An oshibori (おしぼり or お絞り?) or hot towel in English is a wet hand towel offered to customers in places such as restaurants or bars in Japan and in Japanese restaurants worldwide. Oshibori are used to clean one's hands before eating, and have long been a common sight in Japan. Cold oshibori are used in summer, and hot oshibori in winter. In mah-jong parlors, the words atsushibo and tsumeshibo, from the Japanese words atsui (熱い?), hot, and tsumetai (冷たい?), cold, are sometimes used to refer to hot and cold oshibori respectively.
Derivation of word
The word oshibori comes from the Japanese word shiboru (絞る?), meaning "to wring", with the polite prefix o, which is added to several types of nouns, including many nouns related to washing or food. In Japanese script, the word oshibori is normally written in hiragana (おしぼり), seldom using kanji (お絞り or 御絞り).
A typical oshibori, made of cloth, is dampened with water and wrung. It is then placed on the dining table for customers to wipe their hands before or during the meal. The oshibori is often rolled or folded and given to the customer on some kind of tray. Even if a tray is not used, it is usually rolled up into a long, thin shape, although this is not necessarily the case with oshibori provided with, say, bentō lunch boxes.
Many establishments also give out towels made of non-woven cloth or paper, which are generally used once and then disposed of. Paper ones sometimes contain a sterilizing agent such as alcohol or stabilized chlorine dioxide. Paper oshibori, unlike cloth oshibori, can be folded and put into a very thin plastic wrapping, for inclusion with packaged products such as bentō lunch boxes in convenience stores.
Hot and cold oshibori
An oshibori can be moistened with hot water at an appropriate temperature or steam to make a hot oshibori, or placed damp into a refrigerator to make a cold oshibori suitable for use in summer. Sometimes in Europe it is more commonly known as Hot Towel. Restaurants usually use an electric appliance such as a heating cabinet or refrigerator for this. The heated towel used in barber's shops to moisturize the skin or beard and make it easier to shave can also be thought of as a type of oshibori.
As many establishments use oshibori in large quantities, they often do not prepare them in the store, but instead employ a rental service which launders them, rolls them into the typical cylindrical shape, and delivers them already damp. These rental service companies services frequently wrap each oshibori individually in a clear, lightweight plastic seal (polyethylene film), which can be easily broken and removed by the customer before using.
Now many places offer a disposable form of oshibori. These towels are individually wrapped and pre-moistened and even come in different scents.
Now some beauty salons and dental clinics prefer to use a standalone oshibori dispenser, with which a freshly-made towel is manufactured at the client's request. In this case, the towels are often made of a nonwoven fiber.
Around the world
Oshibori is called "hot towel" in the United States.