Why is that Japanese religiously use a towel to wipe their hands before meals. Can anyone answer this question with a simple explanation. I think so, the oshibori is a simple invention to clean your hands. But the convenience of replacing the household water bowl found in many rural homes with a wet towel is more modern than you think. It became customary to wash your hands before any meal for purification, and in the west we borrowed this habit kind of.
The oshibori as what we know it, was adapted to accommodate the growing need for a disposable hand towels in restaurants. It became a status thing and still is. If the oshibori is rented it is less desirable and less prestigious than the hand washed towel, prepared at home or in the restaurant. You would know the difference and certainly if you have ever eaten Kaiseki, you would see the difference.
Water was and is used to symbolize the idea of purification and in many cases the hands are a symbol of life being the root of our very being. In everyday life Japanese the use of hand utensils is common and a wooden hashi would and could get dirty very easily. The woods used are soft and damage from sweat and dirt. In addition, many of the foods would be handled by an individuals hands. So you can easily understand that before eating, you need to clean your hands.