Japanese Rope Bondage History and Tradition
A Summary of Rope Bondage
The Rise of Hojojutsu
The Duality of Shibari & Kinbaku
Japanese Terms in Western Bondage
If you wish to add to this knowledge resource we invite you to submit any relevant articles (preferably those with referenced scholarly sources). We welcome submissions from recognised peers within the community – even informal view points are valued – and we encourage those who would like to contest any of this information as we do wish to provide an accurate reference.
Where Does the Story of Rope Bondage Begin
Remains of rope have been found dating back to 2800BC in Asia1. It would be remiss to believe that nobody utilised the invention to tie another person throughout the thousands of years which passed before the Edo period in Japan, but it is this period (1603-1867) which is widely cited as the birth for modern day rope based bondage.
The Rise of Hojojutsu
During the mid 1400’s, Japanese warriors popularised ‘quick capture’ techniques, where rope was used to restrain enemies on the battlefield.
By the 1600’s rope had become a key part of law enforcement2. The act of capturing, binding, and restraining criminals (or suspects) with rope continued to evolve for over another 200 years, before the martial art now most commonly known as HojoJutsu3 began to disappear from society.
Hojojutsu is now a relatively obscure martial art, but it is still practiced in Japan, and has spread to other countries around the globe. And is now more commonly refered to as Torinawa Jutsu, which is still pracitced by the Japanese police force today.
Key points concerning ropes traditionally used in Hojojutsu:
Most Ryu (Schools) utilised two primary ropes. A shorter rope for capture, and a longer rope for restraint.The longer ropes, or ‘main’ ropes were different at many levels, and there was no one ‘correct’ construction of rope that was used exclusively. There were, however, common themes:
- All ropes were made from natural fibres – predominantly jute, but also hemp and even flax, though the later was far less common
- ‘Lengths’, also known as ‘Ken’ ( ?)4, were measured directly in proportion to arm span. Typical lengths began at twice a person’s arm span for the shorter capture ropes (hayanawa – commonly translated as ‘fast rope’) and ranged up to fourteen body lengths for the main rope (hon nawa / honnawa).
Read further about information on rope lengths during the edo period. (Link comming soon)
The Duality of Shibari and Kinbaku
Rope based bondage in modern day erotica is heavily influenced by hojojutsu ties and techniques. While this influence is well documented, there is division within the West’s BDSM community over correct terminology. There are two Japanese words most commonly used to describe Japanese influenced rope based bondage: Shibari and Kinbaku.
Both terms, Shibari and Kinbaku, have been adopted by the BDSM community as well as artists who operate on the fringes of erotica. At Jade Rope we have noticed a duality in the use of these terms. We do not argue that one term is more correct than the other, nor do we assert that Shibari is a different activity to Kinbaku. However, we do not use the terms indiscriminately; it is our position that the intention behind the activity of binding another with rope discerns the appropriate term.
We feel that if a tie, or technique is used by a person in a martial arts context, this intention makes the act Hojojutsu.
Similarly, we believe if that same tie is used in an artistic pose, where emphasis and – most importantly – the intent of the person tying is aesthetically driven… the act is Shibari, whilst should the same tie used to create a sexually driven scene… then Kinbaku is most appropriate for the activity.
We’ve provided the statement above purely so that our readers can understand how we have identified and discern between the different rope disciplines. The assertions are merely our position.
In Japan these views would be considered only slightly more accurate than many other misguided attempts at defining a culturally specific pursuit. To read more about the use of Japanese terms within western bondage, we’ve added a small section at the bottom of this page.
Because the depth of historic and traditional influences on shibari and kinbaku are extensive, we’ve created a separate section of the site to discuss the two disciplines. You may read more about Shibari, or read more about Kinbaku, buy navigating to the respective discipline of your choice in the left navigation column on our store home page.
The label ‘Fusion’ has been applied to western bondage that has borrowed aspects of Japanese bondage. The influence of Kinbaku cannot be denied, but Fusion typically ignores any limitations that have been built up around a method – or, more correctly, methods – that evolved over hundreds of years.
Whilst some of the beauty and ‘artform’ inherent within Kinbaku and Shibari has been compromised, there are many innovations that have benefited rope bondage as a whole.
Some main points of difference relating to Fusion are:
- Full-body ties utilise a single piece of rope - closer to original forms in hojojutsu - where as kinbaku has adopted traditional lengths closer to 7m (23ft) which are joined when ties requiring longer lengths
- Synthetic ropes, particularly solid braid nylon, is far more common in western bondage
- The diameter tends to be larger with ropes in fusion bondage being 8 to 10 mm (5/16” to 3/8”), while shibari and especially kinbaku tend towards 5 to 6mm (1/5” to 1/4").
It should be understood that, whist some of the points above that are associated with fusion today, actually have historical precedence in Hojojutsu. It wasn’t until after centuries of refinement that the lengths of rope used in Torinawa techniques were standardised. In the beginning, long lengths of up to 11.5 Ken (21 meters / 68.9 feet) were used commonly.
- Fossilised handmade rope lengths were found in Europe which dated to 15,000BC, and rope making tools were first constructed in Egypt in late 4000BC.
- It should be noted that there are records of prisoners tied with rope from the Heian period (as early as 800), and educated speculation would assume that rope was most likely utilised for restraint for hundreds of years before that. However, it was the Edo period where rope bondage moved beyond mere martial use into artform.
- Other references, though less common, are: Torinawajutsu, Hobakujutsu and Hojo-jitsu. Torinawajutsu and Hojojutsu are different pronunciations of the same kanji.
- At the end of the edo period (1891) the ‘Ken’ officially measured 1.82 metres (5.96 feet), however, this official ‘Ken’ was based on 6 ‘Shaku’ and the shaku increased in length over generations from 23.1cms (9.09in) before being recorded in 1891 as 30.3cms (11.93in).
Japanese Terms in Western Bondage
Terms such as 'shibari', 'kinbaku', and many others – especially 'nawashi' – which have been borrowed from the Japanese culture cannot be translated literally and retain their full meaning. Nor can these interpretive translations come close to containing the full culturally specific values and significance that is associated with the craft of bondage that has arisen over the centuries in Japan.
The terms Kinbaku and Shibari now a duality of meaning… their Japanese origins and also a newer ‘westernised’ terminology associated with rope based bondage.
All of our references to bondage disciplines refer to the four distinctively different mindsets that are present in the western world of Japanese influenced rope restraint.