I was in Japan recently and am trying to remember the name for a small towel the Japanese may use to wipe the sweat off their faces in the summer. I was hoping to buy one for myself in the U.S.

Do these towels have a name in Japanese? If so, what would be the transliteration in English?

  • Probably it's ミニタオル(mini-towel) or ハンドタオル(hand-towel)... image 1 image 2
    – chocolate
    Sep 30, 2016 at 15:03

2 Answers 2


I am not sure which one you are talking about, but hope it is one of these below. I doubt it is either of the first two, but 手拭い seems too long for what you describe as "a small towel".

  • タオル 'towel'
  • ハンカチ 'handkerchief'
  • 手拭い (tenugui) Similar to handkerchief, but longer
  • 脂取り紙 (aburatori-gami) piece of paper-like tissue that absorbs oil from the surface of the face.
  • おしぼり A small towel that is slightly wet and sterilized with vapor. Served at restaurants or bars before meal
  • 1
    My vote goes to ハンカチ, as in ハンカチ王子. Jul 19, 2011 at 13:53
  • @AmV Good that you found it in the list. Actually, ハンカチ is the transliteration of handkerchief, not the other way around. Does ハンカチ sound that different from handkerchief to the native ears? :)
    – user458
    Jul 20, 2011 at 5:14

About those towels... they're awesome, but they seem to be getting harder to find in Japan these days. The banks used to give them away in the summer months, and martial arts dojos still seem to have a source. There used to be a teeny tiny shop near Ebisu station where they sold all sorts of towels, and had the nice terrycloth mid-size ones. It's long gone now unfortunately. You can often find terrycloth handkerchief size items in the department stores during the summer months, or if you go to an onsen and stay in a pretty nice place you may be able to accidentally leave with a few when you check out. Good luck. Oh... generally タオル or sometimes 日本手ぬぐい. But I think that 日本手ぬぐい usually refers to the tighter weave (not terrycloth) cotton cloth you wear under your headgear in kendo, or what the sushi chefs sometimes roll up and tie around their head.

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