Kinbaku (緊縛) means “tight binding,” while Kinbaku-bi (緊縛美) literally means “the beauty of tight binding.” Kinbaku is a Japanese style of bondage or BDSM which involves tying a person up using simple yet visually intricate patterns, usually with several pieces of thin rope (often jute, hemp or linen and generally around 6 mm in diameter, but sometimes as small as 4 mm, and between 7–8 m long). In Japanese, this natural-fibre rope is known as asanawa (麻縄); the Japanese vocabulary does not make a distinction between hemp and jute. The allusion is to the use of hemp rope for restraining prisoners, as a symbol of power, in the same way that stocks or manacles are used in a Western BDSM context. The word shibari came into common use in the West at some point in the 1990s to describe the bondage art Kinbaku. Shibari (縛り) is a Japanese word that broadly means “binding” or “tying” in most contexts, but is used in BDSM to refer to this style of decorative bondage.
Bondage as a sexual activity first came to notice in Japan in the late Edo period (about 1600s to 1860s). Generally recognized as “father of Kinbaku” is Seiu Ito, who started studying and researching Hojōjutsu (the art of binding a prisoner of war) is credited with the inception of Kinbaku, though it is noted that he drew inspiration from other art forms of the time including Kabuki theatre and Ukiyoe woodblock prints. Kinbaku became widely popular in Japan in the 1950s through magazines such as Kitan Club and Yomikiri Romance, which published the first naked bondage photographs. In the 1960s, people such as Eikichi Osada began to appear performing live SM shows often including a large amount of rope bondage, today these performers are often referred to as Nawashi (rope master) or Bakushi (from kinbakushi, meaning bondage master).
In recent years, Kinbaku has become popular in the Western BDSM scene in its own right and has also profoundly influenced bondage, combining to produce many ‘fusion’ styles.
In Japan the most often used type of rope is a loose laid, three strand jute rope. This rope is referred to as “Asanawa” usually translated as “hemp rope” the word ‘asa’ as hemp and ‘nawa’ as rope, however this is using the more generic form of the word [hemp] referring to a range of natural fibre ropes rather than those pertaining to a particular plant. In recent history a range of rope types have been used for Kinbaku in Japan though Nawashi rarely use synthetic fibre rope and most often use jute.
Kinbaku is practised with ropes of 6–8 meters (20–26 feet) in length. Due to the generally larger physique of Western subjects, 7–8 meters (23–26 feet) ropes are commonly used in the West. Though the rope material is usually jute (or hemp) many other materials are in use including cotton and various synthetics. Various techniques are used to make the natural fiber ropes softer.
Aesthetics of Japanese bondage
The aesthetics of the bound person’s position is important: in particular, Japanese bondage is distinguished by its use of specific katas (forms) and aesthetic rules. Sometimes, asymmetric and often intentionally uncomfortable positions are employed. In particular, Japanese bondage is very much about the way the rope is applied and the pleasure is more in the journey than the destination. In this way the rope becomes an extension of the nawashi’s hands and is used to communicate.
Traditional Japanese bondage techniques use natural vegetable fiber rope (hemp, jute, or linen) exclusively, though contemporary Japanese Masters have been working with a range of rope materials. The natural fibers easily lock to each other which means the bondage can be held together by the friction of twists and turns or very simple knots.
Shibari in contemporary art
Blacklight Shibari with fluorescent ropes.
Shibari has a strong presence in the works of some renowned contemporary artists, mainly photographers, like Nobuyoshi Araki in Japan, Jim Duvall in the United States and Hikari Kesho in Europe.
In 2014, Romanian singer-songwriter NAVI released a Shibari-themed music video, “Picture Perfect”. The highly controversial video, directed by Marian Nica, was banned by Romanian television for its explicit erotic content.
Shibari has also featured in Western pop culture. For example, in the music video for The Jonas Brothers song “Sucker,” Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner briefly appear to be engaging in a form of Japanese-inspired bondage. More to the point, shibari is explicitly referenced in “Tying the Knot,” the nineteenth episode of The Good Wife’s fifth season, as the practice of shibari is integral to the episode’s plot; in this episode, fictional characters Colin Sweeney and Renata Ellard Sweeney (portrayed by actors Dylan Baker and Laura Benanti respectively) are revealed to engage in the art of shibari, and shibari is also used as a means by which Renata’s friend, Morgan Donnelly (portrayed by actress Jenn Gambatese), is murdered.
Kinbaku and shibari
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One modern distinction which is gaining popularity among westerners wanting to distinguish the terms is that shibari refers to purely artistic, aesthetic rope, whilst kinbaku refers to the artistic, connective, sensual, sexual practice as a whole. Whilst multiple books and articles have been written in Japanese about “shibari”, no one has found evidence of there being any thought given to the distinction between these words among Japanese practitioners of the art.
A traditional view is that the term shibari is a Western misuse of Japanese vocabulary. The word denotes tying in Japanese, but in a generic way, and traditionally not in the context of bondage. The names for many particular ties include shibari, but it was not traditional to name the entire activity in that way. Instead, Kinbaku is the term for artistic or erotic tying within traditional Japanese rope bondage circles. An even more traditional view is that shibari is a term used for erotic bondage in Japan that is practically interchangeable with the term kinbaku. Itoh Seiu (generally considered one of the fathers of contemporary Japanese rope bondage) used the term in the 1950s, with no sign of it being a “western Japonism” as did many other well known Japanese bakushi. One of Nureki Chimuo’s how-to video series from the 1980s, is titled Introduction to Shibari.
While some claim this is a somewhat hidebound definition and the word shibari is now increasingly being re-imported from the West to Japan, as the tying communities are very close-knit, there is no evidence to support such a conclusion as most practicing bakushi in Japan have very limited contact with the west and almost no interest in debating the meaning of words. Most Japanese kinbakushi do not object to the term shibari, as it is common vernacular in the global community.
Kinbaku is based on fairly specific rope patterns, many of them derived from Hojojutsu ties though significantly modified to make them safer for bondage use. Many Hojojutsu ties were deliberately designed to cause harm to a prisoner and are therefore not suitable for erotic bondage. Of particular importance are the Ushiro Takatekote (a type of box tie which surrounds the chest and arms), which forms the basis of many Kinbaku ties, and the Ebi-tie, or “Shrimp”, which was originally designed as a torture tie and codified as part of the Edo period torture techniques.[a] Today the ebi-tie is used as part of SM play and can be considered a form of Semenawa, rope torture.
kinbaku (緊縛): (noun) literally ‘tight binding’. It does not convey the meaning of sexual bondage outside SM circles. However, some experts, e.g. Kinoko Hajime and Osada Steve, make a distinction from ‘shibari’ in that it is used to refer to sessions with a strong emotional exchange.
kinbakushi (緊縛師): (noun) kinbaku master, can be shortened to bakushi.
shibari (縛り): (noun) the act of tying, binding or weaving. It does not convey the meaning of sexual bondage outside SM circles.
shibaru (縛る): (verb) tie or bind with a rope
nawa shibari (縄縛り): (noun) rope-tying with a rope (an incorrect, “made-up” term, does not exist in Japanese)
nawashi (縄師): (noun) literally, “a maker of rope”, but in SM circles it means a professional “rope artist”
Kujikata Osadamegki Government Officials Guide of 1742 describes the four toutures to be used to get a confession: Muchiucji whipping with a bamboo pole, followed by Ishidaki kneeling torture, then the Ebizeme Shrimp-tie applied so strictly that bloodflow was cut off to the legs, finally there was the Tsurizeme upsidedown hanging torture
Most of the below have multiple variations:
Prisoner handcuff binding: Nude woman’s arms and wrists tied with rope at Miss Exotic World event, 2007.
Single wrist binding 片手首縛り Katate kubi shibari
Both wrists binding 両手首縛り Ryoute kubi shibari
Handcuff binding 手錠縛り Tejou shibari
Prisoner handcuff binding 連行手錠縛り Renkou tejou shibari
Hands behind the back binding 後ろ手縛り Ushiro te shibari
High hands behind the back binding 後ろ高手小手縛り(簡易型 Ushiro takate kote shibari)
Hands behind the head tie 後頭後ろ手縛り Koutou ushiro te shibari
Tasuki (kimono string) tied 襷(タスキ)縛り Tasuki (tasuki ) shibari
Crotch rope tie また縄縛り Mata nawa shibari
Turtle (diamond pattern) binding 亀甲縛り(菱縄縛り) Kikkou shibari (hishi nawa shibari)
Upright standing binding 直立不動一本縛り Chokuritsu fudou ippon shibari
Cross-legged binding 胡座 縛り Agura shibari
Shrimp binding 海老縛り Ebi shibari
Reverse shrimp binding 逆さ海老縛り Sakasa ebi shibari
Standing partial suspension 立ち吊り縛り Tachi tsuri shibari
One foot lifted partial suspension 片足上げ吊り縛り１ Kataashi age tsuri shibari
Hanging letter M, open leg binding Ｍ字開脚吊り縛り M ji kaikyaku tsuri shibari
Reverse hanging shrimp binding 逆海老吊り縛り Gyaku ebi tsuri shibari
Reverse prayer hands 後手 合掌 縛り — Gote Gasshou Shibari
Arms bound in front 前手 肘 縛り — Maete Hiji Shibari
Legs bound together 両足 合体 一文字 縛り — Ryouashi Gattai Ichimonji Shibari
Rifle tie 鉄砲 縛り — Teppou Shibari
Futomomo — Leg, calf to thigh
High Hands on Front Tie 前方 高手 縛り — Zenpou Takate Shibari
Topics in Japanese bondage include:
Karada Japanese word used in the West for body (body harness, a “rope dress”)
Ushiro Takate Kote — Foundational form for most shibari ties, capturing the upper body / breasts and arms behind back (when ushiro) in a “U” shape behind the back
Kikkou — A body tie that ends with a tortoise shell design in the front upper torso.
Hishi A tie using diamond shapes. When done as a full body tie, it is sometimes also called hishi-kikkou. The hishi has been popularized by manga, or cartoon, art.
Ebi The “shrimp” tie
Agoura a less severe tie similar to an ebi
Tazuki “criss-cross harness”
Tanuki “raccoon dog”
Kataashi tsuri “one-legged suspension”
Asymmetric bondage, a common feature of Japanese bondage