with is called サバ SABA in Japanese.
The cat is a tabby cat. A tabby cat is called a ぶち猫 (BUCHI NEKO) in Japanese.
So, the train station the image is referring to is FUJISAWA train station! Because FUJI sounds like BUCHI and SAWA sounds like SABA.

藤沢(ふじさわ)→ぶちさば(サバをくわえるブチ猫)
Source: http://www.konekono-heya.com/ukiyoe/myoukaikou.html

What. Let’s do another!

So, in my tenugui there is a picture of a cat dragging away a huge red octopus.
A huge octopus in Japanese is 大ダコ (OODAKO).
Huge octopi are heavy. Really freakin heavy. “Really freakin’ heavy” in Japanese is おもいぞ OMOIZO.
So the station being referred to is 大磯(おおいそ)OOISO, because OMOIZO sounds like OOISO! And if you roll up OODAKO and stuff, I guess it’s even tighter?

大磯(おおいそ)→おもいぞ(大ダコを引きずって重い)
Source: http://www.konekono-heya.com/ukiyoe/myoukaikou.html

MIND BLOWN.

These are really a stretch aren’t they? Memorize them all. Amaze Japanese people when out drinking. Good luck.

Related Links:
Tenugui on Wikipedia
Kamawanu shop official homepage
High-quality image of Cats suggested as the fifty-three stations of the Tokaido on Wikimedia Commons.
A Japanese blogger with an explanation

Kamawanu has shops in many other locations as well. Check this for a list of locations around Japan.

Kamawanu Shop Locations
Kamawanu Shop Locations

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  • dwayne2d3d

    thank you for such a great great article..
    it was so informative on so many levels…
    once again thank you

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