Opinions, Kink Curated

Hajime's Shibari: Japanese Rope Bondage

Tokyo’s fetish for fetishes is hardly a secret. The weird, the taboo, the edges of erotic play can all be found in the hundreds of private fetish clubs in the densely-packed metropolis. The birthplace of manga and tentacle porn, Tokyo’s conservatism is a thin canopy that shades a jungle of forbidden desires, erotic art, and kink culture.

Even connoisseur of hedonism Anthony Bourdain was decidedly star-struck – wide eyed and jaw agape  when he visited a few fetish clubs while making his “Tokyo After Dark” episode on his CNN show “Parts Unknown.”

Raids on fetish and sex clubs are not unheard of in Tokyo; they have to keep up the appearance of conservatism after all. Other BDSM clubs, like Silk in Shinjuku, have been shut down before. But which clubs get targeted has more to do with who pays “registration fees” to authorities and which clubs have the protection of the Yakuza, a Japan-based international crime syndicate.

Photography by Kinoko Hajime and used with permission.

Photography by Kinoko Hajime and used with permission.

One of the most popular victims of indiscriminate (or targeted) raids has caused a stir, however. Internationally renowned shibari bondage artist Kinoko Hajime was arrested June 2014 for aiding the “indecent acts” of his patrons at his fetish bar in Tokyo, Japan. Several of his staff and customers were also arrested.

Hajime, master of one of the largest fetish clubs in Tokyo, has been featured in several publications and makes regular appearances at kink and fetish events all over the world. Hajime traveled to my hometown of Dallas in 2016 to attend the most popular bondage event, Bondage Expo Dallas, where he not only performed his stunning suspension bondage, but also took time to workshop with local rope artists, sharing his skills and passion for rope. His avant-garde approach to shibari, a visually aesthetic form of Japanese rope bondage – has made him one of the most sought after bondage artists in Tokyo.

During an interview with VICE, he said of his own work, “I try to make ropework look appealing even for regular people. For example, I use glow-in-the-dark ropes to create beautiful patterns on the body, and so on. I also do this thing called cyber-rope where the ropework is set to club music. I want to present it in a way that people can easily digest.”

Or perhaps it’s Hajime’s fondness for connecting with his subjects that makes his work so successful.

“There is something erotic about Kinoko’s ropework. When he ties me up, it turns me on very gradually. That’s what I like about it. Just with rope, he ignites this lust inside of me.” – Nana, rope model.

Hajime articulated this linking of spirits with Vice:

“[W]hen you tie someone up... There’s this moment when the two of you connect. To use the analogy of a computer, it’s like the rope is a USB cable. You and the model are installing into one another. You have this tacit understanding of one another. You’re both standing on the same vector. That feeling is part of what draws me to this art form.”

While Western culture is just now peeking curiously into the bondage scene, the rope masters of Japan have been practicing the art for centuries. Ironically, Hajime himself sometimes is admonished by his elder shibari masters for not adhering to a more “traditional” shibari style.

Though fetish clubs like Hajime’s KUNKUN will probably still draw heat from authorities, it’s doubtful that Hajime’s thirst for rope bondage will be so easily quenched. For some, rope bondage is just about tying up a pretty girl. For others it is a labor of love – a tendril of human connection in a culture bound in tradition and honor.

Cover art by Kinoko Hajime and used with permission.