What is shibari/kinbaku?

shibari by Nina Russ
Drama Magazine // Shibari by Nina Russ

Kinbaku (緊縛?) means ‘tight binding’ Kinbaku-bi (緊縛美?) which literally means ‘the beauty of tight binding’. Kinbaku is a Japanese style of bondage or BDSM which involves tying up the bottomusing simple yet visually intricate patterns, usually with several pieces of thin rope (typically and generally between 5mm- 6mm in diameter, but sometimes as small as 4mm, and between 7m–8m long). In Japanese, this natural-fibre rope is known as ‘asanawa’; the Japanese vocabulary does not make a distinction between hemp and jute. The allusion is to the use of rope for restraining prisoners, as a symbol of power, in the same way that stocks or manacles are used in a Western BDSM context.[1]The word shibari came into common use in the West at some point in the 1990s to describe the bondage art Kinbaku.

Shibari (縛り?) is a Japanese word that literally means “to tie” or “to bind”.

There is much discussion about the distinction between shibari and kinbaku, and whether one term is more appropriate than another. One modern distinction, probably originating from Osada Steve, which is gaining popularity among westerners wanting to distinguish the terms is that shibari refers to purely artistic, aesthetic rope, whilst kinbaku refers to the artistic, connective, sensual, sexual practice as a whole. While thousands of books and articles have been written in Japanese about shibari, no one has found evidence of there being any thought given to the distinction between these words among Japanese practitioners of the art.

A traditional view is that the term ‘shibari’ is a wrong Western Japonism. The word denotes tying in Japanese, but in a generic way, and traditionally not in the context of bondage. The names for many particular ties include ‘shibari’, but it is not traditional to call the entire activity that way. (In the same way as there are ‘Diamond Knots‘ and ‘Portuguese Bowline Knots‘, but ‘knotting’ does not mean bondage). Instead, Kinbaku is the term for artistic or erotic tying within traditional Japanese rope bondage circles.This view seems to be squarely at odds with the way the word is actually used in books, periodicals, and discussions of rope bondage among Japanese.

An even more traditional view is that shibari is a term used for erotic bondage in Japan that is practically interchangeable with the term kinbaku. Itoh Seiu, generally considered one of the fathers of contemporary Japanese rope bondage used the term in the 1950s,[2]with no sign of it being a “western Japonism” as did many other well known Japanese bakushi, from the 1950s until present day, including Nureki Chimuo, Yukimura Haruki, Akechi Denki, Tsujimura Takeshi, Arisue Go, Randa Mai, Osada Steve, Miura Takumi, Nagaike Takeshi, and Minomura Kou (among countless others). One of Nurkei Chimuo’s how-to video series from the 1980s, is titled Introduction to Shibari.[3]

While some claim this is a somewhat hidebound definition and the word shibari is now increasingly being re-imported from the West to Japan, as the tying communities are very much interconnected, there is no evidence to support such a conclusion as most practicing bakushi in Japan have very limited contact with the west and almost no interest in debating the meaning of words. Most Japanese kinbakushi do not object to the term shibari, as it’s common vernacular in the global community. Another explanation can be found in the linguistic roots of the two words, which share a core kanji.[4]

In the west, especially in America, the term shibari has also been extended to encompass many styles which are a fusion of western and Japanese bondage. Being somewhat pedantic, I feel this is inappropriate, confusing and typical of the differences between English and American English. This being so, the difference can be as great as between the meaning of ‘football’ to each nationality (Americans use this word to refer to a game closer to rugby and use ‘soccer’ for what we term ‘football’).

The aesthetics of the bound person’s position is important: in particular, Japanese bondage is distinguished by its use of specific katas (forms) and aesthetic rules. Sometimes, asymmetric and often intentionally uncomfortable positions are employed. In particular, Japanese bondage is very much about the way the rope is applied and the pleasure is more in the journey than the destination. In this way the rope becomes an extension of the nawashi‘s hands and is used to communicate. I have often heard Japanese masters express this. same feeling in very similar ways.

Traditional Japanese bondage techniques use jute rope almost exclusively,though contemporary Japanese Masters have been working with a range of rope materials, e.g. Kinoko Hajime’s UV ‘cyber-rope’ shows.. The natural fibers easily lock to each other which means the bondage can be held together by the friction of twists and turns or very simple knots.

To me and, quite probably, your partner, it is more important how you do it than what you call it.. As they say, a rose by any other name doth smell as sweet. On this site, you’ll discover a lot about the ‘how’ and can be sure that the techniques follow traditional Japanese style and aesthetics faithfully.