Shibari, more correctly known as Kinbaku is an ancient Japanese artistic form of rope bondage that has many styles and uses. It is related in style to other traditional Japanese arts such as Ikebana, Sumi-e (black ink painting) and Chanoyu (the tea ceremony). Among the many uses of Shibari are dynamic living sculpture, shared meditative practice, deep relaxation for flexibility of mind and body, expression of power exchange, and intimate erotic restraint.
In Shibari (the action of tying someone up) the Nawashi (rope artist) creates almost geometric patterns and shapes that contrast wonderfully with the female body’s natural curves and recesses. Visually, the tight ropes and their texture provide a counterpoint to smooth skin and curves. The hard edges of the rope reinforce the softness of the body’s graceful shape: the model is like a canvas, and the rope is paint and brush. This contrast is even emphasized by the use of Junoesque models, whose generous curves are squeezed by the ropes to create more pronounced shapes and shadows.
From antiquity to today, religious ceremonies in Japan involve ropes and ties to symbolize connections among people and the divine, as well as to delineate sacred spaces and time. The art of Japanese bondage has a long tradition and has been perfected over many centuries. It serves not only as binding but also as body adornment, and the pressure made by cords can employ Shiatsu techniques.
Shibari is a combination of bondage effects as most of us know them (power, helplessness), but also beauty and aesthetics (it can be compared to Japanese Ikebana, the 700 year-old Japanese art of flower arranging). The intense massage by the ropes and knots is very similar to acupuncture techniques and Shiatsu (a form of Japanese massage).
Types of rope
Both natural fibre ropes, and synthetic ropes can be used for bondage, though each has their own properties and may be more suitable in certain situations. In the images on this website, hemp and jute ropes are most commonly used, with nylon being used for photoshoots involving water.
Natural fibre ropes:
Natural fibre ropes are twisted, rather than braided, and are preferred by some simply due to the aesthetically pleasing marks left on the skin after being tied. Hemp, jute, and linen ropes are also very strong, yet soft enough to be used for bondage, and with enough friction to hold any knots securely.
Hemp: Hemp fibres come from various strains of the Cannabis sativa plant, and produce a strong, reasonably soft rope, with high enough friction to hold a knot securely. The rope can be fairly rough when untreated, but boiling, washing, and oiling as detailed below will result in a soft rope that is perfect for our purposes. Hemp rope has a very distinctive odour, and just smelling the rope is often enough to get a rope bottom in the right frame of mind for a rope scene. Hemp tends to be the most common rope used for shibari in the West, as it is generally easier to obtain than Jute
Jute: Jute fibres are produced from plants in the Corchorus genus. Jute rope has very similar properties to hemp rope, though it is a little lighter, smoother, and has a different smell. Jute rope is the most common rope used for shibari in Japan, but is relatively difficult to find in the West
Linen: Linen fibres are produced from the flax plant, (usually Linum usitatissimum).The rope produced is very similar to hemp rope, but tends to be a little softer and ‘fluffier’, and lacks the distinctive smell of hemp. Linen ropes are not that commonly used for bondage, but are perfectly suitable for the task.
Manilla, sisal and coir ropes are often easier to find than the above three types of rope, but are not suitable for bondage as the fibres are thicker and likely to splinter, making the rope very scratchy, and hard to tie securely.
Cotton: Cotton is also a natural fibre, but cotton rope is very different from the types of rope listed above. It can be made into twisted or braided rope, which is much softer on the skin than other natural fibre ropes, but it isn’t as strong. The rope doesn’t have as much friction as hemp rope, so knots are more likely to slip, and when under tension it has more of a stretch, meaning the knots can tighten and be more difficult to undo easily. Cotton rope can be used for the majority of bondage positions, but isn’t recommended for suspension or partial suspension
Nylon is the most commonly used synthetic rope for bondage. It is very smooth and soft on the skin, it is strong, and easy to work with. However it has much less friction than natural fibre ropes, so extra knots or wraps are often required to hold the ropework firmly in place. One advantage it has over natural ropes is that it doesn’t shrink when wet, so can be safely used in rope scenes involving water. Nylon rope is generally braided, although twisted rope can sometimes be found. It is easy to dye, so a wide variety of colours are available.
Parachute cord is very very strong, reasonably soft, and holds knots well, but is of too small a diameter to be useful for anything other than decorative bondage, or male genital bondage.
Polypropylene rope is widely available, but is unsuitable for bondage, it is very hard and scratchy, and doesn’t hold knots securely. Likewise, climbing ropes, while very strong, are generally too thick to use for bondage, and form bulky knots.
Length and diameter of rope.
Diameter: For a good ‘all-round’ bondage rope, a diameter of 6mm is generally preferred. This is large enough not to put undue pressure on the body (though several wraps are needed), and aesthetically looks ‘right’ on the vast majority of body types. 8mm or larger diameter ropes are sometimes used for simple bondage involving fewer wraps, or on people with a larger build. 4 and 5mm ropes can be used for decorative bondage, face/head bondage, or male genital bondage, but are too small and tend to dig in too much to be useful for many other ties.
Length: In Japan, all the ropes used are 7 metres long, and have knotted ends to allow additional ropes to be joined easily when the tie requires more rope. In the West, people often have a selection of lengths of rope, and pick the right length for the particular tie they are doing. Generally lengths used are 5 and 10 metres. Longer ropes are used for certain ties, such as rope corsets, but can be a little unwieldy to work with. The Japanese method of using shorter ropes and joining them means the bondage is slightly easier to perform, as you don’t have very long trailing lengths of rope.
Basic Tying Instruction