OR x TWELVE ARTISTS x OTAQUEST+DA.YO.NE curated by Yasumasa Yonehara is a project that aims to shine the spotlight on an up-and-coming artist each month. Musical events, collaboration items, pop-up stores, and other events will take place at OR, a cultural hub located in the newly re-developed Miyashita Park in Shibuya, Tokyo. Today we sit down with Hajime Kinoko, the third artist to have an exhibition at OR. His innovative works and sense of style have brought a breath of fresh air into the world of kinbaku and has gotten plenty of praise for it.
OTAQUEST: What kind of expectations did you have going into this current exhibition?
Hajime Kinoko: OR, having just opened, has a lot of eyes on it, and a lot of people with artistic sensibilities are attracted to it. Being able to have my art exhibited there is a one-of-a-kind opportunity. I’m incredibly grateful to Mr. Yonehara for inviting me.
OTAQUEST: Do you mind telling me how you got to know Mr. Yonehara, and how that led to you having your own exhibition?
Hajime Kinoko: It started with me being invited to a party in Harajuku by fashion designer Midorikawa Mirano. At the time I was pretty inebriated, so I honestly can’t say I remember meeting Mr. Yonehara (laughs). After that, I got to know him a bit more and would run into him at different art fairs and such. That led to him inviting me to take part in an exhibition.
OTAQUEST: Even in a world where censorship has gotten more strict, artists such as yourself have been able to gain a following. Even the art of Shibari itself has gotten a sort of ‘hipness’ to it. How do you feel about that?
Hajime Kinoko: Some people look at Shibari as a form of misogyny, while others praise it as a form of modern art. It’s a genre with both pros and cons. Even so, I’ve been given praise for my work, and have been able to take part in fashion shows and music videos, and such. For that, I’m extremely grateful.
Yasumasa Yonehara: Your work is interesting because you tie up many different things, not just women. Do you get any criticism from the bondage scene?
Hajime Kinoko: I get a lot of comments from those deep in the scene (laughs).
OTAQUEST: I wanted to ask you, Yonehara, as the curator for this event, what made you want to invite KNK?
Yasumasa Yonehara: Like I said, KNK uses rope to create all kinds of work. I wanted to see what kind of space he’d turn OR into if I gave him the opportunity. I wanted him to have an exhibition from the very beginning, so being able to have him in my list of 12 and for him to be here means a lot to me.
OTAQUEST: Do you mind telling me what exactly got you started with kinbaku to begin with?
Hajime Kinoko: When I was 21, I was dating a girl that was really into it. That was the start of it. The thing I found the most interesting was how I could change the shape of a woman’s body and the beauty that comes from that. Also, the act itself of bondage requires a sense of trust. You’re intentionally restricting your movement. I wouldn’t be able to be tied up by someone I didn’t trust.
Yasumasa Yonehara: If someone tells you to stop, will you stop?
Hajime Kinoko: If they tell me it hurts, I’ll stop.
Yasumasa Yonehara: But don’t people find that kinda hot?
Hajime Kinoko: I don’t. I take pictures of the people I tie up to show off my art, but when I brought those pictures to an S&M magazine, they told me I need to take dirtier pictures because mine weren’t erotic enough. Earlier, when I said people in the scene have a lot to say, that’s part of it.
OTAQUEST: Hearing you talk, it sounds like kinbaku is something where your sense as an artist comes into play quite a bit.
Hajime Kinoko: Yes, for sure. I’m not doing kinbaku for sexual gratification, so people from that scene feel like I’m inauthentic. But authenticity is all dependent on who’s looking at it and from what perspective, so those kinds of opinions are bound to crop up.
OTAQUEST: You were saying that you were introduced to the world of kinbaku through your girlfriend at the time. How did that lead to you now?
Hajime Kinoko: I started working at a fetish bar, so I regularly had customers that wanted to be tied up. Tying people up for other people to watch, stuff like that. Working there, I got better at kinbaku. About 15 years ago I went to my first S&M show, and I didn’t find it interesting at all. It was a show by hardcore fans for hardcore fans. I felt like if I was doing it, I could make something more interesting to look at. That’s when I started doing shows of my own. However, as time went on and I kept doing shows, my body started to get worse.
OTAQUEST: Why was that?
Hajime Kinoko: My shows are designed with the average person’s viewing pleasure in mind, so the model becomes the main point. As a result, I have to move and contort my body while still allowing for an entertaining show. That led to me putting a lot of strain on my back. So I decided around 6 or 7 years ago to start taking pictures of my work. If I do a show, then that piece is done once the show is over, but with images they last forever. I think having a lot of people around me that wanted to take pictures also played a part in that decision.
OTAQUEST: But you chose not to have them take pictures, but for you to take them instead.
Hajime Kinoko: Having people take pictures of my work isn’t the problem, the problem is that once they take that picture that’s their art. There’s also the risk of losing the original pictures before they’re developed if I lose contact with that person. It’s for these reasons that I choose to take my own pictures.
OTAQUEST: How did you learn photography?
Hajime Kinoko: I was introduced to this workshop and went there a few times a week for two years, learning the basics of photography. If I saw a picture I liked, I’d get in touch with the people that took that shoot and asked them how they retouched their images. As I accumulated more pictures, I eventually got in touch with Mr. Komiyama of Komiyama Tokyo, a used bookstore that’s been around for over 80 years in Jimbocho, Tokyo. Being told my work was interesting by someone that sells and buys many different kinds of art and books, that was exhilarating. Around the same time, a few very incredible people started taking interest in selling some of my work. I think Mr. Araki had something to do with that as well.
OTAQUEST: Araki as in Mr. Nobuyoshi Araki?
Hajime Kinoko: Yes, the very same one. He was also taking pictures of kinbaku and those sold for quite a high price in Europe. I think the spotlight was shone on me as part of the next generation of photographers [after Mr. Araki]. Around two years ago, when he was doing a collaborative event with the New York Sex Museum, he brought me and introduced me as part of the next generation. I still have much to learn in terms of photography, but I feel as though both Mr. Araki and Mr. Komiyama are looking forward to my growth and are there to guide me through it. I feel like people that find my work interesting and like it are people that are able to find the originality in kinbaku to be interesting.
OTAQUEST: What would you consider to be kinbaku’s originality?
Hajime Kinoko: in ancient times, kinbaku was used as a form of hojojutsu (binding techniques) to restrain criminals. There are two types of restraints, hayanawa and hojojutsu. Hayanawa is used for when the criminal is first caught to restrain them. Afterwards hojojutsu is used to re-tie the criminal and bind them in a way to completely prevent escape. My way of typing, in a completely different context, also makes my subject immobile. I recently developed this new way of binding that I call web binding that involves tying the rope within itself while also binding the subject. Apparently that’s popular within certain circles.
OTAQUEST: What characteristics of your web binding do you think the enthusiasts enjoy?
Hajime Kinoko: I think it’s the ability to tie them up and have them hanging from the ceiling is one. The other is that, compared to styles of kinbaku that originate from hojojutsu, web binding feels like you’re being swaddled in a hammock. Although my method may be avant garde, I only started considering my own original style after properly learning hojojutsu-style kinbaku first.
OTAQUEST: Ahh, it becomes interesting because you understand the history and how the traditional forms look.
Hajime Kinoko: I think it’s necessary to have a proper backbone and study traditional techniques and practice them before making something new, rather than just making something that looks avant garde. I also try my best to make use of Japanese art. Even if it may look avant garde, behind that are Japanese concepts like ‘shingyoso’ (the three classifications of strictness in traditional writing) or ‘wabi-sabi’ (the understanding that imperfection is a part of life). As someone that’s taking part in a centuries-old art, I wanted to imbue some of that into my own work. It’s for that reason that for two-and-a-half years I took lessons in ikebana (traditional Japanese flower arrangement). While learning ikebana I found a lot of similarities to kinbaku.
OTAQUEST: What kind of similarities?
Hajime Kinoko: If you were to compare a woman to a flower, the way the stem grows and other small changes drastically change how it looks. Beauty and aesthetics in Japan is something taught from teacher to student over generations until that student can also learn that aesthetic sensibility. I’ve been deeply re-examining these ancient beliefs about beauty, which led me to learning calligraphy for the past year and a half. Just like with kinbaku, the shape and lines are important for calligraphy.
OTAQUEST: You say beauty is something taught through tradition. Would you say the same about eroticism? For example, would people in the Edo period find the same things erotic?
Hajime Kinoko: I believe eroticism changes with the times.
OTAQUEST: Around when did bondage gain popularity as a form of eroticism?
Hajime Kinoko: It’s said that the first person to tie up a woman and proclaim that was erotic was Seiu Ito (1882-1961). There may have also been people during the Edo period who saw female criminals tied up and found that arousing. Afterward, what was originally an occult magazine called Kitan Club did a few S&M segments due to reader demand, and due to the popularity of those segments went on to become a full on S&M magazine. And it was from here that people like Oniroku Dan, who were skilled in creating S&M stories with a meaning and plot, were able to show their skills. For people who like that kind of eroticism, it might be hard for them to enjoy my work (laughs).
Yasumasa Yonehara: There’s this bondage artist/fetish photographer named John Willy, but compared to Japanese people his bondage is a bit loose. I mean, this is someone who makes a living off of tying up different Hollywood-level stars. But it’s just not 100% there. I think the thing is that Kinoko’s shibari might seem similar to John Willy’s work to Japanese enthusiasts. They want a bit more I think.
Hajime Kinoko: Yeah, I know what you mean.
OTAQUEST: Do you ever feel like your work could use that extra bit?
Hajime Kinoko: Even if I want to make them look like that, it doesn’t turn out right. I realized somewhere along the way. At first I was doing it like other S&M stuff I saw, but people would tell me it was wrong and it was like ‘Yeah, I knew it’. I’ve tried a lot of things, but I guess there’s just some things people are good at and bad at (laughs).
OTAQUEST: Your workshops are so symbolic they’re even featured in things like Time Out Tokyo. I wanted to ask, what kinds of people attend your workshops?
Hajime Kinoko: We do group lessons in a studio three times a month, and we also do private lessons. Apparently we have the most students of any single S&M studio worldwide.
OTAQUEST: Do a lot of couples attend?
Hajime Kinoko: It’s almost exclusively couples. We also have a pretty large number of foreign people. We also have an English speaking instructor. From a foreign perspective, Japan is the best when it comes to bondage. So we have quite a few foreign students who’ve come from overseas to learn how to do bondage in Japan, kind of like a pilgrimage.
OTAQUEST: Is their goal to come and practice?
Hajime Kinoko: The majority of people who come like S&M. But recently it feels like there have also been a number of people who have an appreciation for art that have come to learn as well. In particular, it seems like the foreign students come because they see my art and are moved by it, not for dirty or sexually driven reasons. Apparently Japanese eroticism that depends on humiliating the girl will just piss her off overseas.
OTAQUEST: You were saying that you value the relationship and the trust between the person performing the shibari and the person being restrained. I guess the people drawn to your work are people that can also relate to that.
Yasumasa Yonehara: Japanese eroticism has this element of humiliation to it, whereas KINOKO’s work is almost like someone gently asking ‘Are you okay?’.
Hajime Kinoko: I do this because the other person enjoys it. If they want it, I’ll even spank them while tying them. It depends on the person, but it’s said that people release oxytocin, which is a happiness chemical, when under pressure. In the United States, there are even depressed patients who find it easier to sleep by applying moderate pressure to their bodies through the use of these weighted jackets. There are quite a number of people who fall asleep during my shibari.
Yasumasa Yonehara: You sure are a gentle S.
Hajime Kinoko: Exactly. It’s almost like I’m preparing a meal. I want to make a delicious feast for you to dine on.
OTAQUEST: On your website it says ‘Shibari and kinbaku’. Do you mind explaining what the difference between the two is?
Hajime Kinoko: Two years ago I went to Burning Man for work to make a 17-meter jungle gym. At the time, I was asked that exact same question by many foreign people. If you look up the definition, kinbaku means ‘to tie up tightly’. However, I personally feel as though kinbaku is for tying people up, and shibari is for tying everything, including people.
Yasumasa Yonehara: Wait, you went to Burning Man?
Hajime Kinoko: I did a show in front of that piece too. I went because one of my students goes every year. It’s a tradition to burn your piece at the end of the festival, so I had to think about structural integrity and all of that when I was making it. It was a very big learning experience.
OTAQUEST: Was it rough, planning, and performing at Burning Man?
Hajime Kinoko: You’re in the middle of a desert, so the rope ends up snapping due to the lack of humidity. So every day I’d have to go and fix where it snapped. It definitely was a strain on my body.
OTAQUEST: Have you already decided what your exhibition at OR is going to be like?
Hajime Kinoko: Quite a number of my older works have sold, so I’m thinking of displaying my ‘Red’ series. I also bought a tree, so I’m thinking of tying that up.
Yasumasa Yonehara: Aren’t you also doing an installation?
Hajime Kinoko: Yeah, I am. I’m thinking of making a piece for the first floor that uses only rope, to show off knots and bonds.
OTAQUEST: How would you like people to enjoy your exhibition?
Hajime Kinoko: I think shibari is something you can interpret any way you please. All I can do is express my own thoughts, but within that are my feelings and my morals, so if people are able to feel my feelings, I’d like that. Taking into the feelings of those that are being tied up. I think there’s a lot of things to see. So I‘d like if everyone were able to find their own meaning, their own way to enjoy my work.