Most of us have seen titillating images of mostly women tied-up in intricately laced knots and scantily dressed. Upon viewing these images questions may arise such as, is she enjoying that?Is she being forced into this for someone else’s pleasure? Can I tie-up my partner? Can this actually be enjoyable?
If you want to explore these questions and desires may we suggest Shibari? Shibari is a Japanese rope tying technique, some may say artform, and it has been used in film, art and photography to seduce viewers due to its elegant and sexual aesthetics. Central to the art is creating patterns that contrast and complement the natural curves of the body. The beauty lies in the contrasts: bare skin against rope, strength against exposure, a sense of calm amongst the risk. In my quest to understand Shibari I contacted the Shibari Study and spoke to its founder, Marika. Not only were my questions answered, I discovered that there is much more to Shibari than a fun night of kink.
AS IF: Marika, what is Shibari and how is it different from other bondage techniques?
Marika: The answer is complicated because not everybody agrees. Basically, Shibari, the word itself, simply means “to tie” in Japanese, so then it’s open to interpretation. I think the first important thing to say is that the notion that this is an ancient art and practice is actually false. Shibari came out of kink and bondage when that movement became mainstream and people started teaching it and making it easier to digest for others. Some people believe it came out of Hojojutsu, which is an ancient martial art that was used by Japanese police in feudal Japan. But Shibari, as we know it today, is actually a pretty modern practice and art form. Both the erotic side, and its artistic side, are quite recent and appeared at the same time in the 70s in Japan. Artists started to publish pictures and paintings representing tied-up women, and there was a golden era of erotism in Japan and Shibari was attractive due to the strong imagery. There was also a lot of influence with the West when American soldiers left erotic magazines behind depicting Western bondage, so an American style bondage merged with Japanese bondage.
How is American bondage different?
M: Western bondage is more straightforward and uses materials like colorful synthetic ropes, leather and chains, while Japanese bondage is strictly done with natural ropes like jute or hemp rope. Also, the big difference that remains today is that Western bondage is strictly sexual. It’s strictly a BDSM and S&M practice and it’s a means to an end—to tie somebody up and immobilize them so you can do something to them later. Japanese bondage is more about the process itself, so whether it’s for artistic purposes or sensual and erotic purposes, it’s about the process. There is this notion of creating something from the second we start until the moment we end. The process of wrapping the person in rope, moving them around and going through a journey with them, both emotionally and visually, is very unique to Japanese bondage. This is why Western bondage stayed in the bedroom and is more underground, while Japanese bondage can be used for artistic, meditative and self-care body work.
Since the pandemic we are all mainly house-bound and many of our usual fun outlets are gone. We all want to heighten our level of excitement in our relationships, so tell me what Shibari can bring to a relationship?
M: There are many answers to this question, which is what makes Shibari such an attractive practice—it’s stimulating on so many different levels. First of all, there’s an excitement of just sharing the process of learning a new craft and sharing a new interest with your partner. Then there is the practice itself which takes time and keeps you in the moment, which is important right now in this period of high stress and uncertainty. Shibari allows you to concentrate on yourself and another person at the same time, and this is very bonding and a beneficial active form of meditation. It’s like combining yoga, meditation, and tango together! It deepens trust in a partnership as well.