The Japanese School of Rope Art

by Tatu
July 2001

(Revised 2006)

History and Development of the Japanese or Eastern School

SMBD has experienced a huge resurgence of interest in Japan in the last 10 years or so just as it has in the west. This interest in Japanese SM or Rope Art is not however a modern phenomenon. The use of rope in one form or another in Japanese society has been around for at least 500 years.

The Dark Ages of Japan / Tokugawa Rule

When we think of SM or Ds in terms of the Japanese experience we drum up images of the "Dark Ages of Japan" in the War Periods in the early 16th century started under the rule of Tokugawa. When Columbus was sailing the ocean blue in 1492 to find America, Japanese society was just beginning a dark torturous ruling period that would last until the 1560's.

Under the Tokugawa Rule in 1742 a system of criminal codes were enacted which laid out 4 types of torture using rope for criminals.

1) First was whipping or flogging,

2) The second was the pressing stone,

3) Then rope bondage in the prawn or ebi shrimp tie position

4) Finally rope suspension by arms or all four limbs face down with heavy rocks on shoulders.

Although extremely cruel these practices are the basis of  modern Japanese SM play.

Interestingly enough "flogging" was the considered the light first step and progressed to increasingly torturous, even deadly rope practices. While with our modern western approach to BDSM, rope is generally seen as something "lightweight" in the community, and flogging or other corporal activities are the seen as the heavy duty or "real" SM activities.

Which just goes to show western BDSM just doesn't get it. So perhaps this site and these essays will increase our help our awareness and further our education in the community.

These very cruel and barbaric methods eventually died out with the end of the violence of the War Period. Rope as a tool of torture died with it. Many of these skills and techniques are the foundation of the modern use of rope in its current erotic forms.

Edo Period

Some say that the evolution of rope from the torturous methods of the 16th century to something of an erotic art form began following the bloody Shinkoku Period with the start of the Edo Period (1600-1878). Indeed an entire system called Hojojutsu or Hobaku-jutsu was developed during this time. Hobaku-jutsu was a very special martial art used to catch criminals and restrain prisoners. A very precise system of rope binding began with prisoner restraint. The methods were very secretive, and unique from village to village. The style of rope often reflected the social class of the criminal.

A criminal could be bound or suspended in public, and the observer could tell by the bindings, what the age of the victim was, the social class of the criminal, the crime that was committed, and sometimes even the profession of the victim.

Interestingly, very few martial arts schools today in the west have any knowledge or ability to teach Hobaku-jutsu.

The use of rope as an erotic form is not at all clear during this period and this author has found no clear evidence of it.

Modern Rope in Japan

At the end of the Edo Period in the late 1900's a few erotic pictures featuring Japanese Rope did appear. If it existed before that, it is not known in any historical sense, only oral folklore. It wasn't until the past 20 years or so that this whole erotic genre emerged to the surface of society however.

Modern rope art play in Japan is not cruel or torturous as depicted by some videos. They are doing the same things done in the west. It is a consensual, has definite boundaries, and perhaps even more so in Japan than in the west, SMBD is a very carefully planned and executed fantasy.

Because rope is a lot more dangerous than many corporal activities like flogging, spanking, or caning there is a very high respect for safety among Japanese Rope Artists. This is where the teamwork comes into play. While there is an attraction to the female form helpless and vulnerable, the lovely oriental lady is no victim, but very much a part of the process before she allows her body to be bound, suspended and displayed. Japanese Rope is not something the rope bondager does to the victim like those damsels in distress images popular in the west, but it is a team effort between artist and canvas.

Female/ Rope Artists

While 99.99% of the images we see of Japanese Rope are with a male artist and a female canvas, this does not reflect reality in Japan. With the liberalization of sexual mores in Japan in the 70's, by the mid 80's a whole new institution has developed among female SM practitioners. They are called "Mistress Bars". There is a combining of European styles with the oriental culture. Inside you will see classic european fetish dress, such as latex, leather and PVC outfits worn by beautiful sexy goddess'.  These mistresses are called "jo-osama" and their clientele are men (and a growing number of women) who pay by the hour to worship high heels, be whipped or humiliated.

Rope done very skillfully however is center stage in these venues. There are a number of very well know female rope artists. Taking advantage of that little bit of desire for erotic power exchange in everyone, these "jo-osama" fulfill a need in a crowded high paced, stress filled Japanese business economy. These images have become so accepted, SM themes with the female rope mistress is a common image on vanilla TV.  Some of these female rope artists are becoming popular if not legendary in just a short time.

Male Rope Artists

Currently, there are about 30 recognizable rope artists in Japan. Only about 5 or 6 are thought of as Masters, true Sensei. What they do is today called "Nawakesho" which means rope applied like a cosmetic art!  These sensei consider what they do as an art form, as much as anything else in Japanese culture is thought of that way, such as bonsai, or tea, or ikebana.

These modern rope artists have been around only about 20 years. The use of rope as an implement of torture still exists in the cultural mind of the Japanese. The modern Japanese policeman still wears a piece of rope as a part of his uniform.

These modern masters and mistresses have for the past 20 years or so gathered and studied the old drawings of rope bondage and torture, and from that have drawn their modern rope art styles and forms. Naturally many of these ancient rope applications are very dangerous, so they have been modified for safety.

These modern rope artists have been learning and growing over the past 10 years, especially as they try to learn and recapture the old skills and techniques of 500 years ago. If you look at some of the old Japanese Bondage videos even 10 years ago (late 80's early 90's) you can see some very dangerous things being done, which have been modified in newer videos to show safer ways to apply the ropes, especially when it comes to suspension.

Regardless of these modifications, Rope however still is perhaps the most dangerous of all SMBD practices. People can be seriously hurt, nerves and genitals damaged. It is a very real possibility that one can be accidentally killed with misapplied ropes.

At the root of the modern practice is the artist creating a beautiful work of art with his canvas with intricate rope patterns. The ultimate of course is suspension. Something very few in the west still try to attempt, because of its inherent dangers.

Today when one watches the modern Japanese Rope Artist, you will see a recreation of the crueler past of being bound and tortured, which finds its modern meaning in aesthetic beauty combined with consensual eroticism.

Some of the more well know male Japanese Rope Artist (Kinbakushi) in Japan today are:

Arisue Go

Akechi Denki (deceased - 2005)

Randa Mai

Osada Eikichi (deceased - 2001)

Chimuo Nureki

Chiba Eizoh

Dirty Kudo

The Future of Rope ARt

Because rope is very much out there on the edge and has been very much underground, relationships between artist and canvas tended to be very deep and erotic. Combine that with the time it takes to apply and remove ropes, rope is one of the most powerful intimate tools one can use to call forth the powerful erotic and sensual emotions we can experience. Today with the masses seeking to learn its art, it is easy to miss the depth of emotions and intimacy involved.