History & Style: East vs West

by Tatu

January 1998
(Revised January 2006)

There are basically two different schools in the world of bondage. For our purposes here, we will generally refer to them as Western School and Eastern School. First we will examine a brief history of each and then take a look at the stylistic differences.

Eastern School / Japanese Bondage

Japanese rope bondage as an erotic art form, really is not that old. Many labor under the illusion that it goes back for centuries, but in reality is only a few decades old going back to only the late 1800's or early 1900's.

There are erotic stories however of how geisha or apprentices where bound after running away, for which they felt much pleasure.

Hojojutsu on the other hand was the Japanese martial art of using a rope (torinawa) to capture, restrain and transport suspects and criminals in Japan during the Middle Ages and Early Modern periods; practiced by the Torimono, but there was nothing sensuous about it.

Because bondage was considered a shameful practice,  the legal captor in many schools often used no knots or alternate "wraps" allowed the person arrested no shame.   According to Dr. Richard Clever's translations of law enforcement manuals from the Edo Period in 1998, there were

Four rules of hojojutsu:

1. Not to allow the prisoner to slip his bonds.
2. Not to cause any physical or mental injury.
3. Not to allow others to see the techniques.
4. To make the result beautiful to look at.

Source: Dr Richard Cleaver's translation of Edo Period Law Enforcement documents. See:  Hojojutsu by Dr Richard Cleaver

Japanese and Torture

Rope was not only a form of restraint for prisoners, but also used as a cruel torture technique in order to compel a confession. See: Torture by Dr Richard Cleaver

Torture was used both by officials of the Tokugawa Shogunate and by individual citizens during the Edo Period (1603-1867).

We can see forms of these techniques in these early 20th Century drawings by Ito Seiu which follow.

**Click the pictures to see larger images.

1) Mutchiuchi.

The first practice was "flogging".  A far less painful experience than the rope that was to follow. 

2) Ishidaki.

The next method was called "pressing" which was sort of a kneeling or crawling on a corrugated surface on bended knees while holding heavy stones on the back or on the thighs.

These first two may have involved rope, the last two techniques of torture definitely involved rope.

3) Ebizeme.  

If the first two failed to get the required confession, prisoners would be tied in what was called "The Prawn" position. The prisoner was tied with legs crossed in front. The hands were tied behind back in a classic ushiro takate kote position, and the person was finally tied bent over forward with head and upper torsoe tied to legs.  After a few hours in this position the person's whole body baked with fiery pain. The prisoners body would change colors first red, then purple, then violet, then pale blue.  When the pale blue was reached the torture ended, after all they did not want to kill the prisoner,  just get the confession they wanted.  The technique might be repeated for a number of continuous days. 

4) Tsurizeme or Tsurushi-zeme.  

The final form of torture was a "backwards suspension".  The prisoner would be tied at the wrists and perhaps ankles and with arms pulled behind the back, suspended face down.  Heavy stones would be added on the back or shoulders to make it more painful.


The Pictures of the Floating World

There is an entire artistic genre' that exploded during the Tokugawa period (1615-1868) known as Ukiyo-e produced with a technique of wood block printing. 

This was the 250 year period when the Tokugawa shoguns ruled and Edo became the center of power. It was a time when Japan purposely isolated itself from the rest of the world, resulting in the artistic side to their culture exploded; dominated with teahouses, geisha, kabuki theatre & courtesans. Many of these pictures were seen in advertisements, or posters about a new play, or a teahouse. Some of the images seen were most likely popular actors or famous geisha of their time.

Originally, this was an art for the common people, the lower classes. The word itself first refered to the simple or lowly life. Later it came to mean something like "a transitory life of pleasure". It was this art form that gave rise to the first erotic images of Japanese Rope, the Japanese Style of tattoo and Shunga.

They were customized pictures, hand drawn on screens and scrolls. Woodblock printing goes back to the Heian Period (794-1192) another time in Japanese history marked by unprecedented peace under the rule of the Heian dynasty. Culture flourished.


Within UKIYO-E  for the past few hundred years images of explicit sexual art surfaced in Japan, generally known as "Shunga". Images of sex acts both heterosexual and homosexual featuring prominent genitalia were popularized.  These explicit acts also included masturbation, orgies, etc.

Also within the wood block or floating world art was where the first images of Japanese Rope surfaced as an erotic form which was referred to as Kinbaku-bi.  One early disturbing image was by the famous artist Yoshitoshi (Sept 1885) entitled "The Lonely House on Adachi moor in Michinoku Province".

<<< Click the image to see enlarged version.

This image (seen at the left) first came to the attention of this author in Don Angier's video Hojo-jitsu: Samurai Tying Arts - Volume I, produced in 1988.

It is based upon the Japanese legend of the "hag of Adachi moor", who drank the blood of unborn children.  In this image a pregnant woman is suspended by her ankles and gagged while the old hag sits below.

Ito Seiu (1882-1961)

Early Kinbaku Artist and Master, Ito Sieu replicated this image using his own pregnant wife in photo images in the early 20th century; which resulting in a huge scandal.

In the late 1900's as the Samurai art of Hojo-jutsu was outlawed with the Meiji Restoration, more and more images of rope for erotic bondage purposes surfaced.

Ito became known as a "seme-e" torture artist, and the "Father of Modern Kinbaku".

The Evolution of a Sensual Art Form:

In time the Japanese art form evolved and became generally characterized by:

(1) Rendering of the captive powerless and helpless which was combined with other very Asian concepts.  

(2) The aesthetic aspect. Most are well aware of the significance that beauty has in Japanese culture.  As in the presentation of the flower the captive is presented as beautiful art.  Not unlike Ikebana the art of flower arranging in such a manner to incorporate the beauty of simplicity in a natural setting. 

(3) Add to those the idea of erotic feeling of the ropes embracing the skin. Some claim to incorporate the ancient oriental healing systems using pressure points, thus the practices of acupressure and acupuncture. Using ropes and knots to massage those pressure points is a third facet. What I have learned from my contacts in Japan is that this is largely myth, however erotic touch is nice sensual component that can be used with rope.

There is a fourth facet to this diamond we know as Japanese Bondage.

(4) Time. Stillness, beauty, erotic massage and time, as the Asian perceives it... and you have the modern Japanese styled bondage as we know it. Bondage takes time and patience. (like growing of bonsai). The submissive experiences the inner soul, the beauty as she relaxes and focuses on her inner pleasure in the experience. On the inside there may be a peace, but on the outside their can also be struggle. Japan is historically is a "shame culture", and this is often expressed in the outward movements and expressions seen in the face of the m-jo.

Japanese Bondage sometimes features tighter bondage, and would commonly use a rougher natural fiber rope.

Yet struggle is not always desired, often total stillness evokes an erotic meditative journey of pleasure can be taken.

Emphasis is on the mind. Notice the serene look on the faces of Japanese bondage models. She is not an unwilling captive; she may act like she overwhelmed with shame or fear, but in reality is a willing participant embracing the moment and it's sensual pleasure. There is an introspection, a soul stillness if you will. The emphasis is on beauty and art, breathing and meditation. It is a decorative and sensual art.

Within Japanese Bondage there are at least two different practices:

A. The traditional Sado-masochistic approach which was handed down from the torturous practices of the Edo period is a harsh form and emphasizes pain, suffering, humiliation and the bondage itself is the basic goal. Pleasure or erotic stimulation is a byproduct of this basic goal. No one has to tell you that the Asian culture historically have been masters at the art of cruel torture techniques. Remember "Chinese Water Torture?" drip drip drip.... until one is driven mad.  Often accompanying this type of bondage are techniques like nose torture, tit torture, hair bondage, candle waxing, pushing pressure points and the use of bamboo clamps.

B. A second and yet modern practice has as its main goal sensuous or erotic stimulation. The Japanese have always been an odd confusing mixture of the ugly, torturous and the beautiful and artistic. With this sensuous form the key for the submissive is to use her mind to achieve pleasure.  By binding her, she is forced into stillness and stimulating her body specifically with various sensuous touch or massaging shiatsu pressure points over long periods of time,  or pushing the body's own natural energy paths; the mind is stimulated to unimaginable places. To the westerner this may sound hoaky, but by allowing your captive time in bondage her mind begins to meditatively travel into the deep recesses of her inner self. The goal of this journey is the release of the body's pleasure sensors, natural endorphins if you will, the goal being to achieve a natural orgasmic high.  The Japanese call this "Ky or Ki or Chi", which is simply concentrating mental and physical energy on one area of the body.  The use of floggers, canes, any corporal implements etc would be considered an interruption to the goal of this form of Japanese bondage.

Kinbaku - Shibari

Known as "kinbaku" (tight binding / bondage) in Japan; in the west Japanese styled bondage began to be referred to as "Shibari" in the late 1900's.  Westerners misappropriated the verb "Shibaru" , which means "to tie", and made it into a noun to describe the art of tying.  

The Japanese do not call the art "Shibari", they call it Kinbaku.

This new Japanese Erotic Rope Art was seen in certain bondage clubs and comics (Manga) in the later half of the 20th century in Japan. This new Kinbaku / Shibari is generally characterized by the following:

* Ties are roughly based upon some historic Hojojutsu forms done with the devotion and development of skill as in any martial art.

* Tied with natural fiber rope (hemp), generally 7-8 meters in length.

* Must be beautiful to look at.


Traditional Kinbaku / Shibari
Hon Kikkou
Tortoise Shell
Shibari Art by Master Tatu
Image by QuietMaster
Model: Yumi

Western Bondage

Western History


The earliest known reference to the use of rope for anything that resembles erotic purposes that I have been able to find in western culture is contained in the pre-Medieval German / Austrian poetic saga "Brunhilde". 

This story is told in an Austrian poem titled "Nibelungenlied" (1200 A.D.) about events that in legend happened some 800 years earlier around the 1st Century A.D.

In the story the the Warrior Queen of Iceland, Brunhilde, a powerful woman who ruled alone was pursued by King Gunther of Germany, who desired a wife worthy of his status.

After defeating Gunther in various contests, she finally lost a contest to Sifrit, who was supposed to be Gunther's vassal,  but in reality was his brother-in-law; and Brunhilde declared Gunther her King. She however had vowed to remain a virgin until certain matters had been resolved. While Gunther was making his moves, Brunhilde, tied him up with the sash of her robe, leaving him unsatisfied.

Gunther sought assistance from his brother in law, Sifrit, and the next night in the dark they subdued her. While trying to use her own braided silk sash she caught her own wrist, and Sifrit, tied her, and Gunther deflowered his virgin wife. Essentially it was an act of marital rape, erotic only in the eyes of some. 

With the loss of her virginity, she lost her strength and power, and became submissive in every way to her husband.

There are several versions of this saga floating around.

The picture to the right shows a pencil drawing from 1807 of the story taken from the Niebelung Saga (X, 648-50).

Late 1800's in France

Charles Francois Jeandel

In the late 1800's Charles Francois Jeandel perhaps was the first to do bondage photography in the west, perhaps in the world. Here are a few examples of his work:

Charles Francois Jeandel



John Willie (John Alexander Scott Coutts)

(December 9, 1902 - August 5, 1962)

John Alexander Scott Coutts was an Englishman who would later go by the name of John Willie. He had an enormous part in bringing bondage and fetish images to the west via is drawings and photography. He worked for the British Intelligence Service. He then lived in in Austrlia from circa 1925 to1945.

Around 1945 is when he moved to New York City and began sporatically publishing 20 issues of "Bizarre Magazine" (1946 -1959) which featured his fetish and bondage art. It was at this time he began using the name John Willie.

He is most remembered for his "Sweet Gwendoline Series".

Images by John Willie (Used by Permission)
(c) Belier Press http://belierpress.com

Some believe that while he was in Australia and traveling the Asian Pacific rim countries that he came under the influence of the Japanese erotic bondage artists such as Ito Sieu and others in the early 20th century. He then combined those bondage images with his western fetish style of drawing.

This has been disputed however by Belier Press which inherited the rights to John Willie's works. It is acknowledged however that he recieved magazines reportedly from a US Air Force physician circa 1958-59.

It has also be noted that there was some relationship, as a number of his Willie's images appeared in Japanese Magazines in the 1950's & 60's.

After it was revealed that he had a brain tumor, John Willie destroyed his archives and moved back to England in 1961 where he died.

Pin-ups To Nose Art

In the 1940's and 50's the "pin-up" image stormed into the western consciousness from the World War II era when Hollywood actresses, most notably Bettie Grable, whose images were circulated among the GI's as encouragement and inspiration, to stir memories of home and something to fight for.

The "pin up" genre in art can actually be traced back to the late 1800's.

Another noticeable practice in the use of the pin up at that time was what we know as "nose art". This was the practice of painting pinups on the nose of military aircraft. One of the most popular artists that was used was Alberto Vargas. 

Image by Vargas

Bettie Page - Irving Klaw

Then after World War II, Bettie Page a secretary by trade and
aspiring actress, worked as a pin-up model in New York City.
She would become the person perhaps most responsible for liberating the sexual minds of many westerners with her ground breaking bondage and fetish modeling in the 1950's.

Image above of Bettie Page in Bondage Photo by Irving Klaw
(C) Movie Star News

New York fetish photographer, Irving Klaw and his sister Paula  (Klaw) Taylor or Kramer ? brought images of Page to the public which ultimately had perhaps the greatest impact on bringing bondage to the western world.

Klaw's family business, "The Movie Star News" would develop an under the table sideline business of pin-up model pictures.  Klaw had become know as the "King of Pinup". Some of his well known

models were burlesque performers, Blaze Starr and Tempest Storm. Customer demand for more kinkier images, led to bondage images and films using Bettie Page who would become his "bondage queen".

Image (C) Movie Star News
Image of Bettie Page and Irving Klaw.
It could be argued that if Bettie had not done the bondage modeling for Klaw, she may have only been another of hundreds or thousands of pin up models from that era. It was the bondage images that made her the cult queen she is today.

Page modeled during the McCarthy era of the 1950's, in the side show / peep show New York industry. The moral crusaders catapulted Bettie to the public eye thanks to a senator from Bettie Page's home state of Tennessee who organized a senate committee to investigate "juvenile delinquency".

Carey Estes Kefauver

During the notorious "McCarthy" era, Senator Carey Estes Kefauver (Democrat from Tennessee and presidential hopeful) would lead the crusade to investigate the exploitation of the American Worker by the Mafia. Around 1955 his crusade morphed into a "Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency" (with a young attorney, Robert Kennedy on his staff). Robert Kennedy was actually on McCarthy's staff for a few months, but resigned when it became apparent that McCarthy's anti Communist campaign revealed a image that was not good for his career. Kefauver would subpoenaed Irving Klaw and his sister Paula to testify before this committee. Irving would plead the 5th to all questions.

It has been reported that Bettie Page was also supoenaed and was present for the hearings to testify, but was never never called to testify. This is in dispute, although it was represented that way in the movie: "The Notorious Bettie Page".

Out of fear of prosecution and jail, the investigations brought Klaw's business to an end. In a panic, he destroyed about three-fourth of his inventory of negatives, but sister Paula secretly kept and hid away the rest, and history is thankful for her foresight and actions. Bettie's modeling career closed out about that time.

However, as with most moral or puritanical crusades by politicians, these hearings only served to publicize the bondage world far more than if things had just been left alone.

Irving would die in 1966 of a ruptured appendix.

Lili St. Cry

(Click on image to enlarge)

Also doing a couple of shoots with Klaw was the "Queen of Burlesque", Lili St. Cyr (1918-1999). She is know today as the performer who took Burlesque from it's low class sleazy bar image to a classy art form. She performed in Klaw film classics with Bettie Page, Striporama and Varietease. Although not successful in mainstream motion pictures, it was Howard Hughes in 1955 that got her a role in a major film, "Son of Sinbad". She is however not known to have done any bondage. Her signature show was called "The Flying G", where at the close of a performance just as the light went off, her g-string would fly off and up into the balcony.

Detective Magazines

Western Bondage was further popularized in US by the Detective Magazines and what we refer to as the old cult bondage movies.

These magazine images solidified the focus in western bondage as doing something to the captive as opposed to Japanese style where the emphasis is on the bondage experience itself.  

Image (C) BedroomBondage.com and Open Mind Media
"Permission to repost on this page only".

The models are Catherine Beaumont, Eric Holman, and Lorelei. The photography was by Eric Holman and Lorelei.

Western Style & Characteristics

Western, generally features a bondage using softer ropes  {*mmmmph....gags}. Struggling, sensual moans, etc. are key elements in the mutual pleasure of all participants.  

The words "captor" and "captive" are often used rather that Dominant, Master, submissive or slave.  In fact many who are into bondage do not relate to the modern BDSM movement at all.  Ladies (or men) who fantasize {emphasis on fantasy... this is a consensual activity} being overpowered, forced etc.... love this style of bondage.

In some cases it may be used to help the captive cross a barrier such as dealing with issues of "shame" related to sex, or  being introduced to a new activity such anal sex or  having pubic hair shaved. Or it may help the submissive feel safe enough to find the serenity of her subspace.

Rope Bondage play among consenting adults gained popularity in late 20th century in the west, largely due to the combination of the culturally ingrained sexual repression of American puritanical society, where often pleasure is seen as sinful, or slutty or shameful unless it is done as the religionists define, which is generally for procreation not pleasure. Add also the media obsession with sexual images in advertising and we have a society with enough mixed messages to drive anyone to the counselor's chair.  

This is the same mentality that has made romance novels the #1 sellers in this country. Visions of a powerful man swooping a woman off her feet and overpowering her in evil / romantic sort of way.  

"mmmmm"Stop... Don't,  Stop... Don't     mmmmmm... Don't Stop"

Therefore some women often see it pleasurable to be "consensually forced into pleasure via bondage", sometimes in order to help them overcome their puritanical ingrained inhibitions.

 "That mean man did it to me, he forced me {to feel this pleasure}".  

Then on the other hand, many women and men just like being tied up. They enjoy the sensuality of the ropes, the time it takes to apply and remove the ropes is simply a much needed answer to the desire for foreplay and aftercare.

I'm told the latest research indicates that up to 30% of American couples have used bondage as part of their intimate and erotic activities.


http://americanfetish.net/sexresearch.us (Robert V. Bienvenu II, Ph.D.)



http://www.belierpress.com ( J. B. Rund )

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