I’ve been living a lie! Douglas Adams was not the first person to be obsessed with towels. Turns out Tokugawa era (1600-1867) Japanese really knew where their towels were at.
Check out this passage from Susan Hanley’s book on material culture, Everyday Things in Premodern Japan (p. 71-2):
The Japanese also invented a very useful, resource-efficient type of towel, known as the tenugi. … Since the tenugi was just a rectangular piece of cloth, it could be used for everything from a head covering or headband to a towel or a protective cover to keep dirt and flies off food. Used wet, it served as a washcloth, and when wrung out, it could be used to dry the body, particularly after a hot bath. It was small enough to tuck in practically anywhere, and thin enough to dry very quickly in the damp Japanese climate. … The tenugi was so popular that it was given as a gift on festive occasions. Though the Western bandana was used in multiple ways, its use was limited by comparison to the tenugi.
Doesn’t that sound like the part in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where Ford Prefect explains the importance of having a towel to Arthur? How different would their adventures have been if they’d had tenugi instead of bulky, terry cloth towels? A question fit for Deep Thought indeed.
Maybe I can get a tenugi in time for Towel Day…