What is Shibari


The knowledge of the ancient art of is very incomplete. Research and knowledge development are still going on every day. There are many different styles, such as Fumo Ryu (the spiritual style) or Iki (the bare Zen essentials only style) and the individual styles of various rope artists.

Picture a room, lit by candles. Shadows will dance on the walls and create the atmosphere in the room. That is exactly what you want to achieve in Japanese bondage – the battle between contrasts: beauty and fear, love and endurance, desire and despair, mental growth and humiliation, pain and lust.

It is an intriquing art that involves different levels: physical, mental and metaphysical. For the Kizõshà (giver, donor, dominant, active partner) it is a balancing act, juggling with various different impulses. To the Ukétorinìn (recipient, submissive, passive partner – in Japan sometimes also called M-jo – “maso woman” – which can be anything from a female professional bondage model to a woman who just loves to be tied. The male recipient is sometimes referred to as M-o – “maso man”) it is the ultimate journey to paradise.

Weaving or wrapping

“Japanese bondage” is an inadequate, superficial translation. While most people are only aware of the bondages, the lifestyle and technique encompasses much more – in techniques as well as background. Shibari Do, as the lifestyle is called, has roots in Japanese lovemaking and courtship, Ki-energy manipulation, traditional Japanese rope torture techniques, martial arts, theater, even ancient fashion and aspects of Zen Buddhism. The erotic use of bondages is only one aspect of the lifestyle. The technique in modern days is also used as a performing art, has healing aspects and in general is also a way to train the body and mind.

Shibari best translates as either “weaving” or “wrapping in ropes”. Both translations refer to the interaction between ropes, the mind and the Ki energy meridians in the human body. Ki (or Chi in Chinese) is the energy of life; meridians are the channels, through which this energy flows. And since Ki – in Oriental philosophy – controls life inside the body as well as the interaction between the body and its environment, Japanese bondage has a direct influence on life. Ki can only flow and create a healthy situation through the eternal pattern of changes between Yin and Yang. The techniques strive to influence this pattern through magnifying both the Yin and Yang position on many different levels.

Origin

There are many myths and very few facts about the Japanese bondage origin. As a result, to date its origin remains unclear. A few references to what could be early forms of Japanese bondage provide some insight.

In the first half of the 17th century, during the Tokugawa Shogunate (Edo period) the dominant Japanese religion was not Shinto (that came about after the decline of the Togukawa dynasty) but a Shogun-backed form of neo-Confusianism. One of the most important Buddhist schools was the Nichiren Shu Komon School in Kyoto. It had eight temples in Kyoto (the 17th century capital of Japan) and was financed by members of the highest classes, including the Shogun himself.

The 17th High Priest of the school, Nissei, was a decadent, powerhungry man only interested in money, power and women. Under his reign members of the high social classes would gather in this school, tie up naked women in subdued and humiliating positions and leave them tied long enough to enjoy them and make drawings of them while in bondage, thus producing pornographic pictures. These gatherings were called “komon sarashi shibari”. Very rare examples of such drawings have surfaced in Ukiyo-e (17th century erotic woodblock print) collections.

While this is one of the very few documented ancient uses of bondage as an erotic technique, the fact that such gatherings existed in Kyoto supports undocumented rumours about Samurai in rural areas tieing up women and exposing them for erotic amusement. At these gatherings apparently bondage techniques were used, borrowed from Hojo Jitsu (the art of tieing and transporting prisoners), Japanese rope torture techniques (Kinbaku) and Sarashi (the public display of criminals). That is where the martial arts roots (if any) of Japanese bondage are believed to originate from. Although often portrayed as such, there is no evidence of a direct, linear connection between Shibari and what is known as “soft weapon techniques” in most martial arts, of which Hojo Jitsu is one.

Komon Sarashi Shibari in itself brought about another misinterpretation. Japanese words can mean many different things, depending on their context. Komon can be translated as “anus”, which lead to the misconception that Japanese bondage started out as a means to display women with their behind exposed. In this case however Komon means “advisor” or “consultant” (read: part of the temple staff and “follower of confusius”), which is a reference to the school where these gatherings happened and the participants.

Another intriguing source for the Japanese bondage origin and history are ancient Japanese police records. In the 17th century at least one traditional bondage was used by doomed love couples in ritualistic suicides. “Forbidden lovers” (usually lovers from different social classes) would sometimes use the “shinju” (a torso harnass) bondage to tie each other and next – firmly connected together – plunge into a river, a lake or the sea to drown together. For quite some time such ritual suicides were known as the “shinju suicides”.

This is what Washington State University notes about “shinju suicides”: “the most popular theme of both kabuki and joruri (forms of theater – ed.) was the theme of double suicide, shinju, as thwarted lovers, unable because of social restrictions to live a life together, desperately chose to kill themselves in a mutual suicide hoping to be reunited in the pure land of bliss promised by Amida Buddha. Many of these double suicide plays involved ukiyo themes, such as the love between an upper class or noble man and a prostitute. This is the theme of the most famous of the shinju plays (Sonezaki Shinju), by Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725). Such shinju plays often inspired a rash of real double suicides, so the Tokugawa regime in 1723 stepped in and banned shinju not only on the kabuki and joruri stage, but in real life as well.”

In Japanese psychology the word “shinju” (meaning either “pearl” or “oneness of hearts” depending on its context) is still used for multiple suicides involving people with a strong bond.

In Japanese bondage terms “shinju” is a torso harnass, tied to bring out and erotically stimulate the female breasts (the “pearls”). Amazingly the word “shinju” in Japan is also used for shoulder-string type halter tops for women.

Is there any sort of heritage?

The answer to that question is currently impossible to provide with any certainty. It might be, but due to the lack of any historical reference it is unlikely. Yes, there are references to the art dating back to the 17th century. That however is also where any attempt to trace it back any further stops. As an erotic artform it apparently existed in the very mondain upper classes in Japan. But it has no, as many claim, linear roots to any martial art.

In fact the following assumption is much more likely. Most ancient cultures have seen combinations of power, sometimes spirituality and mysticism, and eroticism. Courtley Love and much earlier Celtic and Saxon rituals in Europe and the Kama Sutra are only a few examples of this. And yes, in most of such rituals weapons and warrior culture were woven into the rituals of courtship, lovemaking and sexuality. Power eroticizes! It always has. There is no reason to assume it was any different in Japan.

Shibari today

Contemporary “Japanese bondage” pictures usually have an entirely different background which – unfortunately – is pornography. Most originate from 1950-1980 produced Japanese pornographic videos. Their only “raison d’etre” can be found in the fact that the combination of naked women and rope sells. These Japanese movies can be seen as the Japanese answer to the emerging popularity of bondage in the American pornographic industry since the 1930’s (John Willie, Betty Page and others).

The vast majority of Japanese rope artists from this period actually made their money rigging the bondages for these movies and some still do. Some, such as the late Osada Eikichi (a.k.a. “mister flying ropes”) and Denki Akechi, created their own style and performing acts.

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Source by Hans Meijer