Shibari: The Ancient Art of Japanese Bondage

Posted by Andrew Schroeder on

If you are interested in rope play, you’ve probably heard of Shibari. This became popular hundreds of years ago in Japan. Today, there are many performers and lovers of this Japanese kink. Here, we will take a closer look at Shibari, the history behind it, and various ways you can enjoy it yourself.

What Is Kinbaku?

Kinbaku is a traditional Japanese style of BDSM bondage. The word itself means “tight binding” or “to bind tightly.” The main idea behind Kinbaku is to implement art in bondage. Another common term is Kinbaku-bi, which translates to “the beauty of tight binding.” When it comes to bondage, the whole process involves simple, but artistic patterns to restrain someone.

In Japan, they use thin ropes made of hemp, jute, or linen. Each of these ropes is around seven meters long and 4–6 millimeters in diameter. The reason why they opted for using hemp ropes is similar to using stocks and manacles in Western BDSM. Hemp ropes are used for restraining prisoners, and are a way of demonstrating power.

It is important to understand that Kinbaku is much more than simple mechanical binding. Over the years, it became an important part of the sexual culture, and its beauty is unmistakable. Furthermore, in this type of erotic bondage, aesthetics is maybe even more important than the binding itself. It also involves various rules and patterns that can sometimes be both uncomfortable and asymmetrical.

The importance of aesthetics doesn’t end with beautiful rope patterns — the position of the restrained person is almost equally as important. They put a big focus on the whole journey rather than the destination. The pleasure comes from the process of tying knots, and it’s almost as if the rope is an extension of the rope artist.

What Is Shibari?

The word Shibari translates as “to tie decoratively.” While there is no evidence that shows a precise distinction between Kinbaku and Shibari, many artists claim that these are quite different.

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Hajime Kinoko, a rope artist from Tokyo, says that Shibari is Japanese rope bondage. Kinbaku, on the other hand, is Shibari plus emotions or emotional connection. It is not rare to see rope masters use both terms interchangeably. In the end, it all comes down to preference.

There are three important aspects of Shibari. The first is that it must be beautiful. Beauty is something personal, and what someone finds attractive might not appeal to someone else. Shibari is a way of expressing oneself. Furthermore, it needs to be effective. It is not enough to tie ropes around a person in a creative way. The ropes need to serve a purpose, and that is to restrain. Finally, this art form must be in a Japanese style and follow Japanese aesthetics.

However, it is essential to remember that Shibari is so much more than just a craft project. There needs to be a connection between the two people practicing bondage, and it should be emotional to a degree. It is difficult to describe this, especially when it comes to differences between Shibari and Kinbaku.

Moreover, not all types of bondage fall within the Shibari/Kinbaku categories. Even though you can see some similar techniques in Western bondage, it lacks Japanese aesthetics.

Finally, Shibari doesn’t even have to be erotic. There are many artists who simply enjoy it for its own sake.

Where Did Shibari Come From?

As we previously mentioned, this form of bondage originated in Japan. But how did it come to life and become popular? During the Edo Period, which was between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, people started becoming interested in sexual bondage. Seiu Ito (1882–1961), who is considered to be the father of Kinbaku, started studying Hojōjutsu, a martial art where people would learn how to restrain a prisoner using cords or ropes.

What is interesting is that Hojōjutsu still focused on aesthetics even though its main goal was to restrain a convict. Furthermore, if a person was accused but not yet convicted, they would be restrained, but without using any knots. They did this so the person could avoid the shame of being bound in public.

Seiu Ito clearly drew inspiration from other sources as well, like Kabuki theater and Ukiyo-E woodblock prints. These prints became rather popular during the period, and they also created a perception of Japanese art as related to eroticism. One famous Ukiyo-E shows a woman in ecstasy having bondage-themed intercourse with an octopus. Naturally, with tentacles instead of ropes. You can see how this type of art might have inspired Seiu Ito to turn Hojōjutsu into something more erotic.

Similarly, Kabuki theaters started implementing rope play into their everyday performances. They had to reinvent the whole Hojōjutsu technique to ensure that their actors remained safe while performing. They also added more aesthetic elements so the audience could better see and enjoy the show.

Shibari in the Rest of the World

After the end of World War II, there was an explosion of Japanese culture across the globe. People became more interested in the Land of the Rising Sun, and soon there were magazines in almost every part of the world showing this kinky activity. Provocative photographs eventually replaced illustrations, and so began the “fetish exchange” between the U.S. and Japan.

While Shibari still bears a resemblance to the ancient Japanese torture technique, it is much more personal and erotic. Similarly to other types of BDSM, a sub can achieve almost a meditative state while being restrained. One rope master says that a good Shibari session can be as relaxing and therapeutic as yoga.

Why Is Shibari Popular?

The popularity that Shibari boasts is ever-growing. There is no secret that there is a lot of difference between Eastern and Western cultures, and many enjoy art coming from the other side of the Pacific. In the past couple of decades, video games and anime coming from Japan gained armies of followers all over the world. It came as no surprise that people would want to find out more and discover the kinky side of Japan as well.

Needless to say, the whole aesthetics thing is only helping the popularity and interest in Shibari. People have become more open about their sexuality today, and they are looking for new ways to enjoy their fantasies.

Various types of BDSM have been around for centuries. There is evidence of whipping everywhere from Mesopotamia to the Indian Kama Sutra and ancient Rome. While not every person in Japan enjoys Shibari, there are many fetish bars across the country where you can enjoy it.

Interestingly, while Shibari remains popular all over the world, it is still underground in a way. Similarly to the entire BDSM culture, there are people who are not into it, and many places where it’s still taboo. Japan is no different. There are many practitioners across the country who keep this as a secret to avoid harassment or shame.

So, whether someone enjoys it for the artistic, sexual, or relaxation-focused side of it, there are many beautiful reasons for the one to take part in Shibari.

Shibari as an Art Form

Since the whole process is an art form, it seems obvious why Shibari became so popular. The beautiful ropes and positions the person is in are undoubtedly hot, but Shibari doesn’t have to be sexual. Naturally, there are more than enough cases where it will lead to sex, but for some, this is just an art form.

Being a rope master is not easy, and it takes years of practice. These artists often perform live in front of the audience, and having an opportunity to see something that is so sexy and beautiful at the same time is an opportunity few will miss.

Even though it is an excellent way to build trust and intimacy with another person, many performers are not in any kind of relationship except professional. Finally, being tied (and tying) can release endorphins and even create a euphoric high. Since this erotic art can provide many things like a way of expressing yourself, relaxation, intimacy, pleasure, and so much more, it isn’t really a surprise why Shibari managed to reach almost every part of the world.

How to Learn Shibari

While we mentioned rope masters (aka Nawashi), we never actually talked about how to become one. If you aim to become one, you will need to practice. The best performers out there studied years to reach the point where they could do everything properly.

This means that if you are looking to become an expert yourself, you will need hours of practice before you are ready to do it with an actual person. The best idea would be to learn from a master. While it is possible to find lessons and do it yourself, learning something like Shibari from a text can prove to be a challenging task.

So, if you can find someone who has experience in the field, and is willing to take you under their wing, that would be your best option. Naturally, finding a Nawashi teacher is not an easy task, but you shouldn’t despair since there are other options as well.

Finding Lessons Online

Living in the modern age offers many benefits, and one of them is that you can find almost anything online. If you truly desire to become a rope master, you can find video lessons that can help you start your journey. There are also many courses available, and these tutorials and guides could provide a nice starting point.

Any type of art requires dedication and practice, and Shibari is no different. Of course, you wouldn’t want to practice on a real person, and it might not be easy to find someone to be your guinea pig. The best way to approach this is to find a doll or to practice on inanimate objects. While it is not as authentic as practicing with a significant other or a volunteer, it is safer.

Shibari is harmless only when you do it properly. Not knowing what you do and experimenting can cause a serious injury.

Reading a Book

The third option, while not the best, is still viable, and it involves books. There are many incredible books on the subject, and they can help you start if you can’t find a master to teach you.

One of the books we’ll mention is “Two Knotty Boys Showing You the Ropes” that offers a step-by-step guide for every knot they explain. Furthermore, the book offers over seven hundred pictures to aid you in every step of the journey. Authors, Dan and J.D., have been practicing for decades, and the book shows everything from simple knots to how to use them and combine them in bondage.

The second book is “The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage.” The author, Midori, was born in Japan and is both an educator and a bondage practitioner. This book also offers photographs and detailed guides, as well as examples of different body types and genders.

One of the main advantages of these books is that you can take your time and find a pace of learning that’s suitable for you. There will be no one to stand over your head, and you can keep practicing it until you become a master yourself.

Common Shibari Positions

There are many popular positions for Shibari, and they are shared with other types of bondage as well. Here, we will take a look at the most common ones.

  • Shrimp tie — this position is also known as kuri or ebi. It originated over three hundred years ago, and it is one of the popular techniques for interrogation. In this position, the person that is tied will sit with their legs crossed. A rope master will tie their ankles together using a single column tie. After that, the rope will go around the sub’s neck and back to the ankles. The master will proceed to tighten the ropes until the ankles are close to the head. Participant’s arms are usually tied on the back.
  • Reverse shrimp tie — The second position involves the sub being tied while on their stomach. Their ankles are tied, pulled back, and secured to the buttocks.
  • Hanging tie — Hanging tie is one of the positions associated with suspension bondage. In this position, the sub person is hung from a suspension point. Obviously, this is not something you can practice without preparation, and you need to find a secure and safe suspension point. Suspension bondage also bears a higher risk than other forms of BDSM.
  • Arms in front — In this position, the sub’s arms will be tied in front of them, and restrained in a certain position. You can also combine different positions, where you will take an element from one and add it to another.
  • Arms above — As you can expect, the master will restrain the sub’s arms above. A great example of this position is Teppo, which can involve tying the sub’s arm to the ceiling. They will keep some level of movement, but nothing significant.
  • Arms behind — Finally, one can try out Japanese reverse prayer, where the sub will close their hands like in a prayer, only on their back. After that, the master will tie their arms and lock them in that position.
  • Crotch-rope binding — There are several ways you can achieve this, but usually, a rope starts at the woman’s waist. After that, it continues between the lips of the labia to ensure either painful or pleasurable pressure on her genitalia. You can use this method either over clothes or directly on bare skin. Finally, you can combine it with other methods to create something new, beautiful, and unique.

Shibari Vocabulary

Since there are many terms related to type of BDSM, we will take a look at some of the most common words. This way, you can easily find more about the subject or understand what they mean if you find them while learning.

  • Kinbaku — the first term we mentioned, and it means “tight binding.”
  • Shibari or Shibaru — Sometimes used instead of Kinbaku and more often in Western culture. Japanese masters can sometimes name themselves Bakushi (or Kinbakushi), Nawashi, Newaza, Yukawaza, and others. Shibari is a noun, while Shibaru is a verb.
  • Kinbaku-bi — “The beauty of tight binding.”
  • Asanawa — Natural-fibre rope used for Shibari, often made of hemp, jute, or linen. Asa means hemp, and nawa means rope.
  • Katate kubi Shibari — Single wrist binding.
  • Ryoute kubi Shibari — Both wrists binding.
  • Mata nawa Shibari — Crotch-rope binding.
  • Ebi Shibari — Shrimp binding.
  • Sakasa ebi Shibari — Reverse-shrimp.
  • Gote Gasshou Shibari — reverse prayer for binding hands.
  • Deshi — Student.
  • Dorei — Slave.
  • Hishi or hishi-kikkou — A tie designed in the shape of a diamond. If a person does a full-body tie, they call it hishi-kikkou. This is especially popular in cartoons, manga, and other art forms.
  • Karada — Body or a “dress” made of ropes.
  • Tsuri — Suspension.

Summary

Shibari or Kinbaku is a form of bondage that originated in Japan. Unlike regular bondage, Shibari focuses on aesthetics as well as pleasure. There are many performers today who partake in this erotic art, and sometimes it is just for the sake of art instead of sexual arousal. Among the best qualities of Japanese bondage are intimacy, trust, and beauty. To fully become a master of Shibari, one would need to practice for years to be able to create intricate patterns using a simple rope. However, if you have seen one of these performances, you can understand that years of practice are worth it, as the result is a beautiful piece of erotic art.


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