Fundoshi is the traditional Japanese loincloth worn by sumo-tori and by men on special occasions, such as in Japanese festivals (matsuri). It used to be the principal form of Japanese undergarment until World War II. Nowadays, it has been entirely replaced by modern Western underwear.


Fundoshi and happi

Types of fundoshi

There are several styles of fundoshi:
  • Rokushaku fundoshi (六尺褌)
  • Mokko fundoshi (もっこ褌, lit. "earth-basket loincloth")
  • Etchū fundoshi (越中褌)
Fundoshi (also shitaobi 下帯, "waist cloth") consist of a long strip of cloth fastened around the waist, passed between the legs, and tucked in or tied at the back. Early fundoshi were made of linen, but from the 16th-century cotton became more common. The wealthier favoured loincloths made of silk, although plain silk is not suitable. Fundoshi were worn by labourers, by samurai under their armour, by foot soldiers and until recently by children as traditional swimsuits.

Fundoshi patterns

Types of fundoshi

The rokushaku fundoshi was the most common type, measuring six shaku (尺, a unit of length, with one shaku equal to one foot, or around 34 cm) in length and one shaku in width. It is made of a single piece of cloth and is often twisted to create a thong effect at the back. The mokko fundoshi has with both ends of the cloth sewn over the waistband, which is then tied at one side. It was used by workers in the Edo era. Etchū fundoshi originated in the old Etchū Province (modern-day Toyama Prefecture) and measured only three shaku in length, but have one end of the central cloth section folded over and sewn to accommodate a string waistband. It used to be the most popular fundoshi in the early 20th century.

There are many other subtypes and local variations of fundoshi. One of the more famous is the mawashi (廻し), the belt that rikishi (力士, lit. "strong man", sumo wrestler) wear during training or in competition.


Knotting the fundoshi (Image credit)

Fundoshi in Japanese proverbs

The former importance of fundoshi in daily life is best expressed by the plethora of related proverbs. Find a few of them below.
  • 「褌を締めてかかる」 Fundoshi wo shimete kakaru: "Rolling up your sleeve" or "Brace yourself (for something)".
  • 「人の褌で相撲を取る」 Hito no fundoshi de sumo wo toru: "Take risks with other people's money".
  • 「帯に短し襷に長し褌には丁度良い」 Obi ni mijikashi tasukini nagashi fundoshi ni ha chodo yoi: "Too much for one and not enough for two, but just enough for a fundoshi."