Chinese version of this article was completed in February this year and posted to BDSM Taiwan. The English version came 9 months late!

After a successful Toubaku (winter bondage) in 2010, the organisers, Hajime Kinoko and his Ichinawa Kai, expanded the show to an international event. In addition to the six performers abroad: Charm (Canada), Esinem and Murakawa (UK), Osada Steve (Germany), Midori (US), and me (Taiwan), there are also twelve Japanese performers: Hajime Kinoko himself, Aotsuki Nagare, Kazami Ranki, Naka Akira, and members of Ichinawa Kai: Otonawa, Umitsuki Kurage, Ero Ouji, Shigonawa Bingo, Shigore, Shishiwaka, Horai Kasumi, and Yoi. Besides, a number of shibari lovers also performed in the “New Year Kinbaku Pride Competition”. Kanda Tsubaki, an renowned writer, and Saotome Hiromi, famous SM actress, acted as Masters of Ceremony. Performances are held in parallel sessions in the second and fourth floor of club axxcis, a four-floor building in Shibuya. The third floor is reserved for food and drink, where Shima Shikou also offers live shibari trials for those who want to be tied up. There is also a mini-exhibition where original SM/tattoo paintings of Ozuma Yoko and photography of Sugiura Norio are displayed and put on sale, next to booths selling various SM-related books, ropes, and DVDs. A “Special Talk Show” was organised on the second day, hosted by Kanda Tsubaki, where we talked about shibari in our own countries, attracted quite a number of journalists. There are around 70 staffs involved. I do not know whether it is the largest shibari event Japan has ever seen, but it is undoubtedly quite remarkable.


All these reminded me of Nawatsuya, an event organised by BDSM Company in Taiwan. Indeed, Toubaku is almost all what Nawatsuya wanted to be: performances with exhibitions, organised as a cultural event. In both events, many staffs worked voluntarily because they believe they are working for a great purpose.

Esinem from UK talked a lot with me and explained to me the origin of Toubaku this year. In the western BDSM scene there has been an increasing interest in Japanese shibari within the last decade. In 2010, Esinem invited Kinoko to UK, where he impressed everyone. “…” said Esinem in an interview. Kinoko’s visit triggered fundamental changes in Europe, “we used to learn shibari merely from pictures. It was very valuable for us learning from a nawashi.”

However, it also occurred to Kinoko that, instead of being invited, why not bring some excellent people to Japan? After visiting some places and seeing various styles of shibari developed everywhere, he would not classify them as being good or bad — they are just so different. What would happen if these people were brought together to appreciate each other’s work?

 
In the two days of Toubaku, I felt that the same magic that triggered the changes in Europe also transformed both the performers and the audiences in Toubaku. Good performances call for worthy audiences who can appreciate them, and good performers needs new inspiration. Toubaku brought some of the best rope performers to Japan, where modern shibari originated, and let them see and learn from each other. What they learned here would then be brought back to their own countries. I wanted to say to Kinoko that Toubaku is not only a good show, but something good for the future of shibari. And I feel honoured witnessing all these happening.

2

I hesitated when I received in mid-2010 the invitation from Kinoko to perform in Toubaku. Shall I go? Do I qualify for such an event? After some thoughts, the answer became clear: rather than kept thinking “what if..” for the next 10 years, I want to say to myself that I’ve been there and tried my best.

I wanted Akari to be my model: I can only interact naturally on stage with her. Furthermore, I also wish to make this a good memory for both of us. It also took a while for her, who always thought that she is not the “on-stage type”, to say yes. “But I want to play a princess!” She requested.

The plans were:

  • to omit most of the knots and wraps that serve no purposes other than decoration (well, apart from the “spider web” decoration I always like), in order to gain speed;
  • Akari does not like the traditional Japanese scenario where the girl just sits obediently and waits to be tied, so we will be more dynamic on stage;
  • since China dress is still popular in Japan, she is going to wear one and we will use some Chinese music (and there goes the princess idea…);
  • Akari happens to be taking some dance lessons and will do some dancing in the beginning and in the end.

For the second and the last requirements we preferred to leave her hands free, thus we did not use takate-kote — there will definitely someone else in Toubaku to show the audience a perfect Akechi-style takate-kote anyway. Some ropes will be wrapped on Akari’s body and we run the risk of pressing her rib cage. Indeed, at least in one of our practices she complained about difficulty of breathing. We thus gradually developed ways to distribute some weights to her shoulder, until she felt comfortable.

However, I am more preoccupied by my day job than ever for the past two years, and we now have a two year old baby girl who, while being the most lovely creature we’ve ever had, demands every attention of ours. We could only practise in early morning or after midnight after the baby sleeps, if we are not exhausted by work or babysitting. Just when we almost decided on a sequence to do on stage, I came upon the website of Ero Ouji, who was also going to perform in Toubaku, and noticed that our sequence appear almost identical to one of his early performances. We thus had to start all over again and eventually fell back to a tsuri which looks like the same tsuri I did in JP Pub in 2006. Well, at least many details are much refined. With Toubaku to be held in the end of January, we decided what to do only in mid-December. Then Akari had to leave for Japan for the new year, and we had to practice separately.

Only then I started to choose my music. My plan was to find some Chinese or oriental style beats on the internet. By chance I came upon the original soundtrack of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and was immediately drawn. Eventually I picked some music from the soundtrack and, in particular, decided to use the drum when I finish the tsuri.

Toubaku organisers preferred that we do not ask the staff to switch music for us. Thus I had to measure my time at each checkpoint and edit the music accordingly. I noticed that I started pressing myself to tie faster and faster. Soon the tsuri became too short, and I had to add some more moves which I’ve never practised with Akari before.

I kept editing the music till one day before the show. We both kept listening to it in all our spare time to remember what to do at what timing. When all the model of the Kinbaku Fashion Show, arranged right before our performance, were talking and chatting in the backstage, Akari and I sat still in one corner like two stone statue, listening to music. We must have looked very nervous!

And eventually, here comes our show time!

I felt much easier once we are on stage. Things rolled out as planned… almost. The China dress was supposed to be torn off by the rope, but the hook we sewed broke as I pulled it. I torn the China dress by hand. Afterwards I tied Akari’s waist, leg, and chest, cut the bra, as we practised. I was feeling happy on stage. I was only told later that I even hit one of the lanterns placed next to the stage with my rope — I have this bad habit of tossing ropes everywhere when I feel good!


It was not until I was about to suspend her body did I notice, oops, something went wrong. I gave Akari an extra spin and the carabiners were twisted in a wrong way. The suspension would still work, but I would have a hard time untying later.

In retrospect, I should have spin her back, untied some parts, and start again from where it went wrong. However, I felt that I was on a tight time limit and there were no space for additional movements, and decided to just go ahead with it (in fact I still had some extra time!). As planned, I finished the tsuri exactly at the end of the drum sequence and won some applause. Now what?


Luckily, my practise with many helpful friends in the last month paid off. Although some ropes are tangled in a mess and so tight that I feel at times that I’d need the knife, with some memory and some intuition, I was still able to change Akari’s position the way I wanted, and eventually managed to untie everything. Anyone who knows rope could see I got myself out of a big trouble.

After the show, I kissed and hugged Akari, and went out to hug my friends from Japan and Taiwan. We did it! Isn’t it unbelievable?

It wasn’t until this moment did we start to feel hungry. In fact we haven’t eaten much for the whole day! The fear faded in a bit later: they’ve brought such legends like Shima Shikou, Sugiura Norio, and Midori here. How dare I be on the same stage with them! But anyway, we did it!

As we rushed back to the backstage, a friend commented “that looked like Kanna san.” I was very happy to hear that. Kanna was the first person to teach me shibari. All these could not have happened without him. Besides, to date, his performance is still the best I’ve ever seen. I am glad if I resemble his style even a little bit.

It was a big surprise to me that Kanna had in fact been watching my performance all the time! I was so happy to meet him upstairs, with his beautiful partner Kagura. “How did you get into such trouble?” he said, referring to the mistake I made. I told him what happened, and Kagura asked “how did you feel after you knew that the ropes would be jammed?” I answered, “now that I know it was to happen, all I could do was keep calm and prepare for it.”

Some more thoughts came to me after watching the show by Kinoko later in the afternoon.

Now a famous nawashi worldwide, the fourth floor was packed with people when he performed. Sounds of camera shots almost didn’t stop.

In contrast to some of us, who indulge ourselves in difficult tsuri tricks, which sometimes ended up becoming endurance tests for models, Kinoko employed only some rather simple shibari techniques. Still, people felt the erotic tension between him and the model. He ties fast when he should be, and when it’s time to take it slow, he dared to take his time to develop the atmosphere. Everyone was amazed.

Speed was the first lesson Kanna taught me about shibari performances (apparently I haven’t learnt all his lessons). I’ve also always determined how good a nawashi is by how quick and sleek he/she is. Gradually I tried to make myself faster and faster — I was never satisfied with my speed when I saw myself in videos. Sometimes I was praised for being quick and dynamic, which made me want to press on even more.

Seeing Kinoko’s performance made me wonder whether speed has become an “iron mask” of mine. Knowing that speed is my advantage, I’ve been using it to conceal the fact that I can’t express my emotions on stage. I tend to shy away from displaying too much intimacy on stage, as if that reveals some secrets of mine. Can I be confident enough to lower my speed?

The performance of Osada Steve inspired me in the same way. Being one of the most famous nawashi, to the audience that filled the 4th floor he dared to offer a show using nothing but the simplest shibari technique-wise. Still, two girls sitting next to me watched his show and moved to tears.

In the end of the interview held in the second day when Kanda Tsubaki san asked each of us what future plans we have, I answered “Before coming here I thought I had to shock my audience using the most difficult technique, suspend my model, change position 3 or 4 times, and even more. But I realised that it is not so. They used to say that shibari is from the heart, which I didn’t fully understand until now. Shibari from the heart, that is what I want to do.”

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Naturally, now that I’ve finished my show I was much more relaxed and could enjoy other performances more. Coming to Toubaku is worth every penny. There were so many occasions after a show that I wished I could go to the backstage, hug the performer, and tell them how marvelous they were. I’d like to talk about some shows I’ve watched. With so many shows going on in parallel, however, I inevitably have to miss some of them.

It was a pity that I missed the show of Esinem. In UK he organised many events and tutorials. Talk to him for a while and you will soon notice his passion for shibari. “Everyone can tie a Teddy bear, but tying a human being is a different matter. Each rope you apply to the body has to serve some purpose: if it does not arouse any emotion, it is wasted.” Everything he says can be remembered like a motto. I feel there is a lot I shall learn from him.

The show of Charm, a Canadian currently living in Japan, was another one I missed. While SM activities in Japan tend to be organised around SM bars, which are rather expensive, in the western SM scene things are usually run by volunteer-based societies. Charm is organising TKSociety, a western-style SM society in Tokyo.

I watched Otonawa and Wakabayashi Miho (and an actor whose name I do not know) making up in the backstage, painting their faces and body white, and was very curious what kind of show it was going to be. It turned out to be an interesting ghost story mixed with SM elements. Unfortunately we were still nervously waiting for our turn and could not fully enjoy their show. Off stage, Otonawa is a very friendly and interesting person.

Aotsuki Nagare gave an impressive performance with all elements in BDSM fully developed and accurately executed. Erika, the amazingly beautiful model who worked with him, briefly talked with me afterwards and said that she could see the close bound between Akari and me in our show. “I have been doing SM performances for five years. It is also my aim to expressive on stage how I feel about Aotsuki san,” she said.

Technique-wise, what impressed me the most in the first day is the show by Ero Ouji. I’ve read his blog and knew he was good, but was still surprised by the unexpected ways he used rope and a bamboo stick. Beside his own show, he was in charge of the Rope Fashion Show together with Shigonawa Bingo, who also gave an amazing show the next day.

I never understood Kazami Ranki. I met him the first time when he visited Taiwan to see Mira Kurumi’s show in Nawatsuya, and learned later that he does in his SM videos some very brutal stuffs that are in every way against the principles I was taught when learning shibari. Such an impression was totally reverted when I had a chance to watch his performance and realised that he is a nawashi with very good skills. I wonder whether the brutal side of him is what he does for a different niche market — after all, not all SMers are into intricate shibari. Off stage, as one of my friend said, he is always friendly and “smiles like a Budda.”

I was wondering which Kazami Ranki I was about to see tonight, and it turned out to be one of the most emotionally touching shibari I’ve ever seen. The show started slow, with Kazami intimately talking with the model, like a pair of lovers who has not seen each other for many years. Then Kazami again displayed amazing skills in shibari. In the end, both of them were sobbing on the stage.


Kinoko performed again on the second day, in a different style — the “cyber rope” he invented. The venue turned into a funky nightclub. I have to say I prefer the traditional shibari the first day, but this cyber rope is becoming very popular.

I’ve known Midori by name almost since I was just starting to learn what BDSM is. I did not expect I’d be so lucky to see her performance myself. In the interview Midori said that she does not follow the rules, and indeed what she did on stage surprised everyone. Two men in yukata were drunk on stage, and Midori, in black full body tights, suspended herself upside down from the ceiling like a spider. As one of the men approached, the spider caught the guy, and started tying him, still upside-down, while adjusting herself up and down using only one waist rope. What strength and concentration! Yet the way she touches the two men displayed with a humorous tone. “Just when you think you’ve seen everything!” said Hedwig, a lovely Swedish girl next to me, “It’s about time for some man-man action!”

In the party that evening I joined Hedwig and Midori when they were chatting. Midori said that the two men were actors she recruited in Japan. I wondered whether she did the same show in the US. “My shows are different every time. I might not have the actors wear yukata if it were in the US and the actors were not Asian. Perhaps they should be cowboys.” “Then it would be like Brokeback Mountain!” Hedwig said and we all bursted into laughter.


Comparing to Kinoko’s light-and-smoke cyber rope and the surprising show by Midori, the closing performance offered by Naka Akira appeared to start slow and plain. But soon I noticed that he demonstrated very intricate skills as he gradually lifted the model inch by inch. People explained to me that Akira might have aimed to “go back to the basics of shibari” in this show. For example, he did not use carabina, a relatively recent gadget, and instead used more traditional knots on the ceiling. In the end when I looked at the stage I feel as if I were witnessing scenes in the work of Ozuma Yoko acted live.

It was the first time for me to watch so many excellent performances with such high density within two days. I felt lucky being here. While Esinem said that a rope applied to the body is wasted if no emotion is aroused, I am starting to feel that a show is wasted if it does not trigger some changes within the audience. I feel that some changes are happening within me. Within the two days, I witnessed a lot, which made me want to be better.