Towels. The Japanese cotton towel, generally a yard long by a foot wide, serves various purposes besides that of drying the hands or the body. Both sexes occasionally employ it as a head-dress. Male artisans and coolies twist and then tie a towel across their foreheads to prevent the perspiration from running down into their eyes, while females of the same class make shift with one as a sort of light hood to cover the head. When doing the room of a morning, the maid of all work will save her hair in this way from the dust, and whole families may be seen thus protected on the occasion of the great annual house-cleaning. Holiday-makers sometimes protect their hair by the same device, and there is actually a special kind entitled hana-mi-denugui, or "flower-viewing towel," worn by festive bands who sally forth to admire the cherry-blossoms, and who—must it be owned?—sacrifice not only to Flora, but to Bacchus, for which reason the wine-cup and the liquor-loving tortoise figure as the motives of ornamentation along with the pink blossom. For observe that towels afford a typical example of the national fondness for decorating even the most trivial articles of daily use. A study of them, as they flutter in the wind under the eaves of the shops devoted to their sale, would result in acquaintance with the whole gamut of popular art motives and symbolism. The vegetable world, the animal world both real and mythical, the stage and the wrestling ring, crests, riddles, Chinese ideographs congratulatory or otherwise characteristic,—all these and various other stores are drawn up on, the same subject being repeated in such a multiplicity of elaborated and abbreviated forms that not a little ingenuity is sometimes needed to discover the artist's intention. The latest source of inspiration has been the Russian war. Naval and military feats of arms may be seen represented or hinted at in every style,—realistic, picturesque, comic, allegorical.
Being thus variously useful as well as ornamental, towels make good presents, and thousands must be annually given away in every town. Inns often have towels of their own, specially inscribed or ornamented, one of which is presented to each departing guest if he has behaved liberally in the matter of "tea-money" to mine host. Shops sometimes do likewise. At New Year time, in particular, there is quite a shower of such civilities. When destined as a gift, the towel is generally folded in a piece of paper, which itself bears a suitable inscription, including the donor's address, with the occasional addition now-a-days of his telephone number; for even in such minutiæ, the Japanese of the lower middle class are up to date. Sometimes, instead of the host giving towels to his guests, the process is reversed. This happens notably in the case of pilgrim bands or clubs, who distribute to every inn at which they alight towels inscribed with the club's name, and perhaps a picture of the sacred mountain which is their goal. Towels are even offered to temples by the pious, appropriately inscribed.