Ecchu Fundoshi (a Japanese loincloth with strings) (越中褌)

Ecchu fundoshi (越中褌) is a kind of fundoshi, a traditional Japanese undergarment for adult males. This is made from a lengthy cloth, about 100 cm long by 34 cm wide, with strips on both sides of the cloth. It is also called Classic Pants or Samurai Pants by some people. T-jitai (T-shaped undergarment for medical use) is also a kind of Ecchu fundoshi. The fundoshi is used not only in a case of misogi or suigyo, a purification ceremony particularly in cold water, but also in some of hadaka matsuri (literally, naked festival in which men are naked except for fundoshi loincloths).

Several theories have been told as regard to the name of this fundoshi: it came from a gift from the medicine distributors from Ecchu Toyama region (they distributed medicines across the country, placing medicines at individual homes, and collecting the money for the used amount when they visit next time); it came from Tadaoki HOSOKAWA because he invented this type of fundoshi and his official title was Ecchu no kami (a govonor of Ecchu Province).

Ecchu fundoshi existed in the Edo period, and they were used by retired samurai (warriors), as well as people who were not engaged in physical labor, such as medical doctors, Shinto priests, Buddhist monks, men of culture and merchants.

But the fundoshi spread in a larger scale from the end of the Meiji period onwards. Ecchu fundoshi became accepted generally, as the Conscription Ordinance was enacted in 1873, the universal conscription was made obligatory in 1889, and the army provided (lent, supplied) it to the conscripted adult males as one of the government-issued supplies and forced them to use it. After getting discharged from the military service, the adult males, mainly the younger ones, they brought back the fundoshi and made it popularized throughout Japan, as its maedare (front apron) concealed the private parts, it felt light and refreshing in use, it was easy to put on and take off, and it was economical becausethe length of cloth it needed was shorter than the one for the previous style of loincloth. Ecchu fundoshi took the place of Rokushaku fundoshi to be the main undergarment for Japanese adult males.

As Ecchu fundoshi was easy to make, it was made at home rather than bought at store up until 1945.

Ecchu fundoshi was the main undergarment for Japanese adult males from the Taisho period up to the end of the Pacific War, and it was its prime as the word of fundoshi directly referred to this type of fundoshi, or even the word of male undergarment meant this fundoshi.

After the war, the number of the fundoshi users decreased considerably, and fundoshi was reduced to something like an out-of-date undergarment that only elderly men wore, under the influence of following circumstances. (1) Western clothes became more popular than ever in Japan; (2) there brought about a tendency to deny the previous culture because of the loss of the war, and, to make the matter worse, the fundoshi was something the military forced them to wear; (3) because of the advancement of industrialization, people moved from agricultural communities to urban areas to change the traditional family form to a nuclear family, and thus it made it hard to continue the culture in which wearing fundoshi was often symbolically celebrated as a rite of passage to be a grown-up man; (4) as women were encouraged to participate in society, household chores were simplified and thus the time for sewing fundoshi at home became limited; (5) manufacturers of fundoshi were practically decreased and it made it hard for people to get fundoshi at stores; and (6) new types of undergarments, such as a brief type and a trunks type of underpants, appeared at low prices, those functional, and were seen fashionable, undergarments became popular mainly among young people. During the changing period, the term 'fundoshi' gradually treated like a vulgar word, and to be replaced with terms such as 'shitaobi' (a belt for underwear) or 'shimekomi' (a thing to tighten up, such as a sumo wrestler's cloth belt).

During the period, fundoshi got some attention for sevel times, featured by the mass media, and each time invoked a temporal boom; but it has never taken root and has never resulted in occupying one of corners of the male undergarment shop.

This can be understood that because the fundoshi is a niche item that the major undergarment manufacturers cannot easily embarked on the production with the following reasons, the undergarment cannot be traded on the major distribution network, and thus it's rare to find them in stores. The seasons are: (1) as Ecchu fundoshi has the ultimate shape in its kind, the design has not changed for a long time, manufacturers can only make a difference in material, color or pattern; (2) as the most typical color for the fundoshi is white, there is extremely limited demand for other colors or patterns, and thus making a difference cannot be paid off; (3) since this is not so difficult to make, as they were made at home in the previous period, the price and profit rate should be low accordingly; and (4) it's hard to expect a large sale that can pay off the capital investment, as it's hard to expect a growing demand in comparison to other undergarments.

While Ecchu fundoshi are only sold at some of the department stores or the kimono shops, in recent years the advent of the Internet has brought about appearance of the companies that are devoted to manufacturing and selling fundoshi using Internet mail order and made it easy to buy them, and so the generation who had known only briefs and trunks seem to be turning into a new buyer group as a result of beginning to regard "fundoshi" as a new undergarment.

It is certain that there exist the fanciers even now who uphold the function and effectiveness that fundoshi bring about in the Japanese climate with high temperature and high humidity since elastic is not used for fundoshi unlike underpants. It can represent 'graciousness' that excludes vanity and completes all the functions with a simple piece of cloth, and it reminds us "the sense of beauty" that the Japanese have cherished since ancient times, and can even exemplify the classic and ideal image of a man in Japan. Because of the unmistakable shape of Ecchu fundoshi, an acknowledgement has implicitly been held by the Japanese that an oriental man who wears a white Ecchu fundoshi must be a Japanese man, and indeed the fundoshi is often used as a symbol that indicates a Japanese man in movies or TV dramas.

Not a few fanciers have an obsession with fundoshi as something that realizes an ideal image of a Japanese man who will exclude vanity and won't swim with the current of the times to seek the essence by wearing fundoshi. This can be guessed from the fact that some of the undergarment makers have manufactured and shipped almost the same volume of Ecchu fundoshi since the post war period till now, and what is more, they are keeping considerably large quantity of sales.

The Army and Ecchu Fundoshi
Ecchu fundoshi became the undergarments that spread all over the country, particularly because they are the undergarments that were provided in the army (as articles supplied at official expense). Even in the case of the Army Cadet School or the Naval Academy which teenage boys entered (the former at thirteen years old, and the latter at seventeen years old), once a boy entered them, the staff directed him to send back all his personal belongings including undergarments to his home in order to exclude "yearning for the outside world", and provided the new student with white Ecchu fundoshi as undergarments. Because it was required to reject each personality and maintain discipline by unifying not only the uniforms but also the undergarments in the armed forces' organization.

(Even now, many countries adopt an unified undergarment in the army.)

The conscription system that was introduced by the Meiji government involved an aim, along with the compulsory education, to standardizethe lifestyle and the language of the nation to make the country rich and strong. It can be guessed that Ecchu fundoshi were adopted as articles supplied at official expense because they were easier to put on and take off and they were economical for being made from less cloth than Rokushaku fundoshi.

Until the end of the war, taking an examination to be drafted was regarded as a proof of becoming an adult man in the society, and people were encouraged to wear fundoshi at the examination (the regulations for physical examination of the army); and thus this helped Ecchu fundoshi to spread across the country, reminding people a 'fundoshi iwai', a rite to wear fundoshi as an adult man.

Article 23, Item 7 of "the regulations for physical examination of the army" (March 26, 1928, Ordinance No. 9 of Ministry of Army/the third year of the Showa era [1928], No.15) is described as follows.

To examine the pubic region, make an examinee take off his fundoshi, make him stand with legs apart and facing the examiner, inspect the groin, the penis, the scrotum, the spermatic cord, the testicles, and the epididymis for their abnormalities, check whether it is hard to pass urine or not and whether there is enuresis or not, and if necessary, make him pass urine and test the properties of the urine.

This shows that examinees of the test were directed to wear fundoshi.

After the war, fundoshi came to be looked upon negatively as an existence just like a symbol of what the former army left behind, from the antipathy toward having been forced to wear it.

Fundoshi Fans
It is said that there are many instances in which the fanciers of Ecchu fundoshi love Ecchu fundoshi because of the unique light feeling of wearing that no other undergarments have. It can be supposed that the support for Ecchu fundoshi gathers because Ecchu fundoshi are the absorbent undergarments which are suitable for the natural features of Japan with the high temperature and high humidity. In addition to those, there are many instances of Ecchu fundoshi used habitually for the health-oriented purpose.

For example, Ecchu fundoshi seem to be utilized by the patients who suffer from atopic dermatitis because a rash can be averted thanks to their looseness and lack of elastic, and by the men who suffer from sterility based on the rumor that because they don't adhere to the body and they breathe well, they are suitable to the natural features of Japan with high temperature and high humidity and good for the body, and that they have the effectiveness to keep the temperature of the testis moderately and increase the number of sperms. What is more, Ecchu fundoshi seem to be used habitually not only by the people who suffer from lumbago such as a rupture because they can be put on and taken off without lifting one leg nor bending down, or because undergarments can be exchanged without taking off shoes nor trousers, but also, for the practical purpose, by the people who work outdoors in the summer because they are absorbent, by the people who are restricted about the place or the time to change their clothes, and also by the people who, while working, are obliged to be seated for a long time.

Ecchu fundoshi is also called T-jitai as a medical undergarment. It is called so because the shape with its strings spread horizontally looks like an alphabet 'T'.

T-jitai are used because, when someone takes care of a patient, they can make it easy to change the undergarments and can relieve the physical load on a patient and a caregiver. Especially, there are many instances where T-jitai are used by a patient who will undergo a laparotomy or a patient who has received an external injury around the legs or hips. As to the quality of the material, medical gauze is used for many of T-jitai. They are sold at hospital stores, pharmacies, drugstores, and baby product stores. Besides, there is another type of T-jitai which resembles Ecchu fundoshi but whose maedare is split into two. There is also a product that has plastic sheets stuck on all the parts except the maedare. This type of T-jitai becomes a shape like Mokko fundoshi (literally, earth-basket loincloth), because after putting on in the same way as Ecchu fundoshi over the gauze or pad that protects the diseased part, the parts of the maedare which is split into two will be wound around to the strings on the both sides.

Classic Pants

There is an opinion that because Mitsukoshi which started up the company's store brand in underwear in 1965 sold Ecchu fundoshi by naming them "Classic Pants" in order to make them create an impression of the high-grade undergarment and for women not to be embarrassed when they buy one on behalf of men, the other department stores and shops have come to call them by the same name. It should be noted that the term "Classic Pants" is a Japanese English word (an English word or phrase coined in Japan), and the nearest word for fundoshi in English is loincloth.

It was reported by the mass media that as fundoshi was featured in a television program "Toribia no izumi" (the fountain of trivia) in 2005, with this as a turning point, at the Mitsukoshi Ginza Store fundoshi sold more than twice the annual sales in two weeks, and the women customers who purchased fundoshi increased prominently. But since the other companies also put fundoshi on the market with the name "Classic Pants", "Classic Pants" is not a registered trademark proper to Mitsukoshi.

Before Mitsukoshi was said to name it a 'Classic Pants' around 1963, the name had already been used in a comic short play by Giant YOSHIDA, a member of Donkey Quartet, a musical band that performed a comic skit.

Ecchu fundoshi were also manufactured and sold with the name "Classic Pants" by Angle-Miyuki Co., Ltd. and Ogran Co., Ltd. as well as Mitsukoshi.

The products by Angle-Miyuki has more diversified distribution network than Mitsukoshi's, and thus the volume of sales is greater than the one by Mitsukoshi. So the pants by Angle-Miyuki can be found more easily in the men's section in major department stores across Japan. The sales of the pants by Angle-Miyuki surpassed the one of Mitsukoshi's (it is estimated that Angle-Miyuki manufactures 10,000 a year, and Mitsukoshi sells 3,000 pants a year).

Angle-Miyuki Co., Ltd. is a company which changed the company name from Angle Co., Ltd. because Angle Co., Ltd. came under the umbrella of the Miyukikeori group because of its financial difficulties in 2002, and its predecessor started business by beginning to manufacture and sell knitted underwear in 1894. Ecchu fundoshi made by the said company had been sold by the name "Classic Pants" since before Mitsukoshi was said to have named them so, and in those days the name "Classic Pants" had already been printed on the wrapping paper, and therefore, there remains question about the opinion that "Classic Pants" is a name which "Mitsukoshi" gave. By the way, the wrapping paper for "Classic Pants" of the said company has been kept the same in its design since the start of the sales. At present, Angle-Miyuki issues a bulk order to manufacture Ecchu fundoshi when it decides the annual production. "Classic Pants" of the said company sometimes differ in fabric according as the manufacturing year even though they are the same product. Because the annual manufacturing number of "Classic Pants" of the said company has held a constant production since the start of sales, that there has been a constant demand for many years can be supposed to be the evidence that new "fundoshi" fanciers have been produced as well as the group of purchasers for replacement.

Besides, Ogran Co., Ltd. sells Ecchu fundoshi with the name "Classic Pants" as well, and the company is featured with low price, using ribbon strings.

In addition to them, there are some companies that also sell fundoshi, not using the name "Classic Pants", but confidently using the exact name, "Fundoshi". Renown Incorporated can be the most notable example, and that sells Ecchu fundoshi wrapped by a cellophane film, on which a large kanji character "褌" (fundoshi) is written in a writing brush font. The said company sells Ecchu fundoshi made from coarse-meshed peculiar gauze texture with ribbon strings mainly in Isetan department stores, and in addition to that, recently through a general clothing chain Shimamura Co., Ltd., it sells Ecchu fundoshi made from broadcloth by a brand name "Daikokubashira" (the main column of the house) using cellophane wrapping sheets on which a large Chinese character "褌" (fundoshi) is written in a writing brush calligraphic style.

As to the present "Classic Pants" made by Mitsukoshi, because the company which had delivered them to Mitsukoshi withdrew from manufacturing them in 2001, As Corporation took over manufacturing them. It is said that many companies rejected this taking over saying, "It will be unprofitable," in the course of business negotiations.

Here is one of the backgrounds of the recent shift from selling the products in various colors, notably in light blue, not to mention the while ones, to selling mainly the patterned products.
It can be gathered that this is the reason on the business policy to raise the selling unit price to increase the net sales by creating added value, but on the other hand, it is feared that the regular customers who would purchase the standard white Ecchu fundoshi begin to keep away from the shops, and that "Classic Pants" is likely to end in a quickly passing craze
In 1997, the Daimaru department store which is near to Tokyo Station once carried out the large-scale exhibition and sale of showy patterned Ecchu fundoshi called "Tokyo Fundoshi Matsuri" (Tokyo fundoshi festival) before Father's Day, but it ended as a past event without taking root.

Some manufacturers have once sold the products to put on with a hook-and-loop fastener instead of the string parts of Ecchu fundoshi in the past, and named them "Samurai Pants" to sell (samurai is a warrior in and before the Edo period). By the way, even now there are some manufacturers which sell normal Ecchu fundoshi by the name "Samurai Pants". Since this name is used by more than one manufacturers, it seems this is not a registered trademark of a specific manufacturer.

Because Ecchu fundoshi on the market have a tag, which shows the brand of the maker, attached to the waist string part, the purchasers of Ecchu fundoshi on the market are supposed not to mistake the front and back sides of Ecchu fundoshi, unlike the users of the home-sewed Ecchu fundoshi (The front of Ecchu fundoshi is the side on which the turn-ups around the edge of the maedare are inside.)

[Original Japanese]