The Art of Shibari - Japanese Rope Bondage Photography

Provoke! (NSFW)Angie Kordic

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From ornately decorative to excruciatingly stringent, Japanese rope bondage is an art which has developed over centuries of martial and erotic practice. Known as shibari, meaning “decoratively tie”, or kinbaku, translating to “tight binding”, it is an artistic form of bondage and BDSM deeply invested in the history and culture of Japan, as well as its other traditional arts and crafts. Dating back to the 1400s, it has also been perfected to serve not only as binding but also as body adornment, which involves particular kinds of ropes and creative knot tying. Quite popular in contemporary culture in the country and beyond, shibari has found its way to the arts, manifesting itself today through alluring photography, performance and video. But what exactly is shibari and why is it widely considered an art form?
 

Noble Manqué

 

What is Shibari ?

The origins of shibari can be traced back to the early 1400s and the martial art called hojo-jutsu, used at the time to retrain captives. Until the 1700s, the local police and the samurai used it as a proper form of imprisonment, where ropes had multiple uses including, of course, binding, but also for hanging up armor or securing a horse saddle. In fact, the honor of ancient samurai warriors was rated on how well they took charge of their prisoners and the technique they used to immobilize them. The rules they applied at the time are still being followed today in the shibari practice, including the one that does not allow the prisoner to slip their bonds, not to have them sustain any physical injuries and to make the resulting rope structure beautiful to look at.
 
Later, with the arrival of the Edo period between 1600 and 1868, the ropes even changed color according to the one of the season at a given moment; blue, red, white or black. It was during this period that the shunga and erotic art rose to prominence and when bondage as a sexual activity first came to notice. Towards the end of the 19th century, painter Seiu Ito began researching the concepts of hojo-jutsu, ultimately giving kinbaku the form it has now. He also drew inspiration from Kabuki theater and the Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, ultimately driving it towards the popularity it got through naked bondage photographs published in magazines like Kitan Club and Yomikiri Romance in the 1950s.
 

Riccardo Sergnese

 

Shibari or Kinbaku?

While both shibari and kinbaku are used as terms to describe the rope bondage as a sexual activity, as it was developed by the aforementioned Seiu Ito, many argue that there are differences to what these words mean and what they should refer to. For some, shibari refers to purely artistic, aesthetic rope, while kinbaku, which was introduced as a term in the 1950s, describes the sexual practice as a whole. It is also said that in Japan, shibari denotes tying in general and not just in the context of sexual bondage. It would appear, however, that the term shibari got accepted instead of kinbaku in communities both there and in the West, making it the official name for the practice on a global scale, although both words are still used to essentially talk about the same thing.
 

Chris Shaghal aka Rope Shadow

 

The Art of Japanese Rope Bondage

On many occasions, shibari has been described as a shared meditative practice, looking to achieve deep relaxation for the mind and body, as well as an expression of power exchange and intimate erotic restraint. But perhaps what’s more important than the sexual aspect of the act is the aesthetics of it, which hold immense importance for the kinbakushi (bakushi) or nawashi, the kinbaku/rope master. There are many details involved when it comes to the choice of ropes as well as the structure they would come to create and its interaction with the human body it encompasses. The artist makes almost geometric patterns and shapes that are supposed to compliment the nude body, its natural curves and recesses, with a texture that provides a counterpoint to the smoothness and the sensitivity of the skin. The rope bondage represents a delicate process which uses specific forms and aesthetics rules, suggesting it’s much more about the journey and not the destination. It is about the way rope is applied and the often complex positions of the body, the interaction between the material and the immaterial, the communication established between the two participants through the means of shibari.
 
The Rope Bondage from Japan provides the rigger – the artist – with paint and brush in form of rope and a canvas in form of the model. The way they choose to arrange the ropes and knots can be compared to the very act of painting or sculpting; the artist’s creative decisions put an emphasis on characteristics of their subject like strength, vulnerability and sensuality. The positioning of the knots in appropriate places can stimulate pressure points on the body too, for instance, in the manner of Shiatsu, a form of Japanese massage. Shibari rigging also induces physiological conditions known as “sub space”, similar to the “runners high” experience for athletes, which results in increased level of endorphins and adrenaline rush. Somewhere between performance and sculpture making, shibari tackles topics like identity, confidence, power, human physique and behavior, sometimes channeling sexual energy that is perceived as an outcome.
 

Left: Weronika Bachleda / Right: Marcus Guillard

 

Popular Erotic Images in Contemporary Arts

When it comes to shibari being represented through mainstream artworks of contemporary artists, surely the first thing that comes to mind is the photography of Nobuyoshi Araki and an entire book of pictures dedicated to “the beauty of tight binding”. The critics have fought for censorship of his work, particularly in his native Japan, and dubbed him nothing more than a misogynistic pornographer, but this has never deterred Araki, who remains one of the country’s most prolific artists. The rope bondage is mostly depicted through the means of provocative Japanese photography, as well as photography around the world, which is why in the United States we have the imagery by Jim Duvall, while Hikari Kesho is famous for photographs taken throughout Europe. Other photographers working in the field include Ann Arbor, Lee David, Stefano Laforgia, Chi Lum, Zee Maitri, Noble Manqué, Alexander Neptune, Lew Rubens, Riccardo Sergnese…
 
  Editors’ Tip:The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage
 
Accomplished Nippon-born writer, teacher and workshop facilitator on a wide range of sexual topics, Midori shows step by step how to achieve beautiful and exciting bondage on a variety of genders and body types. Each chapter starts with a spectacular, tasteful full-color photo of the finished bondage pose – harnesses, hogties, standing and bent-over poses, and more – then goes back and explains with text and line art how each rope and knot is placed to achieve the final result. Readers can use the detailed instructions to experiment safely and erotically with their own partners – or simply enjoy viewing the pictures of Midori’s expertise. For lovers of restraint in any form, this is an elegant and necessary edition to your library and play life.
 
 
 

shibari, meaning to tie or to be tied, is also considered an artistic style which means the use of ropes.

DallasKink


 
check out our dedicated video section for more shibari

Lee David


 
learn how to tie or be tied on dedicated website

Ann Arbor


 

Jim Duvall


 
browse our site for more shibari!

Formento + Formento


 

Clover and WykD_Dave


 

Chi Lum


 

Featured pictures in slider: photography by Garth Knight; CharlyB; Alexander Neptune; Aldo Chorozqui; Zee Maitri; Nobuyoshi Araki; Li Zeng; Lew Rubens; Hikari Kesho; Hajime Kinoko. All used for illustrative purposes only.
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