Tenugui, Furoshiki & Kimono Sleeves

Aug 31st, 2009 | By | Category: Lifestyle

Kimono Sleeve Geisha Kimono sleeves, or tamoto, meaning “by the side of”, were the pockets in traditional Japan that allowed wearers to stash all manner of small items while keeping their hands free.  The unique construction of a kimono from strips of fabric allowed the sleeves to be used in such a manner.  The fabric strip that makes up the sleeve is left open close to the body from the base of the shoulder down but is seamed together on the outer side leaving an opening large enough for the wrist to slip through.    When the arms hang naturally, the sleeves flow gracefully down the side of the body creating roomy pockets where items can be stowed.

Today, Hiroko Takahashi as taken the concept of the traditional kimono sleeve and married it with a modern sensibility to create a line of eco-bags known as Sleeve Bags for her brand HIROCOLEDGE. Building on the the concept of mottenai, or waste not want not, that is a trendy theme in modern Japan, eco-bags are commonly carried and the revival of the furoshiki and tenugui for use as an attractive carry-all is popular in some circles.

The furoshiki is the original eco-bag and is a simple square piece of cloth that the Japanese have been using to wrap and carry items for centuries. Today, polyester and rayon furoshiki bearing either traditional or modern Japanese motifs are fashioned into trendy handbags via simple knotting techniques.

The tenugui is the furoshiki‘s more practical cousin.  Made of cotton, the long rectangular shape can also be used to attractively wrap and carry items.  But the tenugui is more versatile in that it is often employed by men as a fashionable headwear in the hot & humid summer weather, but can also be used as a simple cloth for cleaning around the home.

Kimono Sleeve Bag Educated in Tokyo in the arts, and with two Paris shows under her belt, Ms. Takahashi combines a love of traditional motifs and her design sense to create a modern version of what Japanese women have know about for years – the versatility of the Kimono Sleeve and the practicality of the tenugui.

Ms. Takahashi has created a unique line of tenugui by combining the traditional resist dying technique of Chusen with her modern take on Japanese design through “dots”.  The tenugui can be used in the traditional manner or taken a step further and made into practical eco friendly fashion accessories – Sleeve Bags are lovely pieces of art that are practical too, holding up to 5 kg they can be easily stowed away in a handbag or backpack and utilized as needed in place of plastic bags.

Keeping mottenai and eco-consciousness in mind, Ms. Takahashi reminds us that none of the fabric of the tenugui is cut way or wasted when making a Sleeve Bag and that after years of heavy use, one can continue to use the bag for cleaning around the home and when finally thrown away, the product is biodegradable or burnable and is truly and ecologically friendly product to the end.

I had the pleasure of perusing the special HIROCOLEDGE store located in the atrium of the Tokyo Midtown Galleria this weekend.  Sadly, the store will be closing at the end of the month but Ms. Takahashi’s lovely works including yukata, cushion covers, handbag, wallets and the eco-friendly Sleeve Bags can be purchased on line via the HIROCOLEDGE website.

Kimono Sleeve Bag Flat

Image Credit:  Personal Collection

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  1. These are very nice products. Where can we get them in the US?


  2. Hello Shane,

    This is an interesting article. I like personally like the “furoshiki” and things similar. The other day i was in Kyoto and found a great t-shirt shop in Gion that wrapped it’s goods in furoshiki, which was a nice shopping surprise. The Japan-themed designs were pretty cool too. For those interested, it was directly across from Gion Starbucks. It’s called “Green-T”. green-t.jp


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