There seems to be a good deal of confusion on what is and isn’t shibari an even what the word means. Is it the right word? Is it a legitimate usage? Should I use Kinbaku instead?
So what does the word Shibari mean?
Well the dictionary definition would be the act of tying but as with so many words in Japanese the meaning depends very much on context in which it is used, and to take a word out of context removes much of its meaning. In the context of a discussion on bondage Shibari is very much a word for bondage tying.
What is Shibari vs. Kinbaku
It’s important to remember that just as in the rest of the world the Japanese have differing opinions on what is what and which is the best term to use for what not only Shibari or Kinbaku but Nawashi, Bakushi, Newaza, Yukawaza etc.
Osada Steve and Hajime Kinoko have broadly the same opinion that ‘Shibari’ is bondage tying and that Kinbaku is ‘Shibari plus emotional connection. Arisue Go seems to use some words interchangeably his own site referring to him as a Shibari master, a Nawashi and a Kinbakushi. You are invited to learn Shibari at his Kinbaku workshops. Other recognised Japanese names prefer one or the other to some extent, this does not however mean that one is valid and the other is not. They are all valid. Similarly with floor work that Osada Steve will likely refer to as Newaza, Yukimura san may or may not refer to as Newaza and Arisue Go may refer to floor work as Yukawaza.
These are not contradictions, they are preferences of expression.
Also it’s worth bearing in mind that the differing opinions, are differences of opinion on which term to use within a group of terms that are understood by all Japanese practitioners. There’s no real problem with using either or both.
What makes rope bondage Shibari?
- It must be beautiful.
- It must be effective.
- It must have a Japanese aesthetic.
Given the above and regardless of the word you use to describe it, to be Shibari it needs to fulfil all three of the above criteria.
- Beautiful. There are many ideas about what constitutes beauty in general. Tastes vary, beauty is indeed subjective and some find beauty where others do not.
- Effective. It must restrain and not be simply decoration for the sake of decoration.
- Japanese aesthetic. This is one that has to be cultivated. It can be a quite a broad definition but it is also a very important one.
Personally I think it’s very important to view it not just as a collection of definitions but also as something that two human beings do together, also it’s not a craft project and to view its definition from a simply technical perspective is just as restrictive.
There are common techniques that are used in most Shibari / Kinbaku / Japanese rope bondage for instance the use of the doubled rope, but it is a mistake to think that any individual points of technique serve as a complete definition. It is the combination of all aspects together, technique, effectiveness plus aesthetic sense that makes the Japanese style distinct.
What ‘Shibari’ is and what it contains is also changing over time with the influence of its best exponents. Though this seems to leave a lot of room for maneuver in defining what is and isn’t Shibari the three basic parameters remain, beautiful, effective and with a Japanese aesthetic.
The trouble with defining Japanese bondage
It’s because it’s more than just mechanical that it is so hard to pin down or to define in terms which are quick and easy for people to understand. I think sometimes awful though the expression is, they just don’t get it.
Yes there are common techniques used in the Japanese style. Do they define the Japanese style? No. If the ties are effective, does that define the Japanese style? No. Though I would say that it’s not what I’d consider Shibari if the ties weren’t effective. Yes ties in the Japanese style should be beautiful (huge room for argument about beauty there) but the majority of people can separate aesthetically pleasing from total mess to some degree and with varying degrees of discernment.
A combination of things define the Japanese style which is where many people fall down as they focus on one thing.
The syllogisms are flawed, to give some examples.
- Japanese bondage should be beautiful
- this bondage is beautiful and therefore Japanese bondage.
- This technique has been used in Japanese bondage
- therefore everything using this technique is Japanese bondage.
They just don’t get it?
One of the problems with ‘getting’ Shibari is understanding the aesthetic. People produce bondage that uses the common techniques of Shibari and is effective but does not have the aesthetic of Shibari. This leads them to people thinking that they do Shibari when they don’t and getting very upset when people tell them that they don’t. The problem is compounded in that; because they don’t understand what is a Japanese aesthetic, they also can’t recognise what isn’t a Japanese aesthetic.
This leads to a great deal of bondage being done that uses the basic techniques of Shibari but has a purely western aesthetic. Now please bear in mind that this does not mean that it’s not good bondage, or sensual bondage or a great pleasure for the tier and the tied. It does not mean that it’s not beautiful bondage. It just means that it’s not ‘Shibari’ as such. Some people react to this from a position of insecurity fearing that because it’s a different thing it’s a lesser thing. This is not necessarily the case.
Kinbaku vs. Shibari in my view
Shibari & Kinbaku = Bondage fulfilling the criteria of being…
- Japanese aesthetic.
Many people argue about the ‘right word’ for the Japanese style of rope bondage. Should it be Shibari or should it be Kinbaku? Yes it should.
In my personal view
Really good bondage must include an emotional element. The connection between the tying and the tied should be paramount. “To tie is to hug”, This is greatly evident in Shibari / Kinbaku rope bondage.
This is where the definition for me goes beyond technique, style, practicality and aesthetic.
It is not a static thing, a pretty tie, a craft project, an artistic exercise. It is a human, emotionally connected experience. It is all the things I’ve mentioned and this.
It is a living thing, beautiful and brief in the moment.
This is my view. Time and experience may possibly change, educate or reform it. After all time and experience are what have resulted in it growing to what it is now.