09 January 2010
Fundoshi in Japanese Tradition
For a surprisingly modern-looking garment when fully tied, the fundoshi is surprisingly ancient. Fundoshi are first mentioned in the Nihongi, Japan's second-oldest book, written around 720 A.D.
For over 1,000 years, one thing that linked males of every class level in Japan was fundoshi, from farmers and laborers up to the samurai class. For many, the fundoshi constituted their entire outfit. Fundoshi represented dignity and purity -- the garb of ascetics and monks, fishermen and royalty. Shame was not a concept associated with fundoshi. It was entirely accepted to strip down to your fundoshi in hot weather, or to swim, or for any number of activities.
Western explorers in Japan introduced the idea of shame associated with nakedness where fundoshi were concerned. By the end of World War II, fundoshi were not only being replaced by Western-style briefs, but were also seen as somewhat of a holdover from martial Japan -- a symbol of military aggression, an anachronism.
Yet fundoshi are still worn proudly during yearly festivals, especially the Hadaka Matsuri. These are events of intense physicality and beauty, rooted in Shintoism, conferring luck onto participants and often involving mass spectacles of fundoshi-clad men competing for luck and for the sake of camaraderie.