27 February 2010
Fundoshi: half-on, half-off
For anyone whose spent any time wearing (or learning how to wear) fundoshi, it quickly becomes obvious that one of the most rewarding parts is putting your fundoshi on. What starts as a strip of basic, rectangular cloth transforms into a sensuous arrangement of twists and curves, a pouch and a belly-band that hug and define the body, accentuating certain raw qualities of the anatomy; underlining masculinity. The fundoshi does not deny what is underneath it -- it's not a disguise, it's not fawningly chaste nor is it vulgar. If anything, the fundoshi, with its thousand-plus year history and traditional connection to Shinto, is primarily a modest garment. It is the clothing of ascetics and monks, the single dignified strip of fabric that humility and voluntary poverty requires. It is not a marker of the female (or male) gaze as much as it is its wearer's acceptance of modesty and his praise for elegant simplicity.
Outside of Shinto tradition, however, even outside of the bounds of the Japanese island kingdom, fundoshi takes on another, very sexualized significance. It's visual similarities to bikinis, thongs, and diapers -- and it's easy adaptibility to bondage/slavery scenarios -- creates fuel for all sorts of fetishistic and lustful associations. The Japanese practice of Kinbaku (sometimes called Shibari in the West -- although Kinbaku refers to ornately trussing up the body rather than just decorative knotwork) can often occur alongside fundoshi-wearing. There is a continuum from the traditional to the sensual, rather than the compartmentalization that occurs in the West. Western European cultures are one of the few that never developed the loincloth as a basic item of daily dress -- the colder climate evolved pants as a logical response instead -- and thus anything loincloth-like plays into our fantasies of savagery, dominance, and sexual access. Western underwear nervously took its time transforming from union suits and boxer shorts to smaller and smaller, snugger (and less pubic/more hidden) fashions.
Even underwear catalogs are often mailed wrapped in brown paper. Body consciousness, in a nation founded by Puritans, arose parallel with body shame. To admit your innate maleness or femaleness through dress was (is) sternly discouraged. To this day, we have sanctions against miniskirts at work or school, boxer-short waistbands showing above pants, thongs at public beaches, etc. Nudity is not even contemplated in most states.
Awareness of fundoshi in America (where any awareness even exists) is relegated to fetish. The American mind is nearly incapable of separating it from sexuality.
If putting the fundoshi on rewards with the cool, soft feel of fabric lightly dragged over your skin, or the feelings of tightening and containment, or the payoff in the mirror when you are successfully outlined in your freshly-fitted fundoshi; taking the fundoshi off, loosening the twisted fabric, and feeling it fall away is every bit as delightful and full of sensual thrill.
Becoming familiar with fundoshi, in some ways, helps arrest the pattern of sexualizing everything that displays the body. Our pet philosophy aside, the fundoshi does allow for some red-hot foreplay options, smutty fantasies, and blood-quickening ogling opportunities -- Fundoshi 4 All is in fact dedicated to these pursuits! But we have some higher, educational goals too: the banishment of shame, the return to simpler and less commercial times, reverence for the handmade. We'll try not to soapbox too much, but that agenda exists. We're very aware that most of you come here for the pictures though. So enjoy. We deeply appreciate your visiting and following this blog.