What are Oshibori and their historical background?

By YamamotoChika

What are Oshibori and their historical background?

Have you ever used oshibori before? 

When you visit Japanese restaurants, you will most likely get oshibori, which are moist cloth or paper hand wipes. Perhaps the reason Japan is considered one of the cleanest countries is because of the oshibori culture. Oshibori is crucial to cleanliness, and visitors from different countries sometimes fall in love with this culture.


Japanese use these wipes to clean their hands and around their mouths before and during meals, but did you know that the history of oshibori goes back to as early as the 8th century? Back then, cloth was given to temple visitors to clean their hands before entering. In the 17th to 19th centuries, during the Edo period, this custom extended to restaurants and hotels, and was adopted widely by the elite class, samurais, and eventually the general public. 


To prevent infections, let's use a Oshibori which is wet towel before having meals.


Oshibori are typically handed to guests at restaurants, izakaya, or hotels prior to meals before any other drinks or food gets delivered to the table.

Using them is very simple; you take your oshibori and wipe your hands and fingers. On hot sunny days, you might even find people wiping their entire faces. You can use them while you are enjoying meals as well, and even if you don’t get them at first, most establishments will bring them when you ask. Even fast food chains like KFC have oshibori available within the store.

Oshibori can be either cloth or paper wrapped in plastic bags, which are usually disposed of. They're always kept sanitized. Some facilities will keep the oshibori cold in the summer and warm in the winter to make sure they are in the best condition as part of omotenashi (hospitality to the guest) culture.

Even places like Green Cars, the first-class cars in Japanese trains, and major airlines like JAL or ANA provide oshibori as for refreshment.

When you’re done using an oshibori, leave it on the table. If you need another, ask the staff and they will bring it for you. They will not charge you for the use of oshibori

Though Japanese oshibori customs are something you will likely encounter when you visit Japan, a lot of people don’t realize their historical background or recognize the efforts facilities put in to use them to welcome you.