Why Do So Many People Carry a Handkerchief in Japan?

  • To some this may seem old-fashioned, but the technologically most advanced country is a huge fan of these: handkerchieves! In Japanese called hankachi (ハンカチ) they are an essential accessory in everyone’s pocket or bag. Some might wonder, how they are being used. It is also an extremely popular gift and a souvenir. So how do people in Japan make use of such a vintage item, women and men alike? And why is it a no go, to blow one’s nose with it?

    Handkerchieves (or small hand towels) can be made of cotton, synthetic fabric silk or linen. The ones used among Japanese during daily life is usually cotton, though of course there are different tastes among different people. The main purpose would be to dry your hands, i.e. after having washed your hands after having used the bathroom, that is why cotton works best. It can also be used for emergencies, when liquids have been spilled, especially on clothes.

    Though it is intended for personal hygiene purposes such as wiping one’s hands or face, in Japan it is considered or unhygienic to blow the nose and reuse it, because handkerchieves are stored in a pocket or a purse after being used.

    Men make use of handkerchiefs when sweating, of course women can do that too, and there is no shame in wiping sweat off your forehead, temple or neck. On the contrary, it is rude to let your sweat drop down without taking care of it, except when you are in the gym and working out.

    Handkerchieves are popular gifts, because they can be cheap, some have beautiful patterns, and there is somehow a romantic idea behind it: since it can be used on a daily basis, it is a very private item. However, this was not always the way. In old times presenting a handkerchief in Japan was a sign of separation, since waving a handkerchief had the symbolic meaning of saying goodbye. But today, this belief has almost completely vanished.

    Prices of handkerchief are varying: stating from 108¥ in 100¥-stores, prices can go up to 3000¥ and more, if from famous brands or made of exclusive materials and having elaborate patterns.