'Oshibori' on the Rise: Reinventing the Hand Towel
By Brad Frischkorn
Long appreciated as quintessentially ‘Japanese,’ the practice of distributing ‘oshibori’ (hand towels) at restaurants, hotels, and other service businesses is going increasingly global -- as well as floral.
Credit the innocuously-named Fujinami Towel Service for at least smelling -- and acting on -- a good opportunity. The 49-year-old Tokyo-based company supplies hundreds of clients with traditional hot and cold hand towels, and is now moving to expand its line of scented towels.
“Oshibori is kind of an iconic representation of Japan’s sense of hospitality – warm, clean, and professional,” says Naoki Ootsuka, who manned Fujinami’s booth at the May Beautyworld Japan trade fair. Having good quality scented towels for guests should only encourage them to want to come back.”
Mr. Ootsuka’s assessment is not off the mark. The sense of smell is often considered the most significant memory trigger due to the neurophysiological connections in the brain. Smell is directly linked and intertwined with the limbic system responsible for processing emotions and memory. Smell can thus trigger emotions and memory -- good and bad -- as well as impact mood and behavior, according to experts at The Fifth Sense, an online support network for smell and taste disorder sufferers.
Fujinami Towel subsequently established Oshibori-Japan as a brand name, and set up a bilingual Japanese/English website at www.oshiborijapan.com, effectively reinventing the hand towel for a modern, global market.
Through the new brand, the company markets the Ray-on, a dual-purpose warmer/cooler that prepares hand towels according to desired temperature specs with a push of a button. Priced at 16,200 yen per copy, the machine sells out easily.
At the high end, the company’s regular domestic product/service lineup features a ‘rental towel’ system, whereby cloth hand towels in a variety of colors are delivered, retrieved, and recycled back into use. Dimensions range from 270mm x 270mm to 295mm x 370mm, and come in designer colors fit for showrooms and offices, restaurants, and beauty parlors. Fujinami also sells disposable cotton towels.
The hand towels can be imbued with aroma with the LARME system, which the company also markets. All-natural scents are diffused from concentrated 6mm-thick sheets placed inside towel warmers and activated by the heat. Available aromas include citral (lemon grass), lavender, eucalyptus, grapefruit, bergamot, peppermint, Japanese cypress, and rosemary.
In June, the company introduced its new ‘yuika’ scent, an essential oil native to Japan’s Gifu region.
Liberal amounts of samples of each aroma were given out by staff at the expo. Grateful recipients took their time to try to identify the scent they were experiencing and its authenticity – not always a simple task.
“A mildly alluring, maybe even mysteriously pleasant aroma, can be a powerful memory stimulant,” says Mr. Ootsuka. “Inbound tourism is already at an all-time high in Japan, and we’re still four years from the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.”
Fujinami currently exports to as far away as Russia, and has plans for expanding its toehold in the U.S. The firm already has a network of branches in Vietnam, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and in California.
Read more: http://oshiborijapan.com
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