When you are seated at a restaurant, the staff may often bring you a “hard wrung wet towel”. That’s what it’s called an “O-Shibori”. It is also called “O-Tefuki”. (※The word “shibori” means to squeeze or drain. “Tefuki” is a Japanese word meaning “to wipe one’s hands clean”.) As the name suggests, it is a service provided to customers to clean their hands before and after eating. In recent years, packing “paper hand towels” or “wet tissues” are more commonly provided instead of cloth ones, we guess. The service is now being provided in many restaurants overseas, too.
This service, which provides “O-Shibori” to customers visiting restaurants, is said to be originally from a service culture unique to Japan. Its origins can be traced back to the records of the Heian period (800s). Surprised, are you? In those days, when court nobles invited guests to their homes, they used to bring out wet cloths to wipe off dirt from their hands, feet and clothes. In the Edo period, this culture spread to the common people, and at the entrance of each inn, the innkeeper would prepare a tub of water and a hand towel for the travelers. It was during the Meiji and Taisho periods when restaurants started to serve “O-Shibori” service. Eventually, as restaurants became more diverse and the general public had more opportunities to visit them, it became a common service.
This unique “O-Shibori” service, which is the way to entertain customers, was a great surprise to people from overseas who came to Japan to visit the restaurants. Along with the service of free water and tea, “O-Shibori” service has become famous as a unique Japanese culture. For us Japanese today, it is a culture that already existed when we were born, and a service that we took for granted. However, it is always nice to know that the culture of hospitality, such as this “O-Shibori” service, was created in Japan. What’s even more wonderful is that this hospitality service has been widely accepted and sympathized with by people overseas. We should be truly grateful to our predecessors who have passed on this culture to us. And we also feel that we should pass on these wonderful customs and thoughts to the future generations.
The manners of using “O-Shibori”
As mentioned above, “O-Shibori” is a hospitality service for customers. It should be all about making the customer feel good. However, there are certain manners that should be observed by those who receive hospitality services. It is not limited to the “O-Shibori” service. Just because you are being entertained as a guest doesn’t mean you can behave in an unmannerly manner, right? Therefore, we would like to introduce some manners that you should know at least when using “O-Shibori”. We hope you will take this opportunity to learn more about it.
① Use it to clean your hands
In the olden days, wet hand towels were provided by innkeepers to wipe off dirt on the hands, face, body, and feet. However, the “O-Shibori” served in restaurants today is only for cleaning hands. Sometimes you may see some people wiping their faces as well. Wiping a face with a warm “O-Shibori” is very comfortable… “I” know that, and I can understand that impulse very well… But…It’s probably better not to do that. As a matter of fact, that behavior might be uncomfortable to some of staff members at the store, or even to some other customers. So, it is better to understand that it is basically used to wipe your hands (for wiping hands up to the wrist).
② Not use it to wipe the table clean
It’s not uncommon for people to spill food all over the table during a meal. It is also not uncommon to knock over a cup of beverage. In such a case, you may be tempted to wipe it off with “O-Shibori”, but this should be avoided. Please use the paper napkins and tablecloths that are probably provided. Or ask the store staffs to provide you with a separate wiping cloth to wipe them off.
③ Not put it back in the packaging bag, after use
Some people neatly put the “O-Shibori” back in its packaging bag after use. It is probably because they don’t want the staff to have to directly touch the used ones when cleaning up later. The thoughtfulness itself is really nice, but we’ve heard it’s best not to do that. They say that it becomes quite a hassle to take each of them out of the wrapping bags later. It is enough to fold or roll them up neatly to some extent.
④ Not take it away
There will be no problem if you take away the “paper hand towel” or “wet tissue” that was provided to you but you did not use. However, there are some people who take those towel “O-Shibori” away with them… Please do not take it away. Please note that this is different from the amenity goods provided by hotels.
Have a good time with warm “O-Shibori”
Have you ever tried wiping your face with a warm “O-Shibori”? That will make feel you really good. However, as we mentioned above, it is better to avoid using warm “O-Shibori” that are provided in restaurants. But we really want you to experience that comfortable feeling. So we would like to share with you an easy way to make warm “O-Shibori” at home. Well, you can find a lot of information by searching the web, but this is a good opportunity. ＊(￣▽￣;)＊
Please be careful not to burn yourself when using the way mentioned here to make warm “O-Shibori” and when using them. This is a very serious caution.
① Please prepare a face towel or hand towel (large enough to cover your face).
② Wet it thoroughly with water and wring it out well so that no drips come out.
③ Roll it into a nice stick shape.
④ Wrap it up with heat-resistant plastic wrap to seal it.
⑤ Heat in the microwave for 30～50 seconds.
※ The heating time is only a guide. Overheating will cause the plastic wrap to burst. If not careful, the towel will dry out and burn. Please, please be careful.
⑥ Remove the plastic wrap to avoid burns, and leave it to cool for a while.
⑦ When the temperature reaches your desired level, it’s complete. !(≧▽≦)!
Another way is to use a steamer or a “Seiro (steamer basket)” for making steamed dishes. This way is a little more difficult and the equipment is more large. But, the resulting product is very nice. In fact, there is a “O-Shibori” warmer on the market for the general public. If you are interested, please do a search. Well, whichever way you take, please be careful not to get burned. Steam is really dangerous. Please remember that.