What is Semenawa? Japanese Rope Bondage

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The term semenawa is the combination of two words “seme” (責め) meaning torture or torment and “nawa” (縄) meaning rope.  The concept of seme as it relates to today’s erotic practices can be traced back to the art, writings, and philosophy of rope master Itoh Seiu.

Itoh seiu semenawaItoh was born in 1882 in Tokyo, in Japan’s Meiji period.  Meiji was a time of rapid transformation and modernization in Japan, which served as a restoration of Imperial rule and as a replacement for the governmental structure of the Shogunate.

Itoh’s interest in seme is reflected in two of his earliest books: Seme No Kenkyu (1928) and Seme no Hanashi (1929), Research on Torture and The Story of Torture, respectively.  These books explored the influence of torture in Japanese history, examining not only the techniques involved, but also the psychology behind the desire to engage in seme.

Erotic Torture

The erotic nature of torture is a theme that recurs in Japanese erotic art and Japanese SM.  Unlike rope culture in the West, which often has elements of rope bondage focused on art or design, Japanese rope bondage has its roots in a culture of erotic sadomasochism, which has a deeply sexual and erotic component at its core.

The process of eroticizing torture is a relatively recent cultural phenomenon in Japan, starting in the 20th century and reaching a mass audience in the 1950s and 1960s as Japanese erotic magazines began publishing images, stories, and guides for SM play.  While the tradition of SM may have deeper roots in Japanese culture, its expression in public culture is a much more recent concept.

Depictions of semenawa, particularly in photography (for example the work of Sugirua Norio) are focused much more on the capture of the model’s expression and emotion than on the rope work itself.  The collaboration between Sugiura and , may best define the essense of semenawa as practiced in Japanese SM.

Modern Semenawa

The tradition has been developed most directly by Nureki Chimuo in the 1980s and 1990s and by his deshi .  It was also an element in the tying of grandmaster Akechi Denki and those who have followed in his tradition.

Nureki Chimuo

Nureki Chimuo, shot at Kinbiken, 1986

The goal of modern semenawa is to feed the masochistic desires of one’s partner in a way which make suffering both beautiful and pleasurable.  Often confused with “pain play” or rope sadism, semenawa is a decidedly more complex and difficult process.

Erotic torture rope scenes embrace both the pain/endurance aspect as well as the more erotic elements.  The intensity for the person being tied comes from a feeling of helplessness and surrender, combined with an intense emotional and physiological response to the rope.  Semenawa scenes often work best as a gradual progression, starting with a basic tie and gradually increasing in intensity, allowing the rope bottom to process both the pain and the pleasure of the suffering they are forced to endure.

Recommended Videos

A great example of modern torture rope is the collaboration between Nureki and Naka Akira in the video Dream Rope.  Naka Akira’s Rope Joy series also offers a great collection of modern semenawa techniques and scenes.

Naka Akira

From Naka Akira’s Rope Joy video series

Additional Resources

Aibunawa and Semenawa: Pleasure and Endurance (Kinbaku Today)

Itoh Seiu Books (Kinbaku Books)

Naka Akira: Introduction to Semenawa (Japanese Bound)

The Eroticization of Suffering by Red Sabbath (Kinbaku Today)

 

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