What is Shibari?

Shibari, kinbaku, rope bondage. In most contemporary contexts, these terms are used mostly interchangeably to refer to the practice of posing and immobilizing the human body through the use of rope. Basically, being tied up, consensually, for fun, in a safe and beautiful way.

Japanese Shibari Bondage

The term shibari, in Japanese, merely means “to tie.” And doesn’t carry any sexual denotations. It pre-dates the more modern word kinbaku, which does carry inherently sexual meaning. Both terms tend to be used interchangeably to refer to Japanese bondage by people discussing modern rope.

Most rope people trace the origins of shibari to a mostly extinct, Edo era Japanese martial art called hojojutsu. This art was used to restrain prisoners of war on the battlefield, as well as civilian prisoners in police actions. Elaborate patterns and knots were developed to indicate the social status of the person tied up, but most of these ties are really dangerous.

Early producers of seme-e, erotic torture, art, including Itoh Seiu included rope bondage imagery in their work, and shibari was featured in traditional kabuki theater. Through the middle of the 20th century, several popular magazines, including Kitan Club, were publishing high quality illustrations of rope bondage, and from there it became a mainstay in erotic and pornographic media in Japan.

Western Rope Bondage

While some old European torture positions, like the strappado, are used in modern rope, Western rope bondage has a shorter history than shibari. Through the first half of the 20th century, damsel in distress imagery was popular in American media, which often included rope bondage. Mid century producers like John Willie, Irving Klaw and Bettie Page built mail order audiences for fetish and rope content, which was hit peak popularity after being “rediscovered” by mainstream media in the 1980s. There is some evidence that John Willie was exposed to magazines like Kitan Club early in his career.

Modern Rope

Modern rope bondage art follows a variety of schools and philosophies, but is far more sophisticated, both in terms of aesthetics and safety than any rope bondage of the past.