13 September 2010

Secret Loincloth

"What is it all about?" I occasionally wonder. To the vast majority of the public, loincloths are an anachronism, a marker of savagery, or a joke. A fundoshi in public would be scandalous at the least, and possibly indecent depending on local standards. The automatic assumption, outside Japan (where a fundoshi is far from improper -- in fact it is often required ceremonial wear), would be that the wearer was gay. The fetishization of a utilitarian garment in the West has led to a stodgy orthodoxy (male swimmers blur their hips, buttocks, and thighs with baggier and baggier board shorts), a puerile morality that judges/snickers first and asks later -- if ever, and a stifling of creativity in dress. Yet at the same time these public dynamics are at work, there is an urge in private to be partially or completely naked; to be revealed, either to just ourselves or to our sexual partners.

When I wear fundoshi, it is either during my time at home with my girlfriend, or underneath my street clothes. Honestly, I've grown to crave the snug support of a well-tied fundoshi, even the aspects of it that seemed uncomfortable when I was a novice: the twisted rope between my buttocks, for example. It feels good, it turns my partner on, and that in turn turns me on.

I think of the fundoshi somewhat like I think of marijuana legalization. Entire social orders have grown up around marijuana consumption. It's secretive nature has been part of its allure. Just consider the part it played in the cultural, musical, political, and sexual upheavals of the 1960s. Fundoshi, in a similar way, is largely underground. Fundoshi-wearers often know of eachother only furtively, through photographs online where faces have been cropped out. This facelessness emboldens the wearer to strike more and more provocative poses. But if the fundoshi were "legalized" -- that is if I felt comfortable strolling down the street or laying in the sun at a public beach, in only my fundoshi -- much of this mystique and intrigue would fall away. The highly sexualized fetish-object that the fundoshi is in the West would transmute into the more acceptable, common, attitude towards a scantily-clad loincloth wearer in Japan. Certainly, some giggles are still elicited, and in fact fetish-based communities surrounding the fundoshi have existed all over Japan for centuries. Neither total acceptance nor total moral rejection of the fundoshi -- of the bared male form -- is desirable. Without an element of secrecy, of voyeuristic lust, of misbehavior; the fundoshi is just underwear.

In the Shinto traditions, the fundoshi is elevated by ceremony to take on the attributes of purity, of clarity and focus. It is the first layer worn by the warrior; it is worn by everyone from peasant to prince. It subdues the male force (by concealing the penis) and yet draws attention to the maleness of the wearer.

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