Tag Archives: Naka Akira

The way He saw Her

I take a deep breath and look around. S is crying. N is crying. Someone who’s name I don’t know is crying. I’m trying to wipe away the tears from my face. Everyone around me is looking slightly dazed, slightly confused. I breathe out, feeling as if there are too many people around me, join N outside as he is enjoying a cigarette. It feels almost as if we have played ourselves, or watched something so intense that it feels as if we have played. S is expressing how she felt that she was watching something private, something which she was not supposed to watch. I’m trying to find some kinds of words for it, and N is doing the same. We give up pretty quickly.

Sometimes, you see something which hits you right in your gut.  It is often unexpected and you need time to process it. Take time to find a way in which you can express what it was, because no words seem to make it justice. Not only are the words insufficient, but how can we even describe something which is so intrinsically tactile? I know photographers makes attempts, and some makes darn good ones. But it is still not the same. That is why it has taken this long to write this.

I had only seen a couple of videos with Naka Akira. Plenty of photos. But for me, none of then had really captured me, they were not luring me into the shadows of what he does so brilliantly. Beautiful rope that is for sure, but it had not left me with a lingering sensation. It had felt distanced.
That is why, when Naka and Iroha sat down on stage, I was not prepared. I was not prepared for the way in which he sat, not behind her as we usually see, but slightly off center in front of her, carefully seeking her gaze, meeting it and boom. A chill down my spine. I know that kind of look. It is one where my partner is not focussed on what I’m wearing, or what tie they will use or the next transition. It is one in which they see me, who I am. My desires, my longings, my weaknesses and my strengths. I wish I could explain this in any other way than this projecting my own feelings and experiences, but it is rather hard. That moment when he caught her eyes, she met his and looked away slightly before looking back, that is also when they caught me as an audience. This is a conversation that happens through the gaze, through the eyes and staying aware of what they express.

As he tied her into his signature highhanded gote, there was a calmness to it all. A stillness, placing her where he wants her to be and there is a different kind of objectification that usually does not appeal to me. I guess I am quite oversaturated with objectification of female bodies, how ever beautiful they are. What was not seen in many of the photos as well as being hard to detect in the few videos, is that Naka Akira’s gaze is so strong you can feel it in the audience, even if his complete focus is on Iroha. Raising her to standing up, he ties her legs tightly together and she could technically stand up (there is enough space) but she is leaning her whole body into the ropes. Iroha-style. Every single moment can be a photography of Norio, but this is different, because it is live and she meets his gaze everyonce in a while, before looking away again. As he continues to tie more and more ropes he is slowly revealing her. This is not the classical ‘slowly sliding the kimono over the shoulders’ move at the beginning of the performance that we have gotten so used to, it is much more methodical, not calculated but slower. Portions of vulnerability dished out and I can’t stop watching, while still feeling more and more like an invader.

He gagged her, slowly, with cloth, several of them, three in fact. When the last cloth went over her mouth, there was no way she could do anything but whimper.

As the performance went on, he tied her into a twisted facedown suspension, legs high, her beauty and strength exposed. He sits, looks at her again, she is breathing and processing. Hair getting tied. A flogger comes out and he hits her. The louder she gets, the more he push through the hit of the flogger. Harder and harder as you heard him breathing out every time the flogger hit down upon her.. She starts sobbing, and when she does, he is right next to her, holding her face in his hands, and suddenly, it does not feel like its about them anymore. Naka san had mentioned his mentor, Nureki, who has passed away just a couple of weeks earlier. This was him and Iroha paying homage to him, a farewell.

During the Q&A that followed it became quite clear how fond he is of what we would call a Showa period style of rope. Akira Naka does not work with carabiners or rings, he uses rope and bamboo as points of suspension as he feels the clash of metal and rope is not compatible. In an interview that followed, he was himself left wondering of why we see his style as ‘old’ or ‘historical’, it would not be a category he would use, he just feels that he ties rope and that is it. The ties are all harder on the partners’ body than even the most difficult ones showed by many other Japanese Masters. The focus is on the model, exposing her (it is almost always a her) and they are about creating angles, exposing and pulling the suffering out to be seen. Not flashy and fast, but slow and steady, a gradual build up that becomes meditative, a different type of flow and fluidity that does not seek speed at all. He is not always overtly close to his model, but always there, always present. Naka has the ability to sit back and watch, just watch, and seeing his partners inner experience unravelling. If there is something I learned from this, it was to take even more time, to dare to take a couple of steps back.
When Iroha later was asked how it was for her to show that kind of emotion on stage she answered that the audience does not matter. “You can see us but we cannot see you” , that their world is just their own. That is what we were witnessing, the world they created through the rope and through the eyes, and it was what made me cry. The way they saw each other, and the way the paid homage to someone who had just passed away.

Thank you Naka-san and Iroha-san. I will always be grateful for those moments that you share.

Advertisements

Tokyo Day 3

Disclaimer: Due to the fast pace of this journey, and jetlag, massive sensory overload and general crazy rope-time, these accounts are not always as detailed as I would like them to be. Furthermore, if there is anything factually incorrect, please tell me and I will do my best to amend this. I also sadly did not have time to see all the performances nor write down as much as I’ve would have like to. Also, please, if you know the name of the various model’s that the rope-artists worked with, please post. They deserve to be named and get as much credit as the riggers themselves, as they truly shined throughout the event.

After not much sleep during the Saturday evening, we managed to get out of bed and out on the streets of Tokyo. I was a bit in a mode of soaking up as much as I could of Tokyo, since I could not stay for that long. Every hour counted.
By accident, we found a couple of sex shops, one which was completely  geared towards BDSM gear. Found some bits and pieces which I will treasure and I promise you, use:)

After then again returning back to the venue of the festival, the first artist we got to see was Yoi. And what a start it was. Entering the room, the light dimmed and just a very faint spotlight and candle lit the whole performance,giving it an air of us sitting in and watching this show taking place in moonlight. Both the model and the rigger used masks, the model wore a fox one and the colour scheme was deliberately white, red and some black.
Slow undressing followed, revealing a model with the face painted in the same fox-pattern as that on the mask, and together with the atmospheric soundscape that shifted between traditional Japanese music such as the shamisen, then Japanese children singing, and then to just the sound of rain, a different world opened up, a world that Yoi and her fox invited us to see. A fox which was about to be caught in carefully placed, beautifully crafted rope. The focus here was not speed or flashy, instant rope, but instead slow, deliberate tying, in which the fox followed, albeit with that slight hesitation and curiosity and in the same time, with delicious submission. There was so many things in this performance that has made me continue to think about it constantly since returning.
Tie ties themselves flowed, starting off with a TK. She was then suspended face down, very low and very close to the floor, which felt really perfect for this kind of fox. The feral creature which was the model moved incredibly gracefully, responding and communicating through her whole body. It was one of those performances that you did not want it to end.

After the  performance of Yoi’s there was a  talkshow with question time, and for the sake of easier reading you can find that post here.

After the Q&A it was time for Kinoko‘s second show, the neo-kinbaku. We made our way downstairs to find a spot, and it was filling up quickly. When the music started there was a creature entering the stage, dressed in a shiny zentai-suit. The creature moved slowly over the floor, with supple, feline movements, smooth but cautious. The music was fastpaced, light dimmed.
Kinoko entered the stage, grabbed the creature, pushing her fast over his knee, backwards, holding his hands around her neck. This was the start of a very visual performance, with a pumping electronic music.
He starts to tie her, with a fluorescent green rope. The tying itself is smooth, slick and fast. Because of the colour of the rope and the way he moves it around the model, it almost looks like he is using strands of flowing oil instead of rope to tie the zentai-creature. Every touch is precise, every movement controlled but extending through to the audience, moving with the music, but only in a very subtle way.

He ties her into a 3 rope TK and a hip harness, first moving her into a upright suspension. When he starts spinning her and leaving the stage, a laser and lightshow comes on, creating incredible visuals. Throughout the show, this is what happens when he has done a transition. Kinoko moves on to tie a gyaku-ebi, to a fully inverted sakasa, with only the ankles supporting the model. He then shifts the support into the hipharness, bringing down the legs, futomomo style. Between every one of these transitions, another lightshow comes on, and it creates a very futuristic feel. The last transitions is when he flips the model over, so she hangs from the hipharness, like a D lying on its back. With the rope, he then ties it around the legs and face of the model. This last shape, he pulls her higher than the others, staging a powerful crescendo. As she is in this position he starts to throw heaps of fluorescent rope on her, furthering the entanglement with the rope, that which connects them and their audience, then and there.

Shigonawa Bingo is a performer who also a part of the Ichinawa-Kai. Him and his very muscular self started the performance by halfdressed,  lying down to rest, only dressed in the the traditional loin-cloth fundoshi, After a couple of moments, a woman walks out on stage, sees him resting, strokes his cheek, drapes her juban over him and stroke his face yet again.  Bingo moves away, turns over and tries to go back to sleep.  As this is unsuccessful, he sits up,  looking at her and then put on the juban. These few minutes before the tying started really set another special tone for a performance. The props used, how they related to each other, etc., all made it feel like a scene between a husband and wife, or at least between two loved ones who knew each other very well.

There was a special caring touch in the way that he rested her hands upon his knee when tying her wrists, the way in which he used his whole body to move her, with or with out the rope. The ties he used varied slightly form the  regular TK that could be seen during the weekend. As I returned from Tokyo, I tried to tie it from memory and found it was both easy, steady and very good support, and according to the bunny, very comfortable.  The chest harness made it possible for  the hands and the arms of the model can be tied separately. There was a lot of small details that caught your eye in this performance; from how the tenugui, which is usually used as a blindfold, gag or tool to inflict pain (when it is wet, it hurts!), but here it is first introduced as a washcloth covered in water, which he squeezes over her body. A small move, but with a big response, it made her whole body tremble and the skin react immediately.  In one of the final moments, a hand came out from the side of the screen, pushed the button on a bottle, and provided the couple with snow, trickling down over them… Different and touching indeed, but the hand coming out from no where made both me and my friend giggle, as random as it was.

The next performance I managed to catch (oh, I assure you that I succeeded in missing a lot of shows, running between the different floors all the time) was that of Esinem‘s. This was a man who said that he felt like he was going to bring coal to Newcastle by going to Japan to do a show.
This show first of all, felt ‘whole’. There was a fluidity and ease to it, in terms of how it moved on stage, in the interaction between him and the model Yuki as well as how it really drew the audience in.  With music from Requiem for a dream, V for Vendetta and The Matrix, there was again a quite specific soundscape. Rather than drawing on the exact beat of ever track, he moved within the pace and mood it set.

The show started with him leading Yuki in, who had a rope around her neck, much like a collar and a lead. All of this was removed with a slight tug on the rope, revealing the kind of ‘dragon rope’ or ‘disappearing’ rope. It was here that it became clear how important every movement was in this performance, when not even this little starting point was neglected. The tying it self, the show, started with a rope being untied. I don’t know about you, but for me it shows how the hole experience is of importance, that every rope matters, and untying is as powerful as the tying itself.  As they sat down on the floor, a long newaza-session followed, and it did not take a long time before they both were lost in a world they had created. Afterwards, Esinem himself said that he did not even hear all the music, as he was so lost in what he was doing. This performance was special, the newaza took the time it needed to take, where the pain and pleasure truly went hand in hand.   You could really see how they moved together, with Esinem as always, being very close to Yuki, both physically and mentally, her self surrendering the whole of her being into the ropes and the moment.
The crescendo came in a gyaku-ebi suspension, attaching lilies to theropes, flowers which he then whipped off with a snakewhip, raining over the stage and those in the audience sitting on the first row. Once again, a performance ended leaving me with a heavy beating heart.

Midori is someone whom I’ve heard so much about, but never have been able to see. I admire her writing, love the visual and emotional take she has on her way of relating to kink and so it felt like a great time during Toubaku to have the Midori-experience.
The stage was dark as we waited for the show to start. It was possible to see some kind of preparations being made, including someone hanging from the ceiling…

Mozart’s Piano Concerto’s No. 21 and  No.27 accompanied this performance, here is one of the two that you can listen to while reading:
Two men came out on the stage, dressed in only fundoshi’s and robes. They sat down for a sake picnic. As they are cheering, clinking their sake-cups and talking, they became more and more touchy. And then more and more, they got closer and closer, started fondling, started kissing each other. Now, these was two very hot men, fondling and kissing, on stage, right in front of the audience. Do you know, first of all, how uncommon this is on the fetish scene? Just think of it. How common is it not with a public display of female,sexualized bodies, preferably two or more? While the gay fetish-scene keep sticking to themselves, there is an assumption of how the female body should be presented. No men on club-flyers, hardly any men on stage, unless they are fully dressed and can act as a MC, presenter or something else. Anyhow, back to she show.
They kept on kissing, drinking, fondling, smiling, while in the other corner of the stage, a creature, dressed in a black zentai-suit was hanging up side down from a suspension-point, completely still.
The couple gets more and more drunk, continuously kissing and smiling, but then one of them, the more muscular one, needs to go off into the bushes for what I assume a piss. He leaved his partner, stumbling around and then all of a sudden, the creature grabs him, he was caught in its arms and then, also the creatures rope. By now, we have basically understood the creature is Midori herself. And Midori is actually starting to tie this man, WHILE hanging from the suspension point, upside down. The drunk man tried to resist, but his confusion enabled her to take control.
So, while hanging upside down, she tied him into a chest-harness, secured to the hard point, then a legtie, pulling one of this legs up. One leg in the air, another on the ground, a slight nod to the partial suspension you can see on the cover of her book.
Meanwhile, every now and then, as tying, still hanging from a rope, she traced tickling fingers over the muscular body of this man, who was stringed up with the face and his body fully exposed towards the audience. This was not just about her ability to tie upside down, this was about exposing flesh that so rarely gets exposed, so rarely gets admired and objectified through the hands of others.
Sure, it is easy to find the undressed man on a billboard, but they are in control, they are always in control and you can see it in the eyes of Beckham on the billboard. The giant sock in his boxers and the giant paycheck, together with the privilege of his position.
But this muscular man, tied up, while working as a model, and I assume getting payed for his time, he had surrendered that kind of agency, albeit temporarily, for the sake of him being tied up and exposed for our viewing pleasure. She manipulated and played with him, and he was enjoying it, an enjoyment that was shared by us who got to see it. The way in which he was tied emphasized  his broad shoulders, strong legs and expressive eyes. Yes, his eyes was tantalizing.
And her hands moved over his body, teasing, exploring, tickling.
This creature, while still being lighthearted had somewhat of an underlying threat, reminding me of a mythological creature, interrupting a sakè bacchanalia of some sorts. My reference frames comes obviously from the Western mythology, so say Loki, from the nordic mythology, who was fond of the mischief side of things.
The other man, slightly leaner and thinner in stature, started to wonder where his lover had gone. So, slightly stumbling through the forest, he trippes over the Midori-Loki creature. At this point, she had come down from the ropes and instead attacked him from behind, leaving him with a slightly dazed and confused expression. She moved freely over the floor as she was tying this guy, and he was tied up with the other man, tied to the leg that was still standing of this guy, making it look like he was leaning on him. She then brought out a bunch of roses, started to decorating the two of them with these, all over, including one which was made to protrude from the standing guy’s crotch. And this made me smile even more. It was done with so much love and humor and and warmth.
As a finale, she cut all the ropes that kept the standing guy standing, and as he fall to the ground, he literally fell next to his lover, making it look like he fell into an embrace. An embrace 0f rope and roses.
And this just. Hard to describe. Just this immensly positive feeling. This was not exploitation or an appropriation, this was not about ‘laughing at some ditzy men who are getting pissed and making out’.  This was about an honest and loving homoeroticism. As I later learned from Midori herself, the japanese work for rose- Barazoku- is an underground codeword for ‘gay’ or men fucking/loving men. And, apparently, there is another flower for the lesbians/dykes/women fucking/loving women- the lily or Yuri. Another inspiration cited by Midori, was the work of Yukio Mishima, a Japanese queer writer who’s work  I’m looking forward to explore when I can actually read fiction again without feeling bad about not doing work for uni.

After the ropes were cut, the whole house broke out in applauds, and it was impossible to wipe out the smile of my face. The next performance was by Osada Steve, and as a show it was completely different. Set to the soundtrack of Anthony and The Johnsons, he and his model created a very still space, although there was something with their interaction that made it impossible to look away, and still painful to watch.  I can’t recall much sadly, as I took no notes. I remember a sidesuspension, vulnerability and submission. Strong submission that echoed throughout the room, through the ropes, and towards him, as he tied her into a sidesuspension.

To fluctuate between these two extremes was very intense, and as the last performance of the weekend started, I found myself having a hard time to concentrate. Naka Akira came on stage, and I could hardly focus at all. But as I sometimes sat down, and then walked around a bit, with my eyes on the stage, it really became apparent how good of a finishing performance it was. I could really not process everything, but there was certainly very interesting elements of his performance. What caught me the most was the focus, a focus which was completely on the model who was being tied up. Her struggle. Her pain. Her exposed flesh and the stillness of suffering in rope. His tying was indeed very still, not in still as in unmoveable, but with a piercing focus. He reminded me of what a friend of mine told me when she spoke of martial arts.
She said that there is always a certain amount of a response to an action and she likened it to a stone being thrown into water. The stone cause a splash, dependent on how big the stone is and the amount of water, depth, etc. What happens after the splash are the rings on the water, smaller, growing bigger, and then finally ebbing out into stillness, leaving the surface of the water again looking untouched. This is probably the best way to try to relate to you the feeling of this show. A movement from within that can cause a tidal wave or flooding, or just a splash and rings on the water. Akira was working like this, very focused and specific, only doing exactly that which was needed, nothing superfluous, and just riding the waves of the reactions of the model. She was indeed on display, in which the positions, tough as they were, were held, him moving out from sight slightly, letting her dwell in the exposure of our gaze.

Shin later told me how Akira apparently had performed to music that he had used in his first performance ever, as well as keeping the tying very traditional. One small example of this was how he in his suspensions did not use carabiners.  I’m afraid the rest of these remarks slipped my mind…

As an end to the Sunday shows at Toubaku and to the Toubaku festival, it was indeed grand.

Although this is not the last post from the Tokyo adventures, it was the last post that covered the Toubaku festival. I would like to take the time to thank the whole crew who made it happen, including the initiator and creator Hajime Kinoko, as well as Mack and Reina whom I know worked so hard to promote and working on this event happen. I don’t know all the people who worked so hard backstage and in the door, and at the bar, etc. but you are all so awesome. Thank you, for the bottom of my heart, as you truly reminded me of the possibilities and endless horizons that rope pose as medium for anything you wish to express.

Domo arigato