It is with great pleasure that Fundoshi 4 All welcomes our reader Tim as our first ever guest columnist! Tim's experiences with trial-and-error probably mirror most of ours -- unless of course we were born Japanese and taught to wear fundoshi as a matter of course, like being taught to tie your shoes.
What was it that brought me to this place? For me, it was many things, but the most two salient are: A lifetime of appreciation for Japanese culture, and an upcoming summer. I’d been going commando for the better part of a decade, I just couldn’t see the point in spending money on underwear, it was part of who I was, and something of a running joke with my in-laws and friends, who would occasionally make references to ‘No Pants Pedro’. But summer is not kind to the free-balling commando, and chafing is the unpleasant pay off for that breezy freedom. With another hot summer approaching, in addition to plans for extensive tattooing in the thigh and buttock regions, I knew that things had to change.
As mentioned, I’ve had a lifelong appreciation for Japanese culture, and when visiting Japan for my honeymoon, I took to wearing the hotel-provided yukata like a duck to water. There was something about traditional Japanese clothes which appealed to me, and in my research into irezumi traditional Japanese tattooing, I had encountered several pictures of Japanese men wearing a kind of roped-like thong. It seemed an ideal garment not only for underwear, but also for wearing during future tattoo sessions, so I went to Google, typed ‘traditional Japanese underwear’, and hit enter.
moreIt wasn’t long before I had found photos and entries about fundoshi, stating that the traditional rokushaku fundoshi was a piece of material two meters long, and that gave me enough raw information to go out and purchase some material... Being ‘slightly larger’ than the average Japanese, I found that two meters wasn’t quite long enough (although enough for an etchū-style fundoshi, but more on that later), so I knotted the material together to create two four meter lengths, and what I shall refer to as the fundoshi+. This was enough for me to master the techniques of tying the fundoshi, and give me a first experience with the garment. Initial differences I noticed compared to Western underwear, was the feeling of satisfaction in having created the garment myself, and the constant awareness of the garment brought a sense of security rather than discomfort.
On a comfort level, wearing the fundoshi+ under clothing was comfortable, but not exactly discrete (given that there were essentially two ‘belts’) and I must admit that I also noticed that sitting on the floor/hard surfaces was less comfortable (after all, it was essentially sitting on a rope) but not one to be beaten, I purchased more material, this time at three meter length and created some new rokushaku fundoshi. This immediately reduced the bulking issue considerably, and I knew I was onto a winner, even though it was still not totally discrete for wearing with close-fitting pants, such as suit pants. During this time, I was still researching, and this was when I found the Fundoshi4all blog. This showed me that there was more to the fundoshi than just pure white rokushaku fundoshi, and many variations on how to tie the garment, such as keeping the material flat, rather than twisting it into a rope while putting it on, as a means of making the fundoshi not only flatter and more comfortable to sit on, but also more discrete under clothing.
As mentioned, summer was coming up, and I wanted to try fundoshi as swimwear, and although I wouldn’t mind participating in Japan's traditional winter "Naked Festivals" in a white fundoshi, I didn’t think that a see-through white fundoshi would go down so well with my mother in-law, so it meant obtaining some red material... The akafun has not only become my staple swimwear, but has also been worn at other times as well. On a hot day recently, I sat in the garden reading while wearing the akafun, and was totally comfortable, and while wearing Speedos underneath pants might not be overly comfortable, and equally, would be considered ‘the wrong thing to wear’, the only thing distinguishing the akafun from the other fundoshi is the color, no difference in thickness or texture… As a blind man would not know the difference, as far as I’m concerned, there is no difference, so personally, I consider the akafun wearable at any time, either as a different color option, or simply in preparedness for should one swim later in the day, thus saving the time taken to don swimwear.
Something else I have noticed in my fundoshi research is the sexualization of the garment, but on a personal level, I can honestly say I simply view it as a garment, not as a fetish item. Others may have their own feelings on the subject, and of course, that is their prerogative. Something I have noticed about ‘the feeling’ wearing a fundoshi creates, I can only liken to coming out of the barbers after a good haircut, and feeling more alert, more put together, more centered.
Having acquired enough material for a fresh rokushaku fundoshi every day, I realized that the material from my fundoshi+ was going unused and taking up space in my airing cupboard, so I decided to experiment. Separating the two pieces of material back into the original two meter lengths, I found that by tying the fabric in the same manner as a rokushaku fundoshi, I was left with an eight inch front apron in a style more reminiscent of the etchū fundoshi. As mentioned in other articles on the blog, I can confirm that wearing an etchū fundoshi underneath suit pants really is the most comfortable, lightweight option available, and totally discrete. I’m not sure if I would trust one for swimming in mixed company, but for wearing under suit pants, it is totally discrete with no bunching whatsoever, and I can honestly say that I would not consider wearing any other kind of underwear in future other than the etchū and rokushaku fundoshi. In summary, these are my recommendations for fundoshi wearers:
Everyday wear (cargo shorts/jeans etc): ‘Flat-folded’ rokushaku fundoshi
Office wear (suit pants etc): Etchū fundoshi
Swimwear: ‘Rope-folded’ rokushaku red fundoshi aka akafun
We couldn't agree with Tim more that etchū fundoshi are cool, comfortable, and barely-there in a way even the thinnest boxer shorts could only dream of! Thank you Tim for taking the time to share your observations and experiences -- it's great to know that somewhere, maybe at a crowded subway terminal or in line for movie tickets, someone else is wearing fundoshi; feeling confident and cool, wrapped up in an ancient undergarment with a wholly modern look. We took the liberty of adding a few pictures and links to Tim's article, just for fun.