An interview with Osada Steve from his beginnings in kink to the present day. First published on Rope Topia.
by Wykd Dave
What was your first experience of kink?
I was barely able to lift my nose above the window sill, when I watched two juveniles marching off two teenage girls into the field across the street. Despite the piercing shrieks, only modest resistance was offered. Once in the tall grass relentless yelping ensued. This would continue for hours on end – the same ritual repeating itself almost daily all summer.
That early imprint made me take a controlling interest in things involving dominance with love. The following year I started to “replay” those scenes in kindergarten and, as things progressed, began introducing rope into the game.
Do you remember the first time you encountered the Japanese style of rope bondage?
In the ‘70s, I spent a good number of years traveling around Asia. One night I found a Japanese magazine that featured rough-looking men using rope to inflict pleasure on women. That evoked about the same feelings I had when hearing those lustful screams in front of my window two decades earlier.
How did you come to be in Japan?
I was leading a fairly eventful life in South-East Asia. Yet, as the years kept piling up I grew tired of living out of a suitcase. That’s how I arrived in Tokyo in 1979, with a hundred dollars to my name.
Once in Japan, what happened then?
I began feasting on videos, watching the very early works of Nureki Chimuo (濡木痴夢男) and witnessing the kinbaku genre evolve and mature. In those days they were also still showing Nikkatsu rope porn on the big screen.
By the mid-90s I was doing daily photo auditions for cover girl candidates. After each “official” shoot, four out of five prospects were eagerly participating in reenactments of the shibari videos I had seen. Within a few years of doing that, I must have tied well over 500 women before I became the deshi of Osada Eikichi.
What was your first meeting with Osada Eikichi (長田英吉) like?
I met Osada Eikichi in 1998, when producing a series of underground articles for a magazine.
The first time we met was at the Bondage Bar in Shinjuku. That place would soon close, and I eventually arranged for Osada sensei to do weekly performances at the Mistress Bar in Roppongi. Very soon I found myself helping out during his shows. My main task was operating the pulley while sensei would do his whip work and dripping hot wax on the suspended model.
In 2000, I converted my photo studio into a show space for Osada Eikichi.
How did your relationship develop?
Sensei, his show partner and I were now running our own place (Studio SIX). I was still the main pulley man and, after the shows, sensei would chill out on a sofa watching me do various chores. It was during those times that sensei would say to his partner, “After I’m gone, Steve should continue my shows. He should do so until he has perfected my style. After that, he should find his own style.”
In those days I didn’t pay much attention to such talk. All I wanted was tying women and being around my mentor. Becoming a performer was furthest from my mind. However, over time, sensei became more and more frail. In the end it was me who minded his every step and even went with him to the bathroom.
When did you first start to do shows yourself?
On January 20, 2001, sensei collapsed on stage and spent the last eight months of his life in a home for the elderly while I continued his shows on his behalf. It was during that time that Oda Hisashi (織田久先生), the owner of the Jail chain of SM clubs, took on an advisory role on how to perpetuate the achievements of my sensei, and it was finally decided that I should inherit the Osada name. I continued performing in the Osada Eikichi style until after sensei’s death and until I had reached perfection, just as sensei had wanted it.
Doing those shows may sound easy enough, but sensei’s standard performance at age 75 consisted of 32 steps including four different suspension patterns within a 40-minute timeframe. Sensei wasn’t called the fastest rope performer (aka The Flying Rope Man) ever for nothing. You could say that this early period in my career taught me a lot about speed.
How were you received as a Westerner doing shows in Japan?
Then there were the organizers who had worked with Osada Eikichi before. They were all willing to give me a chance.
And then there was the audience. Given the dearth of “artists” back then, it must have been a fresh breeze to watch this strange foreigner do his stuff. However, Westerner or no Westerner, at the end of the day it’s all about delivering the goods.
When Osada Eikichi passed away I imagine it was a very uncertain time. How did you deal with that?
Thing is, I never imagined going on stage. It’s just not what turns me on. However, once I had accepted the Osada name I considered it my duty to keep the legacy of Osada Eikichi alive. I dealt with it by going out there to provide rope entertainment. Within the next few years I found myself doing well over a thousand shows on big stages as well as hundreds of (now legendary) Kinbaku Live Nights @ Studio SIX.
I believe that you were known as Dr D Vice. Yours must be the most famous name change in the kink scene. It must be very rare for a Westerner to succeed in Japan in this field and pretty much unheard of for someone from the West to inherit the name of a Japanese master. How did it happen?
I am coming from a journalistic background, having interviewed and/or photographed people from Bill Gates to the Dalai Lama, written about politics, economics, you name it . . . all under several different bylines. The Dr D Vice name was my pseudonym for the kinky stuff.
Thus, adopting the stage name Osada Steve (長田スティーブ) was more like taking on a different persona than “changing” anything. In fact, I continued to use the Dr D Vice name concurrently for several more years.
You have worked and performed on the same bill as many of the best and most respected names in Japanese bondage. Was it ever daunting to be in their company? Is it still?
Three early examples:
In 2001, I did an Osada Eikichi memorial performance at Roppongi Jail in front of the Who’s Who of the kinbaku world, including Akechi Denki. It was this event where I had to prove my mettle to earn the right of being worthy of the Osada name.
In 2002, I shared the stage with Kazami Ranki at Loft Plus One. I admire Kazami sensei a lot because he has worked very, very hard to reach the top. He has always been very kind to me, and he is like the big brother I never had.
In 2003, I shared the stage with Akechi Denki and Shima Shikou (志摩紫光) at Sadistic Circus which is by far the largest annual event in Tokyo, drawing huge crowds. This extravaganza is organized by the owner of the Black Heart fetish club in Ginza.
I am addicted to rope, and I want to tie, tie, tie. I know that I will get into my “zone” within seconds of touching rope, when a wild animal inside is taking over. That may explain why I never had goose bumps or butterflies, regardless of who might be on the same bill or whoever might be sitting in the audience.
These days you are clearly accepted within the bondage community in Japan. You have been working with Sugiura Norio (杉浦則夫), and Hajime Kinoko (一鬼のこ) has spoken of you as an influence. Was it difficult to become accepted as you have been?
If a genius like Sugiura Norio hires you to do the rope for his photo shoots, that’s to me the biggest compliment you can get. That I have survived this collaboration for so long makes it the highest endorsement of my shibari skills personally. I am very grateful for Sugiura sensei’s trust and for helping me reach a completely new level.
In my book Hajime Kinoko is extremely nimble-fingered. I think Dexter (from dexterous) should be his middle name. If you say he says good things about me, I say I’m humbled.
Having a great model is a huge asset to a rigger. One name that has been particularly attached to yours is that of Asagi Ageha (浅葱アゲハ). What’s your view on the models that you have worked with and the part they have played in your own career?
Personally, I prefer low-frequency talent turnover, like collaborating with the same partner for a long period of time. However, on the professional circuit the nawashi is expected to provide a constant stream of fresh faces. Consequently the same model is rarely used more than just a few times. As a result there are very few rope model “stars”.
A female star needs to offer more than just a body and a pretty face. One such woman is Asagi Ageha who, besides having charisma, is having an excellent grasp of timing and space which in its totality leads to a tremendous “stage presence”. We have been doing well over a thousand shows together.
Of course, I couldn’t survive if I didn’t also work with hundreds of other models. The key to a satisfying relationship is compatibility. If a woman responds positively to my administrations, if she inspires me, I can do a good job.
Of the great names of Japanese bondage that we are aware of in the West, which do you think are great and why?
Greatness doesn’t come overnight. Doing fancy suspensions or turning shibari into a circus act is not what makes a master.
When it comes to greatness, I think there is only one person alive that deserves this attribute – and that is grandmaster Yukimura Haruki (雪村春樹) by merit of having elevated his particular style of shibari into an art form. The hard part is to reconcile skillful tying (the technical part of shibari) with the mental aspects of communicating on a deep emotional level. It is a long and treacherous path to the top with the lure of money and porn snatching the weak.
Are there important figures in the history of Japanese bondage that you feel we should know about in the West but that we aren’t aware of?
Much of the “history” is now widely known. To sum it up briefly, there is the martial art of hojojutsu (aka hobakujutsu, torinawajutsu, nawajutsu and what-not-jutsu) on which everything we do today is based. That art suffered a slow death towards the end of the Edo period. A few kabuki plays and woodblock prints kept the use of rope in the minds of the Japanese alive. Fast forward and we encounter Ito Seiyu with his art depicting rope used for punishment and torture followed by the emerging print publishing mass market after the war where shibari was presented as something to gain erotic pleasures.
It is in this last chapter where we have greats like Osada Eikichi, Akechi Denki, Nureki Chimuo, and now Yukimura Haruki. I say “greats” because each one of them has made a significant contribution in advancing the art of Japanese bondage. Simply put, if it weren’t for Osada Eikichi we wouldn’t be doing this interview. And if it weren’t for the other three grandmasters, there is no knowing what the state of shibari would be today.
Regarding Japanese rope artists that so far have evaded the radar in the West, I’d say that Miura Takumi (神浦匠) is perhaps the most underrated nawashi outside of Japan. In addition to that there are a number of absolutely amazing nawashi that do not seek the public limelight, so I am not at liberty to mention their names.
You have been known as a teacher for a long time now. Is it important to you to teach?
I find it rewarding to help a person along her or his journey of discovery. Many of my more regular students are taking annual trips to the Osada-ryu HQ dojo for several weeks each time. On a typical day they will train for four or more hours – either with their own partner or with one of my models.
I guess it helps that I am able to explain the logic and philosophy behind each move in a language the student understands. Beyond the “this rope goes here” the student will learn about many intangible but important parts that contribute to achieving deeply satisfying rope sessions.
After having tied for years, it’s mostly those intangible things that are taking a lifetime to master. To assist the student in gaining a deeper understanding I have developed what I call the Nine Gates of Osada-ryu that deal with some of the most important concepts like Ma-ai (間合い), Sabaku (捌く), Urawaza (裏技), Ki (気), Kankyū (緩急), Muganawa (無我縄). On top of these are all those things that can’t be written down and will be passed on verbally as kuden (口伝).
Following on from that. There are some Osada-ryu dojos run by licensed Osada-ryu instructors in the Western world now. How did they come about?
At present there are several licensed instructors in various cities in Europe and North America. Since it takes years of repeated visits to Japan and a lot of dedication to obtain an Osada-ryu instructor license you won’t see any significant number of McOsada franchises popping up soon. Even after obtaining such license it is imperative to make regular visits the Tokyo HQ to assure authenticity and coherent teaching, but without stifling the individual interpretation and development of each instructor.
The idea of having Osada-ryu dojos abroad is to transfer know-how about Japanese bondage in a safe and sound environment that provides regular training and tying opportunities. In the beginning this was augmented by my annual workshop tours, helping interest and first-hand knowledge in the Japanese art of kinbaku to explode. As a windfall it has now paved the way for a number of Japanese riggers traveling the globe sharing their own style of shibari/kinbaku.
You have always continued to be a student of bondage even in the midst of your own successful career. Who have been the important influences in the development of your own style? Who are your favorite teachers?
When I started out, it took a great deal of perseverance and commitment to get accepted as a student.
In case of Akechi Denki, when I approached him, he first made inquiries as to whether it was appropriate to take me on when I was already a recognized rope performer myself.
In case of Yukimura Haruki, I had been covering his work and events from as early as 2001, but it took until 2007 before he agreed to teach me.
Today, anybody with enough funds and time can pay any number of rope “teachers” for private lessons or join a workshop – regardless of dedication and effort. Of course, since people new to the art cannot recognize good rope from bad, it becomes a tragedy of sorts when a student has a misinformed instructor.
I am blessed that the combined wisdom accumulated by each of my sensei over several decades is today residing inside my head and embedded in my soul. This is something money can’t buy.
Yukimura Haruki, who is imbued with a special spirit, is to me like father, mother, and sensei all at once. I am very grateful to him for giving me his time.
As the first westerner to become successful as a bondage professional within Japan you have been the most important conduit of authentic information for western bondage lovers. Your teaching is repeated (with varying degrees of accuracy) all around the world. How do you feel about the effect you’ve had on bondage in the west and the rise of the Japanese style around the world?
I keep hearing these things that people who I have never met have been influenced and inspired after seeing my work, so I am not going to argue with that. At the end of the day I am just a simple guy doing my stuff. I have no particular stake in spreading any gospel about anything.
Regarding the huge wave of popularity that Japanese bondage has gained in recent years, that’s a positive development. Some may believe that this will dilute the traditional spirit of the art, but that doesn’t mean that people who follow their heart will die out.
Of your bondage work so far. Films, videos, books, shows, studio sessions etc. Which are you favorites and why? Is there something you are particularly proud of?
To be honest, I tend to like jobs that pay well. Like the fifteen thousand euros I received for doing four shows in Berlin. Or the special “extra” bonus of ¥500,000 ($4.5k) I received from the president of a video label for what he exclaimed was “super hard” beyond his expectations.
However, after making a million dollars from shibari I am kind of reevaluating my options. I definitely don’t want to do shows, and I’m not too hot for movies. What I enjoy best are my studio sessions.
I haven’t done much, so there is nothing I’m particularly proud of. Wait a minute, there is actually the Aiko book which is very close to my heart.
Is there anything you haven’t achieved yet that you want to?
One day, I want to write a book about the finer points of kinbaku. However, I’m afraid that much of the text will remain unfathomed for a while. Ninety percent of readers won’t understand what I’m trying to say, and the other half would think I’m an idiot. So it will remain a pipe dream like so many other unfinished business.
What do you think of the new generation of riggers emerging both within Japan and in the rest of the world? Is there anyone in particular people should be watching out for who they may not have heard of?
I’m seeing a lot of flash bang sports riggers and people who are at the stage of tying fancy harnesses (with arms flapping freely) and who love to tie a dozen nonoji (のの字)* each time they touch rope – while the essence of kinbaku is eluding them. But, as they say, if the milk stays long enough, the cream will come to the top.
What are your hopes for the future of Kinbaku?
Kinbaku has helped me find myself. I hope that many others may discover that there is a great depth of knowledge and satisfaction to be gained beyond the mere technical aspects of shibari. I wish more people will feel empowered to follow their true heart.
* Nonoji (のの字) describes the shape of the Japanese hiragana character “no” (の). It falls into the category of tomenawa (止め縄, stopping rope) and is also often called nodome (の止め). It’s a useful hitch to isolate different sections in a tie (practical purpose) and due to it’s attractive looks is often used as a decorative element (non-practical purpose).
If someone is constructing a dozen or more nonoji on someone’s leg (while that someone is standing around like waiting for a bus, with the hands free (read: untied) so that just in case some geese should show up he/she can flail his/her arms) then, upon closer look, there is a better than 50% chance that that particular rigger hasn’t yet fully grasped some of the elementary concepts of kinbaku. (Osada Steve)
PS: In case you are wondering why 止め (stop) is sometimes read as tome and sometimes as dome, pls check out Japanese In 15 Seconds to get an idea of why Japanese isn’t the easiest of tongues to master.