The Tokyo kinbaku (bondage) scene can seem all but invisible to the uninitiated, but, like with all subcultures, if you poke around a bit, you’ll be amazed at just how deep this rabbit-hole goes.
A general rule of thumb is this: The more publicized the event is, the more “performance” it is. The low-key, nonadvertised events are likely to be much more raw. Choose accordingly.
A good place for a beginner to start is a place like Shinjuku Loft Plus One , which holds live S&M shows on a regular basis. Loft has been a seedy little venue since the days of 1980s punk, but it does have the advantage of being a live venue. The easily embarrassed do not have to steel themselves to enter an actual sex establishment in order to see some kinbaku.
That’s definitely not the case with the DX club, also in Shinjuku but right smack in the heart of Kabukicho, the city’s red-light district. DX is primarily a strip-club, but not of the Roppongi pole-&- lap-dance variety; this is an old-school wa-fu strip establishment, one of the last of its kind in Tokyo, where customers buy canned beer from a vending machine and ask the performers for autographed photos after the show. Admission, at ¥5,000, gets you several hours of constant performance, running from early afternoon to 11 p.m. Bondage performances by some of Tokyo’s top rope artists run here on a fairly regular basis (Osaka residents should check out Kujo OS ).
Club events like Torture Garden and Sadistic Circus — held at a variety of Tokyo clubs — and Department H often feature live rope acts, amid a panoply of other erotic/fetish performances and DJs. Often the crowd is more interesting than the shows. Beginners should note the strict fetish dress code at Torture Garden; the other two are more friendly to those who haven’t taken the plunge, though the vibe can sometimes seem like a shutter session for oyaji (middle-age men). Department H has recently moved to the wonderfully Showa-retro Tokyo Kinema Club in seedy Uguisudani.
For a sure-fire taste of white-hot kinbaku in an intimate setting, there’s always Ranbukan , a tiny bar located incongruously near the posh Tokyo Midtown complex. Check its day-to-day schedule online, but Saturday nights are usually a safe bet. Nawashi Mai Randa, as skilled as anyone in shibari, takes his models through the ropes, and other bakushi appear as well. Unfortunately, the space is undergoing renovations as of writing. In the meantime, you could do worse than visiting Jail — in Roppongi, as well as Nagoya and Osaka — which is sort of an S&M-themed hostessy-type bar, which caters to both doms and subs, and features some top nawashi on an irregular basis.
Next Dokumushi event at Shinjuku Loft Plus One: June 9. Next Sadistic Circus party: September (exact date TBA). All venues are easily located online.