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      culture Roni Jacobson 8 May, 2015

      bondage artist naka akira on the erotic beauty of kinbaku

      As FKA Twigs and 'Fifty Shades of Grey' bring the Japanese art of rope tying ever closer to the mainstream, we talk to one of its master practitioners.

      bondage artist naka akira on the erotic beauty of kinbaku bondage artist naka akira on the erotic beauty of kinbaku bondage artist naka akira on the erotic beauty of kinbaku

      BDSM gear has been cropping up in fashion for ages, but thanks to the cultural behemoth that is Fifty Shades of Grey it now seems more present than ever. Bondage can be as simple as slapping on handcuffs or tying up wrists, but a more complex form of rope bondage called Kinbaku, which originated as an erotic art in Japan in the 1800s, is the source of inspiration for much current fashion, as well as FKA Twigs' Pendulum video.

      Kinbaku, in which someone, the "top," ties up another person, the "bottom," with elegantly placed rope, frequently suspending them in midair, is also a popular subculture in the BDSM scene (in the US, practitioners refer to it as "Shibari," a more general Japanese word meaning "to tie"). While the end result is visually striking and usually prompts a flurry of picture-taking, devotees say that Kinbaku is as much about the process and communication between partners as the final configuration.

      At a performance in a warehouse in Brooklyn this winter, Naka Akira, one of Japan's preeminent rope artists, put his model, Gorgone, through at least six positions before the hour-long show was over. It was hard to count exactly, however, because there was a constant flow through each movement. At one point towards the end, Gorgone was fully suspended with her legs splayed open and bent at the knees, secured ankle to thigh. Naka unwound her legs so they dropped straight down, then swiftly yoked them together and re-rigged them up behind her until her back was fully arched, without breaking a sweat.

      i-D talked with Naka after his performance, and later via e-mail, about the history and practice of Kinbaku, and why pain can be beautiful.

      What is Kinbaku?
      Literally the word Kinbaku means "tight binding." But even though I have been practicing Kinbaku for 25 to 30 years I don't understand it all yet. I am still on a journey to discover the answer.

      What's the history of Kinbaku? How did the practice develop?
      Kinbaku is based on another art that was used in Japan as a form of torture called Hojojutsu that started in the Edo period. Hojojutsu is a systematized technique for restraining criminals using rope, born out of a particular Japanese sensitivity which seeks for beauty in movement — which you also see in Japanese tea ceremony, flower arrangement and martial arts — as well as out of the environment of fixed social status in the Edo period.

      I assume that originally when people saw the female criminals tied up with Hojojutsu, they felt something erotic in it, which led to the development of Kinbaku.But what I am doing has nothing to do with Hojojutsu, although it might be influenced by it. Kinbaku is completely different.

      How is photography related to the popularization of Kinbaku?
      In Japan, Seiu Ito is known as the "father of modern Kinbaku." He was originally a painter. He tied women up and drew them. That was in or about the Meiji period. Back then society wasn't open and that type of thing was treated as hentai, something to be hidden, and something that should never come out in public. We can talk about bondage and Kinbaku these days but at the time it was taboo. Photos and drawings of Kinbaku were important in making it acceptable to talk about. Ito's photos and drawings were a large part of that.

      Although the torture painting by Seiu Ito is supposed to be the official beginning of the trend, bound women started appearing in colored woodblock prints long before, shortly after the Meiji Restoration. Recently, with the wide expansion of sexual expression, Kinbaku has been adopted as a popular form of sexual role play, and the person whose occupation is to practice Kinbaku and teach the subject in the adult industry is called "Kinbakushi," literally "rope bondage artist."

      How did you become a Kinbakushi?
      I was about 30 years old when I awoke to this world. I am who I am because of an encounter with my master, Chimuo Nureki. At the time I was a CEO of a company involved in producing adult videos. When I found out that one of our models would be in an S&M video, I hurried over to the shoot because I was concerned. And the person tying up our model was Chimuo Nureki! I was awestruck.

      Until that day, I had never been interested in bondage. I thought that it was just another S&M torture play. But Master Nureki's bondage was an art. And his technique! He tied smoothly without interruption. Although I didn't understand the process at that time, I wondered how he could tie someone up so effortlessly. The master noticed my interest and invited me to his Kinbaku study group. And I went. I started attending regularly after that. Soon I was allowed to be an assistant. I learned everything from the personal care of the master to the preparation and cleaning of ropes. He wasn't the type to spoon-feed you. As in the rest of the Japanese artisan world, he would let us watch him work and in that way steal his skills. About two years after I first started attending, the master told me I could do an unbinding for the first time and I was overjoyed! This is how my love of Kinbaku and my obsession with it began. I was completely fascinated by the beauty of bondage. Since then, waking or sleeping, Kinbaku has been my life.

      What is beautiful about tying someone up?
      Suffering. That is the beauty of Kinbaku. The beauty does not come from violence or cruelty or restraining/treading on the female body. The beauty of bondage comes from both parties understanding and trusting each other and the appearance of the other party enduring the pain for you.

      Credits

      Text Roni Jacobson
      Translation Ima Kuroda
      Photography via Mara Blackflower

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      Topics:culture, interview, bondage, bdsm, kinbaku, naka akira

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