15 December 2011

Fundoshi Wood

In the book Mishima's Sword: Travels In Search Of A Samurai Legend, author Christopher Ross goes to Japan to try to find the sword used to behead celebrated novelist/revolutionary Yukio Mishima in 1970. Tracking Mishima's fascination with his own national warrior culture, bodybuilding, and the mostly hidden world of 1960s gay Japan, Ross goes to a fundoshi bar where he is offered the choice between a red or a white fundoshi. He selects white and is wrapped in it by the doorman. He enters the bar, where everyone is wearing only fundoshi, and finds one of Mishima's associates to talk with. In the conversation, he discerns that the color of the fundoshi indicates who is a "top" and who is a "bottom." Although he unwittingly chose white (and seems, upon reflection, more comfortable with the unintentional designation as a "top"), he isn't there for sex.

Helpfully, Mishima's Sword includes a diagram showing how to tie a fundoshi so readers can place themself in that bar with Ross in a very tactile way if they so choose (and no doubt making their own selection of red or white).

In Japan, themed bars cater to many different lifestyles and fetishes, with fundoshi being only one of them. Certain other bars have fundoshi nights, and outside of private clubs and bars fundoshi's unique distinction as "full dress" means that you might encounter fundoshi being casually worn on the street or on a train. Sake emboldens, so evening revelers may strip down to their traditional wear while out on the town, or street performers might invoke the power of being nearly-nude by wearing only fundoshi. While I wouldn't say it's a daily occurrence, it's certainly not met with America's tendency for knee-jerk puritanical fury.

For fundoshi is pure, by self-definition.

With that understood, what happens in fundoshi is often not pure. Far from it -- even the act of draping the fundoshi cloth over your man-tackle can trigger memories and sense associations of a decidedly impure sort. The fundoshi literally binds up the males essence in a clever knot; in Japan's feudal past, it may have been necessary and desirable to imbue the garment with the authority of purity, and the expectation of chivalry. Much like the semen stored in our balls, the substance is pure but the choices and actions are fraught with a full spectrum of possibilities. It's not black-and-white -- nor is it simply red and white!

In the somewhat simplified world of the internet, sometimes it is red and white. Sometimes the decision is as easy as expressing the warrior spirit or indulging the baser nature. Safesearch "on" or "off." This isn't the simple good-or-evil two-faced coin that we're usually presented with; I would propose that the base nature is pure as well.

Pleasuring yourself, engaging in pleasure with (a) partner(s), voyeuristically enjoying the pleasure of others in snapshots or movies -- this is inherently pure!

Temptation is treated as if it were an evil in and of itself, but I'd rather believe that only choices and actions themselves can be good or bad. Thoughts, feelings, impulses, daydreams, even raging erections and prolonged masturbation sessions that end in "pure essence" splattered all over the place (!) -- these things may not only be pure, they may be necessary!

I think how we treat our base nature is the crux of the issue. Is it some caged beast that we let act out when no one's looking? Then it very well may be a force for destruction. I don't think there is a need to tame it; rather a need to transmute it into something different. Like the alchemists of the dark ages trying to turn soil into gold, we can take that beast for a swim in the refreshing silver river. We can look it in the eye and know its soul, and we can bare our deepest wishes to it -- because we are the same thing, sewn from the same fabric.

There is no borderline between us and our animal nature, but I'd rather not use that as an excuse to behave animalistically; nor to intellectualize my nature. I don't think it's middle ground I'm seeking, because I'd rather roam the whole place. But the thing that makes us what we are -- the reason people seek spiritual answers to the troubles of the physical, tangible world -- is that connecting bridge between the two worlds of lust and compassion. No matter how skinny of a thread it is to start with, it is there and it does unite the two halves.

We coexist together in a society and that's meant reigning in a lot of behaviors. Over the centuries people have taken advantage of this (sent young men to war, burned "witches," manipulated people with fear or greed), and that fake dichotomy between pure and impure is one of their wedges.

Well I didn't mean for this to turn into a philosophical diatribe, but these thoughts do occur to me fleetingly and I just happened to be at a keyboard and in the right state of mind to try to capture them. I also just posted a string of pictures of fundoshi strained by their contents, red white red white red white... got me thinking about opposites, and wondering if they really exist or if they're all constructed and I blindly accept them. There's a lot of unrest in the world -- social, sexual, religious, hunger-based -- and I think those of us fortunate to have things like computer keyboards and free time for niche interests (like fundoshi) should be a little reflective about all this. And not just at Christmas. Although I have to say the gross displays of consumerism I've been witnessing do tend to bring these types of thoughts to the fore for me.

I feel like we don't have to be at war. We don't have to be hungry. We're not that different, any of us. There's enough to go around and there's a way to forge lasting peace; but we're still working out the aggressions of people long dead who've imprinted our societies with these deep, lasting distrusts. The clock is ticking, we've got to figure this out...


Doug Bonner said...

Wow, great writing! I'm a fundoshi-lover living in China and have been reading your blog for a while. You made some great points. And thanks for the heads-up on the fact there are fundoshi bars in Japan. Can't wait to visit them!

Achilles said...

what a perfect post to read on a sunday morning. Intellectual, informative, substantial, and frankly, downright arousing. I will now have to go and tie my fundoshi, though I will look like those last few photos and be rather defiantly escaping the confines on the fabric. Yes, fundoshi gives me a rampant erection. There - I've said it.

John said...

Outstanding and thought-provoking! For males, our semen is literally what we are. Like our ancient forebears we perform the modern, metaphorical equivalents of hunting, gathering, building fire and shelter but all of these activities even today sustain life so that our semen can flow. We're programmed for this cycle of generation and release, sometimes with a fertile female partner, sometimes with another male, sometimes across our own chests, but we have to expel our life force.

Labels don't work. Straight, gay, bi, pansexual. They all apply to me I guess. The fundoshi has helped me transcend all of them and experience my masculinity whether that leads me with my female partner to the bed which becomes an altar for the rite of insemination or whether it leads me to an embrace with a fellow fundoshi-wearing male friend. The synergy felt when touching my buddy in the warm sun, feeling our genitalia touch and grow through the fabric of our fundoshis, and suggesting that he and his female partner make use of our spare room while my partner and I do the same down the hall is a male power generating experience I would not want to suppress for anything.

My fundoshi has helped free me from the labels and conventions forced on us. I'm a better male. I understand the pre-programmed cycle of life. My partner says I ooze male sensuality and loves looking at me wearing only a fundoshi. My buddy has experienced a similar rebirth as a male. We're happier, better adjusted partners for our female partners but can share a unique male bond which is not overtly or purposely sexual but has a sexual component nonetheless.

A simple strip of cloth is tied so that it focuses on the male genitalia. It draws the eye but also acts as a protective frame and by tapping into the ancient past. It allows us to leap over the centuries of contrived behavior and be males, simply offering up our life force, connecting with partners through this mutual need within the cycle of life and allowing one of our most basic needs to be the simple, beautiful, physically and emotionally regenerating thing it is supposed to be.