How To Use Hot Towels (oshibori)

If you’ve ever been in a first class Japanese restaurant, then you were probably handed some hot towels in a basket or plate. In most cases, people don’t know what to do with them and they look to others for some sort of guidance. This is quite normal especially if it’s your first time eating in a Japanese restaurant

Generally, the hot towels handed out in Japanese restaurants are used for cleaning your hands. As you can assume, this tradition originates from Japan where hot towels are handed out before meals to cleanse the hands. The Japanese word Oshibori translates to wet towels. Depending on the season, customers may be handed hot or cold towels in restaurants. 

Oshibori by mdid
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by mdid

Over the years, the Japanese tradition of Oshibori hot towels has moved out of Japan and into various countries around the world. In western restaurants, hot towels may be handed out before and after meals. In addition to cleaning your hands, you can use them to clean your mouth and fingers. However, you should not use the towels to clean beyond these areas because it is considered impolite. For instance, you should not use them to clean your neck or behind your ears. 

Hot wet towels are usually made from cotton and then moistened with water. Some Japanese restaurants add lemon juice to their hot towels for degreasing and fragrance purposes. In recent years, the popularity of pre-moistened towels has drastically increased. You can now find them in plastic packages. Most of them are usually unscented and come in wide range of fragrances. In addition, they sometimes contain other kinds of cleaning solutions such as alcohol. 

Hot Towels by CLDoyle
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by CLDoyle - Hot Towels on Airline

Apart from Japanese restaurants, hot towels are also handed out by airlines(Japanese) and used in various barber shops. In both cases, they still serve the same purpose of cleaning. So the next time you’re handed a hot towel in a Japanese restaurant, you can tell everyone how it’s used and where the tradition came from. 

Video below demonstrating on how to fold and roll your own Oshibori.