The Art of Yukimura Haruki (雪村春樹)

Herewith another in a series of interviews conducted by Osada Steve of Japan’s top rope experts. Yukimura Haruki is one of the most recognized names and, by virtue of the thousands of videos and magazines he has appeared in, faces in the SM scene in Japan today. I suppose it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the first time I saw a Yukimura Haruki video was about 20 years ago. But he goes back longer than that. This interview was conducted at Yukimura Haruki’s luxury residence in the Ebisu district of Tokyo.–KJ

Osada Steve: Of all the professional nawashi active in Japan today, I have to say that your rope work is the most beautiful I’ve seen. Is that the most important thing to you? That your ties look beautiful?

Yukimura Haruki: It’s certainly one of the most important things. You have to understand that most of my work is for the camera — I’ve made over 2,500 rope bondage videos and have done a lot of rope work for still photographs as well. So yes, it is very important that the way I tie a woman is visually appealing. But it also has to feel good for the woman. If she isn’t having a good time in my ropes, then nothing will look good no matter how pretty the ties are. Fundamentally, all men have a face fetish; they want to see ecstasy on a woman’s face.

When did you first get interested in shibari?

My first exposure to SM was when I was in elementary school. I found my father’s stash of erotic drawings and I got a funny feeling when I looked at the pictures of tied-up women. Then I forgot all about it until I became sexually active as a young adult and realized I wanted to tie up the girls I was seeing. Of course, some of them left me as soon as I tried, but even so, I liked the drama of seeing what would happen if I pulled out a rope while we were kissing. I liked seeing their reactions.

What is shibari to you?

To me, shibari is an emotional exchange between a man and a woman. That’s something unique to Japan — to express love and emotion entirely through the medium of rope. So shibari is not how you do this tie or that tie, it’s how you use the rope to exchange emotion with a woman.

How did you turn professional?

I was working as a photographer when I was a young man, doing all kinds of photography. In my thirties, I started doing erotic photography as well. I tried many different techniques to make a model look more beautiful and more erotic. I experimented with all sorts of methods to get a different expression out of her than any other photographer ever had, and one of those techniques I used was tying her up. Gradually, I was spending more time on the rope than photography. Sometimes I’d tie up a model and then move back to the camera to take the photograph but other times I wanted to include myself in the composition for a different effect. In those cases, I had to have someone else on the camera to take the picture. By the time I was in my forties, I was doing shibari full time.

That reminds me: there seems to be a lot of confusion outside Japan about the term nawashi. Western people tend to think there is some kind of qualification process. How would you define the term nawashi?

That’s a relatively new word that was made up sometime after the war, probably by someone writing for one of the SM magazines that were popular then. Nawa means rope, and shi is something that is attached to words to indicate an artisan or craftsman – indicating a kind of expert level.

There is no qualification process or official standard so it’s hard to say when you might start calling someone a nawashi. But I would reserve the term for a skilled professional — someone who makes a living with shibari and is very good at it. By the way, there are other words besides nawashi for someone who does rope professionally. I generally use the term bakushi. It comes from the word baku (restraint) in kinbaku.

There are people in the West who use the term nawashi for anybody who uses rope, regardless of whether they’re any good or whether they have had any formal training in shibari

Why use a Japanese term if it’s not Japanese-style bondage? And no, I wouldn’t use the term nawashi for an amateur, and certainly not for someone who hasn’t studied the art in Japan for years.

Ok, let’s get back to your style. You are famous for the way you talk to a woman while you tie her, muttering things under your breath and making “nasty” comments about her body and what you’re going to do to her. It really creates a charged atmosphere. Is that why you do it?

The muttering is definitely part of my style and I’ve done it pretty much from the beginning of my career. I mutter for two basic reasons: first, to give the person operating the camera a signal about what I’m going to do next so he or she can get ready to focus on that part of the model’s body. If I say something like, “Heh heh, I’ll bet Yukimura graphicyou’ve got sweet little titties under that blouse,” the camera operator gets a cue that I’m going to move in on the model’s breasts next. At the same time, my comments are of course deeply embarrassing for the model. I use words to guide production of the video while shaming the woman I’m tying. The other thing I do with my muttering is to add some story to the scene. I might mutter to the woman as I tie her, “You were late tonight. Where were you? Out so long! With some young guy again, weren’t you?” It’s better if the viewer can believe there is a reason I’m tying the girl up, that there is an emotional motivation driving my ropes.

Is there one video of which you’re particularly proud?

I’ve made so many that it’s hard to single out any particular one. But earlier you mentioned Jouen, a video I directed for Cinemagic in the late 1980s. That one came out pretty well. It was a collaboration with Minomura Ko, who was the editor of Kitan Club, a famous old SM magazine (no longer published). Actually, it used to be a nature and wildlife magazine but when Minomura took over as editor, he transformed it into an SM magazine. He did a lot of the work himself — everything from writing stories to taking photographs and even doing illustrations. Readers would send in letters about their own fetishes and if they could write reasonably well, he’d encourage them to write regularly for the magazine. One of the SM authors he helped nurture was Dan Oniroku.

Minomura Ko did shibari too? What was his rope work like?

Minomura used white cotton ropes and would only use five ropes at a time. He used soft rope because he didn’t want to hurt the woman’s skin. His emphasis when tying up a woman was to shame her. He might take a model to a traditional Japanese inn and tie her to a pillar in the room. Then he’d sit down with a flask of sake and say embarrassing things to her. And all the while, he’d be watching her — taking photographs or sketching her for illustrations — and writing his impressions of how she looked in his rope. All this would go into the magazine.

I personally am attracted to really elaborate, complicated ties. That’s what I want to learn. When I see you doing something really complicated, I think, “Wow. Yukimura Haruki is the only guy in the world who can do that.” How do you get to the point where you can do that? Where do the ideas come from?

The ideas come from the woman, from the sexual tension that builds inside her as I tie her up. Let’s say I’ve tied a woman up, and she’s aroused, and maybe she wants me to do things to her that she likes, like slap her face or spank her. But I just do rope. That’s what I do. So I respond to her arousal by adding more rope. That’s where the complicated ties come from.

If you want to get really good at shibari, you need to tie a lot of different women because each woman will teach you something and give you new ideas. Keep in mind that every tie, even the very simple ones, will vary depending on the body type and size of the woman you’re tying. It’s never exactly the same. And you want to vary what you do depending on the woman’s body. For example, I think a woman who has long forearms looks really attractive with her arms tied high behind her back. It brings out the lines of her waist. But if the woman has short arms, that doesn’t work so well so I’ll do something different. I once developed a very beautiful, unique tie because I was working on a model with no bust at all. I was trying new ideas to present her flat chest in a really attractive way. I never would have gotten the idea to try that if she had had larger breasts.

These days, I generally don’t do a lot of complicated ties when I’m making a video. I tend to keep the rope work fairly simple and create drama and tension by manipulating other factors such as timing. How long am I going to leave her in the rope? When am I going to untie her and retie her? But if I’m working for still photography, particularly if the photographer wants to focus on one part of the body and the model’s facial expressions won’t enter into the photograph, then I’m going to use more rope and do more elaborate ties. In those cases, I’m not working with the whole woman. I’m working with just one part of her body and combining it with rope to create an object.

You must have tied up something like a thousand different women. Do you ever fall in love or get jealous?

I’ve had one or two relationships with submissive women that lasted for a year or more, but that kind of sustained relationship is really exhausting. This is my work, so it’s better if I approach a new model thinking in terms of a one-day love affair — that this will be a romance of a few hours. Then I can really give her all my heart. And I do need to give her everything I have in order to get the best from her for the camera. If I don’t open my heart to her, she won’t open her heart to me. But to answer your question, yes, I’ve felt jealousy. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to be fairly detached and cool in my relations with models. But having felt that jealousy is part of who I am today.