If you're anything like I was 10 years ago when I first moved to Japan, you'd probably imagine this country to be a pretty kinky place. Tentacle porn and maid cafés abound!

Once I got involved in Osaka's BDSM scene as a kinbaku model and later as a community munch organizer, I noticed some stark differences in how BDSM happens here in Japan versus how it's approached in my native state of California. If you're interested in visiting Nippon and taking advantage of all its glorious kinky depravity, there are a few things about BDSM here you may want to keep in mind. I'm here to share the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Read: Kinbaku and You: A First-Timer's Foray Into Rope Play

The Good

A Rope-Lover's Paradise

As the birthplace of kinbaku, Japan has much to offer lovers of rope bondage. Classes taught by seasoned experts are readily available in major cities for people interested in learning how to tie and suspend.

If you happen to be visiting Osaka but lack the Japanese skills to study with a native, hit up my friend Milla Reika, an Australian kinbaku performance artist and instructor with major chops in the scene.


Image: Rodney Smith
Shibari Artist: Milla Reika

Submission as an Art

Japan is big on a strict and well-defined social hierarchy. The senpai-kohai structure that governs the inner workings of Japanese corporate culture extends to its D/s dynamics as well. Additionally, achieving harmony in one's relationships often takes precedence over individualism here.

As such, submission is a well-practiced point of pride deeply rooted in the culture. Bottoming BDSM practitioners come aiming to please.

Image: Rodney Smith
Shibari Artist: Milla Reika

Abundant Sexuality

Japanese people are known for being fairly private and reserved. That being said, they don't share all the deep-seated religious shame toward sex that we carry around and tout in Western culture.

Japan has a history of unique sexual acceptance that's still present today in the form of things like kink-themed love hotels and convenience store porn. With places like maid cafés and soaplands in abundance, kinky sex-lovers in Japan will never run out of interesting places to explore.

Incredible Erotic Art

Japan's long tradition of high-quality pornographic artwork dates all the way back to the Edo period when shunga, a traditional form of erotic woodblock printing, enjoyed its boom.

If you dig BDSM-themed art as much as I do, you'll find an abundance of talent here in Japan. Check out the works of one of my favorite kinky Japanese artists, Namio Harukawa, for an example.

The Bad

It's All About the Benjamins

The BDSM scene in Japan is largely financially motivated. My home city of San Francisco is a mecca for events, munches, workshops, and BDSM-related establishments that are either free to enter or very economical for attendees.

Not so in Japan. If you want to meet other kinksters, your best bet is to go to a bar where bondage is the main focus, or a kinky performance. Entry can cost a minimum of 7,000 yen (around $60 U.S.) for men and 2,000 yen (around $17 U.S.) for women. Sound sexist and expensive? You betcha. And that's before the cost of drinks.

A Boozy Scene

Speaking of drinks, Japan takes a very different approach to drinking and is largely accepting of what Westerners consider to be alcoholism. As many of Japan's BDSM-themed establishments are bars, many people play while drinking fairly heavily. I've never seen this managed or policed by staff.

This is obviously risky and unheard of at a lot of kink-focused places in the U.S. SF's Citadel Club, for instance, doesn't serve alcohol or admit anyone who even appears to be intoxicated.

A Lack of Community

Because the BDSM scene is largely about money, it can feel difficult to meet other kinksters and find the kind of unique support network that BDSMers need and have access to in many Western countries.

Before I founded the BDSM munch in Osaka in 2017, no group like it existed in Kansai. I've spoken to kinksters in Tokyo and they tell me community support is similarly scant up north, though they've had expat-run munches there for at least the past few years.

The Ugly

Consent Issues

Seriously antiquated, dangerous and misogynistic attitudes toward consent, sexual harassment, and rape are common in Japan. This extends to the BDSM scene.

Never have I ever heard Japanese people in the scene talk about considerations related to BDSM best practices in the States, such as negotiation or safewords. As informed consent is crucial to everything we do in BDSM, this presents a major conflict of interest for those of us who champion ethical kink and want to play safely.

Although these harmful attitudes are changing (at a snail's pace) over time, kinky practitioners need to be careful, especially submissives. If you're looking to play as a sub in Japan, be aware of this situation and learn consent-related Japanese phrases so you can do your best to protect yourself.

I'll be honest, though: I now avoid the local BDSM scene for this reason, and many of my kinky expat friends do too.

A Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell Approach to Safety

Safety is the main priority of BDSM communities back in the U.S. BDSM workshops on everything from safe bondage to whipping techniques are easy to find and attend. Many BDSM clubs and event organizers hire staff and DMs (Dungeon Monitors) to make sure participants are playing safely. Accidents and injuries happen, but continuous efforts are made and openly discussed to prevent them.

In Japan, a blind eye is often turned instead. As Doctor Golden, a Tokyo-based S&M practitioner and chiropractor explains, “People in the industry, professional dominatrixes or performers in the BDSM scene, don’t want to talk about accidents. They fear losing trust and reputation if their accidents come out in the open, so they’ve been trying to keep it under wraps."

Not exactly kawaii, is it?

If you're interested in checking out BDSM in Japan, I'm not writing this to dissuade you, but rather to provide information you'll need to make safe and informed decisions.

Enjoy and, as always, play safely - no matter where you are!