The Beginner’s Guide to Shibari, Japanese Bondage Practice

If you’re familiar with the world of BDSM, then you’ve probably seen the community of BDSM practitioners who love to tie each other with elaborate rope knots and hang in the air. 

shibari japanese bondage

This BDSM practice is called shibari, and it originated in Japan and has been growing in popularity throughout the years in the western world. 

Today we’re going to talk about the history of it, what shibari truly is and how to practice it safely at home if you’ve been curious to experiment with new bedroom activities. 

So, What Exactly Is Shibari?

In short, shibari is Japanese rope bondage. It’s a contemporary BDSM practice of tying one up with rope for sexual and aesthetic purposes. The word shibari in Japanese means “to tie.”  

A True History of Shibari

Most sources online claim that the origins of shibari start all the way back in Edo period Japan when Samurai used the martial arts of Hojojotsu to tie the prisoners in rope before either dragging them to prison or executing them in front of the crowd. 

It’s a very noble and beautiful origin story for a bondage practice. However, it’s not entirely true and doesn’t show the full picture. Such portrayal of shibari origins is also problematic, encouraging cultural appropriation. 

“There’s a whole lot of romantic mythology online that gets propagated, that [shibari] is very romantic. It’s very heroic, even. But what that does is, it is actually another form of Orientalism and racist flattening of Asian and Japanese culture from those outside [it],” explains Midori, shibari expert and the author of Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage, the first book in the US covering the shibari practice. 

Claiming that shibari bondage practice originated from heroic deeds of Samurai, ignoring the hardships and war that took place in medieval Japan is harmful, explains Midori. 

Shibari has been practiced by sex workers in Japan for hundreds of years, rope bondage could be seen in theatres, and all of it was done by ordinary people for ordinary people, not heroic Samurais or the nobles. 

Shibari has become popularized with the popularity of print magazines as Japan has a very high literacy rate. “In the early and mid-20th century, there are already several magazines and periodicals about bondage and BDSM in general. Sniper and Kitan Club are two well-known BDSM or bondage magazines of this era,” Midori writes (1).

“The warm gooey source of modern shibari is rooted firmly in the pleasure quarters, sex work, and the erotic strategies of ordinary people,” she explains. It’s important to acknowledge the true roots of shibari, even if it doesn’t have the same romantic appeal as the version of martial arts and Samurai.  

What’s the Difference Between Shibari and Bondage?

Many sources online also offer conflicting information on the difference between shibari and regular western bondage. But before we discuss the distinction between the two (or rather the lack of it), we have to first establish what BDSM is. 

BDSM is most often described as the practice of bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. But that it’s a very basic translation of what each letter of BDSM means

“BDSM is childhood joyous play with adult sexual privilege and cool toys,” Midori explains. It’s all about your fantasies of dressing up as superheroes and celebrities you grew up idolizing and embracing your sexuality by allowing yourself to explore different plays and scenarios in the form of various kinks. 

There is really no difference between Japanese bondage and western bondage we’re used to seeing in media. In fact, shibari is just another form of bondage that falls under a large umbrella of BDSM practice, just like spanking or restrains are. 

“Chains, gags, and rope are all tools. They are not the practice of BDSM. As with any BDSM dynamic or play, please choose the best tool for the job at hand,” explains Reverend Rucifer, a shibari expert and the founder of Reiki Bondage. 

The Appeal of Shibari

There are many reasons why shibari is appealing to many people, from the aesthetic appeal, sex to using Japanese bondage as a form of meditation:

Trust Building

Allowing your partner to tie you up with ropes, unable to move, is a test of trust in your partner, and it can be a great way to work on that part of your relationship. 

What’s great is that trust-building between partners starts way before they even enter the bedroom or pick up the ropes. In fact, it starts the moment you sit down to talk with your partner about your want to try shibari.

“I encourage all to come to a place of a mutual desire to then find clarity of consent in what will and will not occur during the scene,” explains Rev. Rucifer. “This immediately begins to build trust between partners as there is a promise, or an agreement made before the session even begins.” 

As you move forward with your desires and fantasy of bondage, you’ll continue to experiment with how far your trust with your partner goes, allowing you to open up and be more vulnerable with each other. 

“As we release and trust our partner through this process, we become vulnerable, and it is through this place of genuine trust and vulnerability that the bonds of connection strengthen and deepen,” says Rev. Rucifer.

There is another side of the coin, though. Most often than not, trust between the partners should be established before ever having sex for the first time, as well as the line of communication and consent. In cases like this, shibari isn’t a tool for trust-building, as it technically should already be there.

However, because of the lack of sexual education and issues with sexual consent we still face to this day, some people might not have open communication lines, trust, and established boundaries when it comes to sex. In this case, shibari might be the first place where they experience boundaries and trust-building. 

“Unfortunately, many people have come to BDSM or shibari [and] maybe [its] their first opportunity where they have been given the explicit permission to say no. And that gets misconstrued as shibari is about building trust. Well, shibari might’ve been the first chance you’ve had the opportunity to speak up,” Midori explains. 

It’s So Much More Than Sex

It might look like Shibari is all about sex, just as we assume that BDSM is all about bedroom play, but it doesn’t have to be, and for many people, it is so much more than that. When trying the Japanese bondage with your partner, you get to spend uninterrupted time with them, getting to know each other. 

“In most of my experiences, rope bondage is not about sex at all,” Rev. Rucifer says. “Inherently, there are elements of power exchange, intimacy, trust, vulnerability, and communication which can create a deeply moving experience for all participants.”

Shibari also could be a way to force you and your partner to improve your communication

While it’s not exclusive to Shibari practice alone, but when you’re forced to work together and experience a new sexual practice, it’s natural that you’ll need to verbally communicate your likes and dislikes and listen to your partner at the same time, which can, in turn, better your communication. 

The Power Play

A large part of BDSM appeal, including shibari, is the power play. Rev. Rucifer says, “the experience of power exchange happens from the first moment of play and conversation when partners share their desires and what they would like to explore in the rope bondage scene.”

Shibari provides the power play that many couples enjoy indulging in. Amongst the partners, one will take up the role of the bottom, while the other partner will take up the role of the top. 

“As the top begins the scene, they are the leader or the one in an “up power” position. The bottom, or receiver, then releases their control to the top, often creating a sensation of surrender or submission, depending on the dynamics of your relationship,” Rev. Rucifer explains the dynamic.

However, the powerplay doesn’t always have to be in this particular way. Sometimes, rope bondage can come from an equal share of power between two people. 

“If you’re putting a rope on me and I’m receiving your rope, we can also do that from an equal place,” Midori explains. “That’s like, ‘Hey honey, I want to be tied up. It feels good. I’ve been really stressed out and responsible, so can you just tie me up and do me.’ That’s equal.”

The power exchange could also be reversed. Sometimes, the person that receives the rope (the bottom) can actually be the one in charge, making the partner giving the rope submit to their desire of being tied up. 

“‘So we’re going to play sex games, and I’m going to be the boss of you tonight, but I’m going to order you to tie me up exactly how I want it. And if you don’t do it, how I like it, I will be so disappointed in you.’ Now, who has the power?” Midori elaborates on the reverse powerplay. 

You can be the bottom, the one receiving the rope, yet you could still be dominant in the couple because your partner that’s tying you up is the one doing it because you ordered them. 

How To Safely Practice Shibari with Your Partner

From the very first look, it might be intimidating to dive into the practice of Shibari as the rope knots and hanging from the ceiling look difficult to achieve with no experience. 

But unless you’re a shibari artist and performer, there is really no need to tie complex knots and hang your partner from the ceiling in just a few steps:

First and Foremost – Communicate

Before you embark on a journey to exploring this Japanese bondage practice, it’s important to have an honest conversation about your desires and fantasies with your partner. 

“I would encourage all partners who are considering exploring rope bondage to first be able to speak openly and clearly about their desires, limits, and needs, and have confidence in being able to speak up during a scene or session, should anything not feel right at the moment,” recommends Rev. Rucifer.

Depending on how comfortable you’re with communicating your sexual needs, you could start the conversation outside the bedroom, in a comfortable and casual setting, where there is no pressure to agree to something. 

Safeword

People who are regular practitioners of BDSM know the importance of the safeword, and it might be useful to come up with one when you try shibari for the first time. 

In Japan, people who practice shibari for entertainment don’t usually practice safewords and other crucial parts of safe BDSM play. “Negotiations, boundary setting, sobriety, and safe words are not the norm in Japan. In this, Americans have led the way in crafting clarity in communication skills,” Midori writes (1).

However, if you’re new to BDSM and just started exploring the world of bondage, you should not skip this step. Set a safeword that would allow you and your partner to have a better experience. Also, a pair of good-quality scissors wouldn’t hurt. 

Educate Yourself

To safely explore shibari, you want to take the time to educate yourself and your partner on the matter and learn the techniques and best practices for beginners.

It’s also important to know all the risks of using rope in the bedroom, as it’s not the same as using a silk scarf or fuzzy handcuffs. “First and foremost, rope bondage is dangerous,” says Rev. Rucifer. “Physically, there is a risk of permanent injury, nerve damage, marking, and falling.” 

Apart from the physical dangers that come with shibari, there are also emotional risks to consider, just like with any other type of BDSM play.

“On the emotional level, there is a risk of breaking trust or violating consent, as well as emotional release from the experience of power exchange and being in an altered state,” Rev. Rucifer explains. “Some also experience “rope drop” which is a general feeling of malaise that can occur up to a few days after a scene.”

Practicing aftercare is crucial after sex, for BDSM play and regular sex alike, so read and learn about the best practices and ask your partner what type of aftercare they would like, and let them know about your needs as well.

Seek Out the Experts

There are many different ways you can seek out professional information on shibari. You can find tons of useful tutorials and educational material on websites like Shibari Study. They have apps, courses, materials and teachers, and every resource you might need to learn about shibari. 

It might also be useful to find a community online or locally from which you can learn all the intricate details of shibari. 

“I encourage all who are interested in rope bondage to find their local rope community and begin attending workshops and events aimed at education and exploration,” Rev. Rucifer advises. “It is best to learn on real human bodies as you can receive feedback regarding tension, flow, and safety.”

Another way to learn about shibari from the experts is by reading books on the subject. “For some people getting a book would be great because they can read it in time, look at the pictures or any of the instruction books,” Midori explains. 

If you have the means and the budget, you could even go as far as to hire a professional to help you in person and teach you and your partner all the safety of shibari and how to do it properly in person. 

A Simple Exercise to Try Shibari at Home

Couples who are new to shibari and don’t know where to start could try some very basic exercises at home that don’t require tying up and only require you to be willing to embrace the powerplay. “Keep in mind the goal that is about you and yours having fun,” Midori says.

Midori has a trick for beginners wanting to experiment with shibari. 

The first way to experiment with shibari without tying each other with rope would be for the submissive partner to take a bundle of rope and hold it with their hands. The dominant partner will ask the submissive one to hold onto the rope and not let go. 

“If you said, ‘All right, I want to use a rope to control your movement. Hold onto the rope. And if you let go, I’ll stop. But as long as you don’t let go, you’re mine,'” Midori explains. 

This is the power exchange without the physical restrain, and it can be just as effective as actually tying your partner with a rope but more beginner-friendly. “Technically, that is rope bondage because you are using rope to control the movement,” Midori says. 

Another way would be to take the rope and gently wrap it around your hands without actually tying the rope and restricting your movements, Midori explains. This is a great way to experience the bondage with a way out for a person who’s nervous and maybe has to learn to trust their partner slowly. 

At the end of the day, what matters the most is having fun with your partner and exploring things you’re interested in exploring. So, if you need to start slow, start slow and communicate along the way with your partner and adjust along the way.