People | 20 QUESTIONS

Masana Izawa: The 'poop soil master' is dumping it outdoors

by Ayako Nakano

Staff Writer

Name: Masana Izawa
Age: 69
Nationality: Japanese
Occupation: Fundoshi (Poop soil master)
Likes: Turning conversation topics to poop-related stuff
Dislikes: Authority, power, obsequiousness


1. What exactly is your occupation?Fundoshi” usually means “loincloth,” but I use different kanji in a wordplay for it to mean “poop soil master.” I’m an activist trying to change people’s way of thinking, using the symbolism of poop.

I was a fungi photographer when I started, but I’m now a professional fundoshi. I even write that on my tax papers.

2. What led you to such an unusual career? As a conservationist in the 1970s, I was fascinated by fungi and how they create fertile soil by feeding on dead leaves and animals, and dung. Then, in 1973, I came across a citizens’ group protesting the construction of a night soil disposal plant in its neighborhood, and it got me thinking: Why aren’t people taking responsibility for their own waste? Do people even know or care about how their waste gets processed after they flush it down the toilet? And is our feces really waste?

After some thought, I decided to start defecating outdoors to be a part of nature’s cycle — I dig a hole in the ground and cover it up afterward.

3. But there’s more to your 45 years of daily outdoor-defecating than just conservation isn’t there? Definitely. I call it fundoshisō (a combination of “fundo” and “shisō,” meaning thought). Outdoor-defecating is a symbolic introduction to bigger issues. Humans are so egocentric, they can’t see that “worthless and dirty” poop is a treat for other living creatures.

4. Can you explain the fundoshisō philosophy? It’s a fundamental idea: “To eat is to take life, but it’s also our right. To poop is a responsibility we need to be aware of. To poop outdoors is a way of giving back life.” The world could be a better place if humans did away with their arrogance. I want people to think outside the box and question their stereotypes.

5. But what about hygiene? Hygiene is to keep humans healthy. But a human-centered standpoint has led to obsession with sterilization and bacteria-killing.

6. Does living in Ibaraki Prefecture make outdoor-voiding easier than, say, in Tokyo? It’s tricker in Tokyo for sure, but I’ve found inconspicuous spots over the years. There are a few good spots — though I once had a close encounter with a homeless man while in the act.

7. You’ve done this around 15,000 times, now — you never use a lavatory? I’ve “toilet-pooped” 14 times this century. Certain situations call for toilets.

8. Your 2017 book “Happa Noguso wo Hajimeyo” (“Let’s Start Outdoor-Defecating With Leaves”) includes an extensive list of foliage suitable for wiping your bottom. Which would you most recommend? Paulownia, crimson glory vine, silver poplar, lamb’s ear, silverleaf sunflower, to name a few. There are so many soft, absorbent leaves out there.

9. What’s wrong with toilet paper? I switched to leaves after discovering that some paper I’d buried months before hadn’t decomposed in the soil.

10. Have more people become interested in your lifework? I believe so. After 13 years as a professional fundoshi, I was approached for an interview to be in a journal published by the Shin Buddhism Otani-ha group.

11. Are you religious? No, but fundoshisō and Buddhism seem to go well together. After all, the exhilaration felt through gedatsu (deliverance and liberation) and evacuating the bowel are the same.

12. You don’t have a mobile phone or the internet at home, why? I want to cherish my senses and use my body, and be prepared for when true survival skills are required. Overreliance on electricity is hampering.

13. Doesn’t that make life inconvenient? Convenience comes with sacrifices. Knowing what’s enough is important. My outdoor-defecating is a precious act, like praying, and the time and energy that goes into it is never wasted.

14. Are you ever discouraged by criticism? I’m not seeking to gain recognition, and criticism helps me develop my argument further, so no.

15. Have you always been so defiant? As a junior high school student, I hated listening to adults talk about their corrupt society like nothing was wrong. I knew I didn’t want to be like them.

16. Who do you have immense respect for? The late mycologist Rokuya Imazeki (1904-94). He dictated my life by introducing me to the world of fungi and opening the doors to a new career.

17. What luxury would you take to a deserted island? Honey candy, because the aftereffects of my tongue cancer treatment make it hard for me to salivate.

18. What is your latest interest? Exploring the idea of a happy death.

19. How do you spend your days off? I have no concept of a day off. You could say I have every day off to spend as I wish.

20. What does this world need more of? Symbiosis with nature and change toward a more circular economy.