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Nawashi Syndrome

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I’ll be the first one to say it: People absolutely get to create their kink however they like it. Having acknowledged that, however, I feel that a small dose of reality needs to be injected into my community. So, guys, at the risk of being a party pooper, we really have to talk about this kimono thing.

You see, in the last few years, complex rope bondage has become hip in the American BDSM world. Such ropework is popular and prevalent in Japanese porn, and the American bondage scene has definitely been inspired and influenced by Japanese images.

That’s all good so far. But the unfortunate side effect is the influx of what I call “the kimono boys.” They’re American white guys who call themselves “authentic Japanese rope masters.” (Interestingly, I’ve never met a woman who made this claim.) These rope masters say they have studied “the traditional Japanese way of the rope”—although most of them have never actually visited Japan. But their conversation is strewn with Japanese words, and they often give themselves the title “Nawashi,” which they say means “rope bondage artist.” And, yeah, they often show up at fetish events wearing kimonos.

Now, The Last Samurai was an entertaining movie, but in real life I tend to be skeptical about white people claiming to be privy to the intimate traditions of a nonwhite cultures, especially when the only tangible evidence of that looks very much like a polyester bathrobe I saw on sale at Pier 1. It’s not wrong to want to feel like you’re part of something larger than yourself, but I think the kimono guys have misunderstood how they’re being perceived by others. White people have a long tradition of co-opting other culture’s dress and manners to the point of absurdity, and when I meet a neo-nawashi type, he usually reminds me more of Vanilla Ice than Ken Watanabe.

Still, maybe I’m being too harsh, I thought. So I decided to consult an expert—Fetish Diva Midori, who is not only the author of The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage, but who actually is Japanese and grew up in Japan.

“First of all, is there an ancient tradition of erotic rope bondage in Japan?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t call it ancient,” Midori told me. “The kind of rope bondage we’re doing was popularized by the Japanese porn industry, which came into full bloom in the 1960s. And the word ‘nawashi’ means ‘one who works with rope.’ It definitely implies someone who’s doing it for money, in the porn industry. A sex worker, basically. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not a high-status title.”

“Is it possible for a white American guy to be an authentic Japanese rope master?”

Midori paused and then answered slowly. “I think you can be a scholar of another culture, you can appreciate it. But there’s a difference between a scholar and a fetishist. A scholar studies a culture in a three-dimensional way, but a fetishist selects certain things that appeal to him and creates a fantasy idea of what the culture is. I think there’s a lot of fetishizing of Japanese culture going on in certain circles.”

“What do you think about white guys wearing kimonos at fetish events?”

“I think without an obi—and they usually don’t wear one—they look like they’re on the way to the bathhouse.”

We speculated about what might make someone invent a richer history for a kink activity than really exists. “I think if someone feels some sexual shame about what he’s doing, he might attempt to legitimize it,” said Midori. “For some people, it’s easier to feel okay about being kinky if you tell yourself that you’re participating in some ancient honorable ritual, instead of tying people up just because it’s hot and you get off on it.”

Midori is right—appreciation is one thing, but using a foreign culture to rationalize your kink is another. So, kimono boys, if you want to wear a silk robe just because you like the way it looks, I think that’s fine. But if you’re wearing it because you think it makes you more than you are, or because it makes your kink different and better than other people’s, I’d say you’re missing more than just an obi.

matisse@thestranger.com



Kink Cal

FRIDAY 2/10

LITTLE RED STUDIO
Erotic dance and spoken-word entertainment. Little Red Studio, 328-4758, 8:30 pm, ticket prices vary, RSVP required.

SATURDAY 2/11

NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN: EROTIC ART THROUGH HISTORY
A slide presentation that offers a look at how artists, from prehistoric times to the present, have depicted the full range of human sexual experiences. Wet Spot, info@wetspot.org or 270-9746, 5–7 pm, free, membership not required.

ROMP NAKED
An alternative, nude gathering for men to honor male erotic energy through music and dance. Romp Naked is a sexy party, but not a sex party, and it’s an alcohol- and drug-free event. Expected headcount: 100–150 men. With modern, global dance music from DJ Diazepam. For RSVP (required), tickets, and location, see www.RompNaked.org.

KINKY CARNIVAL
Kissing booths, sexy performance art, rope-bondage sampling booth, and a human petting zoo. School of One, 3107 Eastlake Ave E,www.kinkycarnival.org, 6 pm–midnight, $20, advance tickets available at Babeland.

AN EVENING OF SACRED CHANTING
Free your kinky soul from the bondage of desire at this “world-music concert and meditation event,” featuring Indian music and participatory devotional singing. Nordic Heritage Museum, 3014 NW 67th St, 499-8255, $15 at the door.

SUNDAY 2/12

EROTIC MASSAGE NIGHT
Sensual touch for couples and singles, facilitated by David Longmire. No experience required. Wet Spot, massage@wetspot.org or 270-9746, 5–9 pm (doors close at 6 pm), $10, members only.

MONDAY 2/13

MOONDAY AT THE FENIX
Monthly fetish-fashion photography event. Wanna shoot? Contact lady3cecily@yahoo.com. Wanna model? Dress up.Fenix Underground, 109 S Washington St, 405-4313, 9 pm, $5 in fetishwear, $15 in civies.

 

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