Clair’s Clan : Interview with Master “K”

 Today I am delighted to welcome to Clair’s Clan the distinguished Bakushi and author Master “K.” When I became interested in Kinbaku I listened to many of Grey Dancer’s Ropecasts. I heard several talks by Master “K” and was impressed by his good humour as well as his evident knowledge and love of his subject. When Catriona first occurred to me I knew I needed to learn a lot about female rope Tops and Kinbaku. There was only one person I wanted to consult about Kinbaku, so greatly daring I did. I received a very kind email from him and he answered all my questions in great detail and with great patience. In the course of several books we have become friends. He always checks my Kinbaku scenes and is very patient with my questions. Please welcome him to Clair’s Clan.

1.Will you tell us a little about yourself.

I was born a long time ago and I’ve studied the art of Kinbaku (Japanese erotic bondage) for over 40 years. I hope it brings enjoyment peace and relaxation to everyone that practices it.

2. Why did you start to write? Have you always longed to write a book or was there a trigger?

I wrote my 2 books on Kinbaku (“The Art of Shibari” – 2004 and “The Beauty of Kinbaku (or everything you ever wanted to know about Japanese erotic bondage when you suddenly realized you didn’t speak Japanese)” – 2008) because there is very little material in English on this fascinating Art and I was disturbed to see so much misinformation about it on the web.

3. What sort of books do you write?

Non fiction.

4. Which author or authors have influenced you and why?

n my approach and writing about Kinbaku I was influenced by the Kinbaku master, author and publisher Minomura Kou who was working in Japan in the 1950′s through the 1980′s.

5. If you could have only one book, which one would it be and why?

A book of short stories by Dashiell Hammet . His prose is wonderful and mysteries relax me.

6. How do you get yourself in the mood for writing?

First, I do a great deal of outlining. Then I try, as Oscar Wilde said, to ”Apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

7. What is the strangest place you have written in?

I often use a small tape recorder so I sometimes dictate while I’m out. When writing about an erotic subject this can sometimes be embarrassing. For instance, I once drew stares from 2 mounted policemen in Central Park.

8. Have you ever experienced ‘writer’s block’ and how did you cope with it?

Often. I try to Zen my way through it and be patient with myself.

9.Where do you live? Tell us what you like about your town or city?

I live in Los Angeles, California. The weather is wonderful and it’s become a very cosmopolitan city in the last 20 years or so.

10. If you could live anywhere in the world where would you choose and why?

The South of France. The weather is as good as it is in LA and I love French culture and food.

11. What is your pet hate?

In equal measure, intolerance and dishonesty.


1. A place you have always wanted to visit.


2. Favourite meal.

Chicken Kiev.

3. Best place to take a first time date.

A beautiful park.

4. Most memorable moment in your life.

My wedding.

5. Most embarrassing moment.

Too many to recall.

6. Favourite room in your house.

My Library.

7. A TV programme you never miss.

“Endeavor” from the BBC (shown here in the US on PBS).




 If on the publication of my first book, “Shibari, the Art of Japanese Bondage” (Glitter/Secret Press, 2004), a friend had told me that I’d be writing a second, more detailed work on this arcane but fascinating subject in less than four years time I’d certainly have shaken my head in wonder.  And yet, such is the case.  To my great surprise, that first volume proved popular and, more significantly, prompted so many intelligent questions and kind comments from its readers that a more encyclopedic book seemed the logical thing to do.

Unlike that first effort which was a simple essay and photographic appreciation of its subject, this book seeks to entertain and also be useful by answering those questions, solving those riddles and addressing those mysteries that have perplexed the non Japanese speaking Western enthusiast of kinbaku (also known as shibari) over the years.  In this the author hopes to de-mystify and clarify but not diminish this most intriguing of Japanese erotic arts.

Four years have been spent rigorously researching and writing this book.  Museums have been visited, numerous historical and modern works have been translated and respected authorities contacted in an effort to verify every statement made herein.  It’s been an exciting experience and even after forty years of studying Japan and thirty years of passionate interest in kinbaku, I’m delighted to find that there’s always something new to learn.  Of course, mistakes do occur and I take full responsibility for any errors and/or omissions.

Who is this volume for?  Well, it’s certainly not for everyone.  If the thought of any sadomasochistic practice as part of a loving relationship is repellent to you then you’ve picked up the wrong book.  Likewise, if causing pain is your thing then you’ll also likely be disappointed since shibari/kinbaku can and should be one of the most loving and sensual of SM experiences.

However, anyone who has been struck by the beauty of a shibari image, thrilled to the concept of binding a lover or of being bound oneself (vincilagnia) or been curious as to how such a unique, exotic, dramatic and beautiful form of bondage art could develop as part of the history and culture of Japan will, I hope, find some value here.  And the book’s amusing subtitle is meant only somewhat in jest.  Japanese is one of the hardest of languages for the Westerner to learn and this can become an almost insurmountable barrier to understanding if the subject under scrutiny is unusual and complex, as is certainly the case here.

This work is divided into seven chapters: Spirituality, History and Commerce; Twenty-five key figures in shibari/kinbaku history; a Gallery of photographs; a Glossary of shibari terms; a “How to Tie” section; an Afterward and, finally, an extensive Bibliography.

It should be noted that all names used are presented in the traditional Japanese manner, that is the last (or family) name is given first, i.e. Smith, John.  In addition, the names of famous shibari/kinbaku artists, their art works and techniques and other Japanese historical figures and personalities mentioned in this book use the spellings most commonly seen in the West.  This is because the vagaries of romaji (the 19th-century writing system that transfers the traditional pictographs of Japanese kanji into the Latin alphabet) have caused many variations in the spelling of these names over the years and I have seen even so famous a name as Itoh Seiyu spelled: Ito Seiu, Itoh Sieu and Itoh Su.  My only recourse to this problem is to use the spellings that I have encountered the most in my researches, even though they come from both older and newer romaji systems.

 In this book I discuss many of the famous Japanese “rope masters” of history and today.  The term “rope master” can be translated as “kinbakushi” or “nawashi” or “bakushi” or ”seme-shi” and several other variants.  Simply out of personal preference and convenience, I have chosen to use the term “bakushi” when referring to master rope artists.

                                   The World of Kinbaku

                                          Spirituality, History and Commerce

 What is shibari/kinbaku?  Briefly put, it is the technique of safe, sensual, dramatic and erotic bondage that’s been raised to an art form in Japan.  As a shibari/kinbaku teacher and practitioner for over thirty years, I’ve been amazed at the recent surge in popularity in the West for this most Japanese of subjects.  Certainly, the currant popularity for all things Japanese in the United States and on the Internet are two of the main causes for this as shibari images now routinely pass through the ether and all across the globe.  This is both a positive thing, in that most cultural exchanges are positive, and also something of a dilemma since, as might be expected with a subject grounded in a language so foreign to most English speakers as Japanese, many confusions and misunderstandings occur and the context for these images is often missing.

 When a Westerner first encounters a shibari/kinbaku image they usually note with surprise its erotic power and the complexity of the rope design.  They might be stimulated or disturbed but they‘re usually not bored.  This is certainly understandable due to the dramatic nature of these pictures and especially true of an art that most Westerners see solely in terms of European or American sadomasochistic (SM) practices.  There it is an interest that can be viewed, despite the increasing tolerance in the West for divergent sexual orientations and the fact that upwards of 15% of the population professes some interest in SM, as strange and unusual.  However, this reaction is also rather unfortunate because it is so limiting.  How limiting?  Well, it might surprise the reader to learn that the historical origins and uses of shibari/kinbaku run the gamut from centuries old martial arts to modern manga (Japanese comics), from 18th-century judicial punishments to 19th-century theatrical presentations and from sophisticated love making techniques, dating back 1500 years, to famous works of Ukiyo-e (woodblock print) Art, modern advertising and pornography; a very wide range of activities, indeed.

How did this occur and why did it happen in Japan?  These questions might seem difficult to answer but the truth has always been out there in that country’s fading manuscripts, oral histories, yellowing photographs and modern works that record the fascinating history, both worldly and spiritual, of its people.  One simply has to learn to look in the right places.

Tying the knot, the practical and sacred bonds of Japan

A Japanese friend of mine recently said to me that, “Tying for the Japanese people comes almost as naturally as breathing.” By this he meant that the Japanese have a special affinity for an activity that is grounded so deeply in their culture and everyday lives.  For instance, most Westerners appreciate how beautiful and intricate the wrappings of Japanese gift packages are and how lovely the kimono is, with it’s obi tied gracefully across the wearer’s middle and how dramatic samurai armor appears, every protective element of which is tied on to the warrior’s body.  Remarkable to Western eyes, these sights are fairly common for the Japanese; as is another interesting and artful tradition, the practice of ceremonial tying calledMizuhiki.

Mizuhiki is actually the name for strong thin twine that is used to decorate envelopes made of washi, traditional Japanese paper.  In Japanese society these envelopes are presented to friends, acquaintances and business associates to convey good wishes and/or to express thanks, gratitude and condolence.  The knots used to tie the envelopes carry such evocative names as the chrysanthemum flower tie or the plum tie and look every bit as beautiful as the names imply.

 The history of Mizuhiki dates back to the Heian Era of Japan (794-1185) when ladies of the court learned intricate knot tying to decorate gifts and letters.  Specific knots communicated the identity of the sender and even expressed the sender’s feelings much in the same way that the “language of flowers” did in Europe’s Middle Ages; the tradition that gave us such symbolism as the red rose conveying the idea of  “passionate” love.


 Itoh Seiyu – Artist, the father of modern kinbaku

Itoh Seiyu (1882-1961)

 Itoh Seiyu (1882-1961), real name Itoh Hajime, controversial seme scholar, seme-e master and legendary artist, is arguably one of the most important figures in the history of Japanese shibari/kinbaku and SM.  Born during the last days of the Meiji Restoration, Itoh, a painter, wood block print master, photographer and writer, provides the link between the feudal and the modern in Japan’s fascination with sadomasochistic practices.  As an artist, he was extraordinary.  As an inspiration to several generations of Japan’s greatest shibari/kinbaku masters and SM artists, he was unique.

 Itoh was apparently born with a sadomasochistic streak and, according to his own writings, could remember being fascinated at the age of ten by Japanese folk tales of captive princesses told to him by his mother and grandmother.  His life-long fascination, truly a fetish, for black, disheveled, woman’s hair also began at this time because of pictures in a storybook by Ryutei Tanehiko (1783-1842) that his grandmother read to him.

At 18 he decided to become a seme-e (or torment/domination scene) painter and never wavered from that path for the rest of his life despite taking jobs as a kabuki scene painter and a newspaper and book illustrator to support himself.  Inspired by such ukiyo-e (wood block print) masters as Yoshitoshi and Kunisada, both of whom dabbled in seme-type subjects, Itoh became a seme-e master of tremendous imagination, variety and skill.

It was during the Taisho period (1912-1926) that Itoh began taking photographs, a novel hobby in early 20th-century Japan.  In 1923 he created his most famous work, the previously discussed, “Woman Suffering in Snow.”  He was forty-one.  Apparently he was inspired by the folk tale Chujo Hime as well as an early textbook on torture techniques entitled Semekata Kokore-gakI and a play he found particularly erotic in which a woman is subjected to suffering in snow, Akegarasu Yume no Awayuki.  Having learned hojojutsu techniques from an elderly practitioner and using his camera to record his work, he copied various examples of shibari and tsurizeme (suspension with rope) and took many photographs of his bound model in a winter landscape.

His use of his own shibari photographs as studies for his paintings and sketches became his standard technique.  As notorious as his escapade in the snow, he once copied Yoshitoshi’s famous and disturbing ukiyo-e masterpiece, “The Lonely House on Adachi Moor,” with its startling depiction of a bound and suspended pregnant girl, using his own pregnant wife as his model!  He had carefully worked out the safety precautions using pulleys and numerous assistants and was delighted by the results.  Such reckless behavior caused him to become a most controversial figure.  In fact, so famous had Itoh become that the June 1924 issue of Sunday Mainichi magazine, a very “normal” publication of large circulation, featured a visit to his studio.

Over the years, Itoh published many photos as well as paintings, drawings and commentaries in several books of seme-e and in volumes on other topics which created quite a stir in artistic circles.  He is especially noted for his fine illustrations of Edo era customs and manners including pictures of feudal signs, toys, circus acts, street peddlers, religious figures, lamps, foods; in short, all manner of unique people and things soon to pass out of existence in the Meiji era’s rush to westernize Japan.


His major publications include:

Six volumes on the history and customs of feudal Edo/Tokyo – published from 1927 to 1932.
Seme no Kenkyu (1929) – “The first bondage photography collection in Japan” – banned by the censors.
Seme no Hanashi (1929).

Rongo Tsukai (1930) – Itoh’s first seme-e art collection – banned by the censors.
Gaka Seikatsu Uchimaku-Hanashi – an artist talks about his life (1930).
Onna Sanjyu-roku Kii (1930).
Binjin Ranmai (1932).
Edo no Sakariba (1947).
Makura (1948).
Kuronawa-ki zen (1951).
The Twelve Months of Strange Punishments (1953) – an art portfolio.

Despite his fame, Itoh was not always held in such high regard.  In fact, he was often rebuked and himself often despaired of having wasted his talents on seme-e.   After a lifetime of work he confessed to Amatoria magazine in 1950 that, “The only recognition I ever received, as a person who has studied bondage since 1908, was the ‘pervert’ tag.”  Today Itoh’s perversion is considered a respected “mania” and on occasion an art form, as well as being part of big business, and he is responsible for at least part of this change.  He is especially credited for inspiring a distinct bondage “school” which in time became the mainstream style of erotic rope bondage known as kinbaku and an art form in Japan.

Because of his artistry in several fields, by the mid-20th century, he had begun to influence a whole new generation of shibari/kinbaku masters, editors, and graphic artists, all talented people interested in the erotic and artistic power of kinbaku and SM.  Figures such as the brilliant painter and editor Kita Reiko (AKA, Minomura Kou), the legendary shibari master Nureki Chimuo and such latter-day figures as shibari master Osada Eikichi, author Dan Oniroku and master photographers Akio Fuji and Gomi Akira all credit his influence on some of their work.  In his own right, Itoh’s paintings, sketches and photographic studies continue to be published and as late as 1982 a beautiful book on the history of crime and punishment in Edo era Japan (Nihon keibatsu fuzoku toshi), written in collaboration with Fujisawa Morihiko and originally published between 1946 and 1952 in three volumes, was reproduced combining the earlier books into one volume and featuring only the illustrations of Itoh Seiyu.

Although Itoh was not the only early 20th century artist or researcher interested in seme and seme-e, he is the most famous. There are five biographies of Itoh (and one about his first model, Oyou ), several high-quality Art books dedicated to his work and he has been depicted in a variety of films, sometimes as a demented egocentric and sometimes as an artistic genius.

 Itoh’s strength as an artist came from his great visual skill and taste and determination to capture what he called “Beauty in Suffering”, that is those emotions of real desire and real drama caught on the razor’s edge between pain and pleasure during the experience of sadomasochism.  Like his great western contemporary John Willie (John Alexander Scott Coutts, 1902-1962), he brought artistic genius to his passion and in our own age when so much Internet “bondage” and especially torture imagery is only crude misogynist pornography masquerading as fetish art, his delicate and sensitive studies of beautiful maidens “suffering” with pleasure and desire still have the power to impress and inspire.

 Minomura Kou – Artist, author, publisher, bakushi, genius

Kita Reiko – Image from SM Kitan, December 1975

Minomura Kou (1920-1984), real name Suma Toshiyuki, principal artist’s name Kita Reiko (taken from his wife’s maiden name), was quite simply one of the most multi-talented and accomplished persons ever to work in the SM field in Japan.  Famous as one of the first editors of the legendary Kitan Club magazine and then as the creator of Uramado magazine in the first “golden age” of SM publishing in the 1950s, he was also a novelist, short-story writer, film critic, essayist, columnist, bakushi, photographer, painter, book jacket illustrator, magazine illustrator, “adviser” to SM Kitan (formally Abu Hunter), SM Select and SM Collector magazines in the “second wave” of SM publications in the 1970s and a member of Itoh Seiyu’s artistic inner circle in post war Japan.

 Born in Kyoto, Minomura was a precocious and imaginative child which made his remarkable introduction to shibari and SM all the more important for his future life and artistic career.

According to legend, Minomura’s father had died when he was quite young, making his mother a widow at the age of 29.  She was apparently a very temperamental woman and quite demanding.  She would often punish young Minomura by locking him in the storage warehouse his grandfather owned.  On one of these occasions, when he was seven years old, he discovered a stash of “seme-e” literature in the storehouse.  He didn’t yet know that’s what such illustrations were called but he was transfixed by the images of princesses and lords and damsels in distress tied to trees.  He has said that finding these pictures was the moment Minomura Kou was born and, after that, he didn’t mind being locked in the storehouse.  He later learned the collection of illustrations belonged to his grandfather, and he believed he’d inherited his grandfather’s sadistic tendencies.  Considering that the artist remembered these images in detail well into adulthood, a more classic case of what today psychologists would call “imprinting” could hardly be found.

Then came a fateful day. He went into the warehouse as usual, planning to look at the pictures again.  As he climbed to the second floor he heard a sound and peering through the flickering sunlight and dust he saw a naked woman tied to a pillar.  At first he thought it was one of the women in the illustrations magically come to life.  He couldn’t believe it was his mother. However, it was.  His mother was stripped naked and tied with rags and kimono sashes.  Her hands were bound behind her back and the end of the rag rope was tied to the warehouse pillar (hashira) supporting the roof.  She was sitting, helpless, on the floor.

He later learned that his mother had squandered much of what his father had left them by playing around with actors.  In fact, she had gotten involved with a younger kabuki actor and was planning to abandon the family and run away with him.  Somehow her brother-in-law, Minomura’s uncle, had got wind of this and was punishing her.  She had obviously been left there to ponder her offense, unable to meet the actor who was waiting for her somewhere in town

The boy was terribly shocked, and began to cry.  His mother, as soon as she was aware of him, screamed at him to go away, no doubt preferring to be helpless over having her own child see her like this.  He tried to untie her but she screamed that he mustn’t or his uncle would get mad at him.  So he embraced her, enthralled by her white skin and lovely curves and for the first time felt something like sensual, erotic, excitement.  Three years later, in Showa 3 (1928), he saw this vision again in an illustration in a magazine.  The illustration was of a woman in exactly the same predicament, and her name was even the same as his mother’s.

He once told a famous psychologist named Takahashi about finding his mother tied up in the storehouse.  The psychologist concluded that Minomura Kou harbored hostility against his mother, and that is why he liked to “mistreat” women by tying them up.  Minomura said he thought this diagnosis was “completely ridiculous.”  What he thought when he saw his mother was how “beautiful she was.”  He then wrote,  “While Takahashi might be a good psychologist, he doesn’t understand a thing about ‘abnormal’ sexuality!”

This tale is worth the retelling not just because it’s a remarkable glimpse into a formative experience in the life of a major kinbaku talent but also because of how this incident would continue to resonate throughout Minomura’s artistic career.  Though the story might seem to be apocryphal, at least some elements of it are probably true.  Minomura repeated it many times over the years (the version presented above comes from a column he wrote for the May 1975 edition of SM Collector) but more than this the truth of the story is reinforced by the evidence of countless elegant drawings and photos.  Over and over again the artist Kita Reiko and the bakushi Minomura Kou would return to the subject of a beautiful woman bound to a hashira.

Minomura served in the Navy during the Second World War where he claimed to have learned a number of quick release ties and other rope techniques that he used in his SM work.  After the war he befriended Tsujimura Takashi, Dan Oniroku, Nureki Chimuo and many others and influenced most of their careers as he quickly became one of the dominant talents and one of the most famous and respected names in SM publishing.  He was the shibari master for one of the first commercial “rope book/albums” ever published in Japan and the popular success of his sketch, ”Ten Positions of a Naked Tied Woman,” in Kitan Club in 1952 is often cited as one of the principal reasons that magazine turned to SM for its general content and so began the tradition of SM publications that continues today.  He suffered a stroke in the early 1980s which greatly reduced his prodigious creative output and he died in 1984 in Tokyo.

As a bakushi Minomura is said to have had a singular style.  He preferred to use only five ropes for his ties and to create positions intended to cause shuuchi (shyness or embarrassment) in his partners.  Clearly he was more interested in the subtle psychological side of SM play than in the flash of performance.  Perhaps this is another echo of his experience with his mother at age seven?  A student of shibari history, he discovered and named quite a few of the kinbaku ties still in use today.  He used hemp rope for his photographic studies but often switched to very soft cotton in order not to discomfort particularly sensitive models.  He apparently disliked tsuri (suspensions) intensely and never drew them.  This the author can confirm.  After an exhaustive search through all known sources, there seem to be only three depictions of suspensions in his entire output.  From his interviews and articles Minomura comes across as plain speaking with a good sense of humor and a healthy attitude towards sex.  He was loyal and generous to his friends.  He also appears to have had great common sense as regards the difference between fantasy and reality in SM play and to hold his kinbaku partners and models in high regard.

Regrettably, the art of seme-e master Kita Reiko (Minomura) has never been collected in book form save for two modest, limited edition albums now long out of print.  A memorial video tape, directed by Yukimura Haruki, was released by Cinemagic shortly before his death but many of his magnificent illustrations now exist only in the fading “golden age” magazines and novels prized by avid collectors who often pay hundreds of times their original cover prices to possess them.  To put it simply, without the artistry, energy and genius of Minomura Kou there would be no Japanese SM as we know it today.

He has not said this but his “The Beauty of Kinbaku” has now been translated into Japanese and will be released there this year. It is an amazing and well deserved reward for all his hard work. It is also unheard of for a Westerner to have a major work on such a very Japanese subject, translated and published in Japan. I wish him every success and hope he will tell us a little about his visit when he gets back.
I want to thank him again for allowing me to show you just a little of his work. The book is fascinating, It sits here on my table and I dip into it often. The photographic section is a particular delight. and one I shall enjoy for a long time.

About admin

Born in South Yorkshire, now retired and recently taken to writing novels. I am married with a grown up family and four beautiful grandchildren. I love Heavy Metal and play it loudly around the house. I love sewing and reading and hate ironing and gardening. I swim twice a week and spend some hours of every day writing
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