Saving trees and paper stylishly with Japanese “motta”
One of the little-known customs in Japan is for all people, from small children to the elderly, to carry their own handkerchiefs in their pockets or bags everyday; of course I do. The main reason for it is to wipe our hands after washing in the restroom. Sometimes we wipe our sweat and tears, wipe our skin wet from the rain, or dry up spilled tea. Also, we wrap bento-boxes with our handkerchiefs and cover our laps with them like a napkin. Some people might blow their noses with a handkerchief, but I want to believe it’s rare now in Japan. The handkerchief is a useful and flexible square fabric for the Japanese that is environmentally-friendly; if you had your handkerchief, you wouldn’t need to use a lot of paper towels, which is the standard in the restrooms in many countries.
The history of the handkerchief in Japan goes back to the Meiji period when beautiful elaborated handkerchiefs were imported from the West. At first, people used to have them as luxury fashion items. More and more handkerchiefs were being produced in great variation in color, design and texture and became widely spread throughout Japan. As a result, the handkerchief was integrated into our life as a custom. Similarly, ironing washed and rumpled handkerchiefs became a common custom too. But recently, because ironing can be bothersome, the custom has started to change, people have started to prefer small towels over handkerciefs.
To revive the precious culture of the handkerchiefs and save it from extinction, the “motta”, a brand of the handkerchief, was established in 2013. The origin of its name is a familiar phrase which we were often asked by our mothers before going out. It means, “You keep a handkerchief, don’t you?” (“handkerchief motta?” in Japanese). The company that founded motta is Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten, based in Nara prefecture, which has produced woven linen fabrics since 1716. Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten is known as a long standing company that exhibited their hand-embroidered handkerchiefs using hand-woven linen at the Paris Exposition in 1925.
The motta has succeeded in using the natural texture of linen and cotton as part of its design and made the wrinkles in handkerchiefs tasteful. This means that there is no need to iron. In addition, because of the designs, such as gingham, stripes, and various colors, the motta has been gaining popularity among young people.
You can purchase them online. Also, you can purchase original small gift boxes for motta handkerchiefs. It has been popular in Japan to send handkerchiefs to parents or friends as a small gift.