DECEMBER 2005/JANUARY 2006

ENORMOUS, FLESHY PIñATAS

NOBUYOSHI ARAKI’S PHOTOGRAPHS OF CLOUDS AND FISH ARE SEXIER THAN HIS PHOTOS OF NAKED WOMEN.

by Robert Ito

Nobuyoshi Araki, Japan’s most famous and prolific photographer, has published some three hundred books over a forty-year career. In Araki: Self, Life, Death, a retrospective collection just released by Phaidon, there are black-and-white pictures of Tokyo, looking gloomy and grimy, and nude shots of many women, including his wife, Yoko, who died in 1990. There are photos of cats and skies. Flip further through the book, however, and you’ll find, nestled amid the cityscapes and nudes, a section entitled Kinbaku, devoted to photos of women in bondage. Some are hog-tied; others are suspended from ceilings, naked, like enormous, fleshy piñatas.

“I only tie up a woman’s body,” Araki likes to say, “because I know I cannot tie up her heart.” A lover of many things Japanese, Araki, sixty-five, draws inspiration from the intricate rope bondage style of shibari, which includes ties from the takate kote (a simple arm tie) to the more difficult ebi (“shrimp”).

Shibari traces its roots to medieval Japan, when young samurai were taught various ways to use rope to bind and torture prisoners. As with handcuffs and gimp masks, a few adventurous souls discovered the sensual pleasures of rope bondage, and an art form was born. Images of shibari found their way onto Japan’s popular ukiyo-e woodblock prints, along with pictures of randy octopi and men with genitals the size of baguettes. Today, shibari aficionados celebrate this ancient art everywhere from Germany and the Netherlands to Chicago, site of an annual shibari convention.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.

Robert Ito is an editor at Los Angeles magazine. His work has appeared in Salon, the Village Voice, and the London Independent.


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