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Fundoshi (褌?) is the traditional Japanese undergarment for adult males, made from a length of cotton. Before World War II, the fundoshi was the main form of underwear for Japanese adult males. However it fell out of use quickly after the war with the introduction of new underwear to the Japanese market, such as briefs and trunks.
The fundoshi is first mentioned in the classic Japanese history text the Nihongi. They are also depicted on clay figures, haniwa. The fundoshi was the underwear of choice of every Japanese adult male, rich or poor, high or low status, until after the Second World War, when Americanization popularized elasticized underpants. There are several types of fundoshi, including rokushaku, kuroneko, mokko and etchū.
The fundoshi comes in several basic styles. The most relaxed type consists in a strip of cloth, wound around the hips, secured at the small of the back by knotting or twisting, with the excess brought forward between the legs, and tucked through the cloth belt in front to hang as an apron.
The second style, for people who are active, is formed when the cloth is wound around the hips so that there is an excess of apron, which is brought back again between the legs and twisted around the belt-cloth in back. The rokushaku fundoshi is a length of cloth, the dimensions being one shaku (34 cm / 14 inches) wide and six shaku (2.3 m / 92 to 96 inches) long; roku is Japanese for six, hence roku-shaku. The fundoshi is often twisted to create a thong effect at the back. It was also the standard male bathing suit. Male children learning to swim during the early 1960s were often told to wear this kind of fundoshi because a boy in trouble could be easily lifted out of the water by the back cloth of his fundoshi.
The third style, called Etchū fundoshi, which originated in the vicinity of Toyama Prefecture, is a long rectangle of cloth with tapes at one narrow end. Etchū fundoshi is a length of cloth, however it has a strip of material at the waist to form a fastening or string. The dimensions are 14 inches width by about 40 inches length, and it is tied with the material strip in front of the body. One ties the tapes around the hips, with the cloth at the small of the back, and then pulls the cloth between the legs and through the belt, letting the remainder hang as an apron. Such fundoshi were issued to Japanese troops in World War II, and often were the sole garb of Allied POWs in tropic areas.
The best material for this is a white linen or white cotton. Silk crepe may be used according to one's taste, but plain silk is not suitable. In winter it may be lined with similar material, but in other seasons it is always single. Both ends (or front and back) are hemmed to put cords through. One of the cords forms a loop to suspend the front end from the neck, and the other secures the back end by being tied in the front. The length of the fundoshi is about 5 feet (5 shaku).
There are many other varieties of fundoshi as there are many variations on the principle of a loincloth. For example, the mokko-fundoshi (literally "earth-basket loincloth" because it looks like the traditional baskets used in construction), is made like the Etchu-fundoshi but without a front apron; the cloth is secured to the belt to make a bikini effect. The kuro-neko fundoshi (literally "black cat fundoshi") is like the mokko-fundoshi except that the portion that passes from front to back is tailored to create a thong effect. Men do not however wear fundoshi as everyday clothing. That would be seen as eccentric. Fundoshi are mainly worn on specific, traditional occasions, particularly when participating in a Hadaka Matsuri. During February nearly 10,000 men will gather at Saidaiji Temple in Okayama wearing only fundoshi to participate in the festival in hopes of gaining luck for the entire year.
The samurai (military elite) wore it as underwear with armor, combined with a shitagi shirt. Sumo wrestlers also wear a form of this garment, mawashi. Fundoshi are often worn with a hanten or happi (a short cotton jacket with straight sleeves) during summer festivals by men who carry mikoshi (portable shrines) in Shinto processions. Outside Japan it is perhaps best known from the drumming groups Ondekoza and Kodo, who appear dressed in only a white fundoshi and a head band. Fundoshi are sometimes used as traditional swimsuits. In some high schools, boys swim wearing fundoshi. The present Crown Prince of Japan also swam in fundoshi in his childhood. In the pools and beaches of Japan, fundoshi-wearing swimmers occasionally can be seen.
In late 2008 the Japanese firm, Wacoal, began marketing fundoshi for women and have had greater than expected sales. The loincloths for women come in seven different colors and two designs—plain and chequered. Prices are about 1,260 yen ($13).
The typically masculine Japanese idiom fundoshi o shimete kakaru (tighten your loincloth) means the same as the English phrase "roll up your sleeves" — in other words, get ready for some hard work.
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