Loincloths called fundoshi have been the traditional underwear for Japanese men since ancient times, and though most now wear Western-style undershorts, they still don fundoshi at such events as local street festivals and to engage in sumo.

The typically masculine Japanese idiom fundoshi wo shimete kakaru (get ready by tightening your loincloth) means the same as the English phrase “roll up your sleeves” — in other words, get ready for some hard work. But the male tradition has been broken of late as underwear makers have introduced loincloths especially for women.

One of the products, named Otome no fundoshi (Loincloth for maidens), consists of a long strip of cloth with one string in the same style as men’s fundoshi. But the materials used are decorated with prints of “feminine” motifs such as flowers and red hearts.

Takahiro Nogi, managing director of the underwear-maker Union Nogi Co., which runs an online shop named SURYA, said the product idea came from a 59-year-old female staff member.

“She said, ‘I want to wear a cute fundoshi,’ so we designed a style from soft materials used for panties,” Nogi said.

The Shikoku-based maker then introduced the product on Internet shopping malls such as Rakuten in August last year — and it became a hit. Priced at ¥1,980, it is expensive compared to the maker’s ordinary undershorts, but Nogi said sales are currently around 200 a month.

“Our customers say they find them relaxing and comfortable, and good to wear when they sleep,” Nogi said.

Meanwhile, Une Nana Cool Corp., a company in the major underwear-maker group Wacoal Corp., also brought out a line of fundoshi for women last December. Made of 100-percent cotton in a simple design, by March this year the company says it had posted 5,800 sales.

Complete with a matching bra, the company says its product, named Nanafun Shita, was based on the concept of “freedom and liberation” from constriction. And although it had been targeting young women, those in their 60s are among the keen buyers.

In the interests of journalistic rigor, I tried on both makers’ fundoshi. They were comfortable and relaxing, and it felt as if I wasn’t wearing anything. In fact, I’d be surprised if more women aren’t getting into men’s underwear soon.

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