Longform

Tie Me Up, Nawashi

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A San Francisco-based writer whose books explore the sexual friction of East meeting West, Midori believes shibari can be seen as "more mythology that feeds into the Western propensity for 'Orientalism,' with elements of cultural chauvinism and racism beneath that." Her 2001 book, The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage, is both history and how-to.

Midori and Lochai are old friends; they met at an S-M convention in Washington, D.C., years ago. "And he already knew a great deal."

Shibari is primarily a North American practice, Midori says; the word is virtually unknown in Japan. Usually, older white dudes are shibari's biggest proponents. Much as a skilled photographer like Helmut Newton can take a pair of handcuffs and — by harnessing its iconic or totemic power — transform it into beautiful art, rope is a great prop in the right hands, Midori says.

"Still, it's a trend, it's a fad," she insists. "Will it disappear? I doubt it. It'll get incorporated in the repertoire of people's experience.

"What we're witnessing now is shibari Americana, much in the way French cooking you'd encounter in South Beach is not the French cooking it was even when Julia Child started exploring it."

American misconceptions about the exotic sexuality of Asian women have given shibari legs. "Start with contemporary Western society's discomfort about sex, combine with two tablespoons modern Christian guilt, throw in a tablespoon of Orientalism, another tablespoon of Internet imagery stripped of cultural context and you get this mythicized information about what Japanese erotic play-style is."

In Japan, Midori says: "They're not wearing kimonos at fetish parties. They're wearing rubber corsets they import from the West."

While sharing trade secrets, Lochai says, he wrapped a rope around Midori's wrist, and she did the same to him. But that was as far as it went, he says; the two dominant personalities all but canceled each other out.


Some of the darker aspects of rope play are embodied in Jimi Tatu, a big, bald, and imposing figure who teaches classes at the Lake Worth facility. Easygoing smile aside, Tatu has an almost drill-sergeant appearance. Where Lochai is affable, approachable, and transparent, Tatu is guarded, intensely private, and extremely serious. He talks about "a sadistic side to rope [that has] a spiritual side too."

Tatu says that some people, "when they're bound, can't resist the pleasure being inflicted on them." A laugh emerges, and his eyes sparkle.

His earliest encounters with rope fetishism were around age 10, he says, when he was visiting a small store in his grandmother's hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. On the counter was a pulpy detective magazine, its front-cover illustration showing a woman bound, gagged, and tied to a chair. "I got chastised for looking at that," he says.



A few years later, he lashed Marcie, a childhood playmate, to a swing set; he eventually earned a merit badge in knot-tying as an Eagle Scout. A love of Japanese culture, traditions, and rituals, combined with an appreciation of pinup models back to the Betty Grable days, fueled his fetish. Basic Western-style bondage — women tied up with unimaginative knots and pedestrian positions — did nothing for him, he says. Turned on by Zen gardens, he wanted his harnesses and hogties to reflect the same thought-inducing style. After a Baptist education in New Orleans — coupled with an introduction to the city's fledgling S-M underground in the 1970s — he ended up in South Florida.

By the mid-'90s, Tatu helped start organizations like SPICE (South Florida People Involved in Consensual Endeavors), and he started a BDSM website of his own. Ds-Arts.com, his latest Internet presence, is a repository of information about Japanese rope artistry.

He's working on a book called The Way of Rope, with a how-to-tie tutorial and accompanying DVD. At ShibariCon, he teaches classes like "Sex, Shibari Style" and "Japanese Chest Harnesses."

When Tatu asked those attending his Lake Worth class (a mix of ages and backgrounds, up to 40 people at a time, he relates) if they'd mind a reporter attending a session, "The response was very negative, as I suspected it would. Most people prefer to do their thing in private."

Once a month, however, the Lifestyle Alternative Centre hosts the Photo Artisans Guild (PAG), "and their photographers and models crave attention," he says. The meeting functions as a contemporary extension of an amateur camera club. On a clear, nearly nippy January night, more than a dozen photographers, makeup artists, and models have arrived, including Tatu, Lochai, Janice, Pixel (a 20-year-old photographer and model from Alaska), and Don, AKA Quietmaster, a retired professional photographer who looks to be in his 70s.

Lochai helps run the PAG along with the LAC's founders, Jeff and Keiki Weigel. The center takes great pains to distance itself from swingers clubs, fetish dungeons, or the like. No alcohol is served, just pop and pizza. Everyone assembled is white and well-off, like Deiter, an architect and amateur photo buff.

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton