The Poetry of Tied Bodies: Youji Muku's Erotic Drawings
It is interesting to note that during the Meiji Era in 1872 when shunga was banned, a law was enacted to prohibit its commercialization. Another form of erotic representation replaced it throughout the 20th century, focusing primarily on bound bodies, often of women. In these depictions, unlike what is seen in shunga prints, the sexual act rarely occurs, as the arousal of the characters in these scenes is generated through binding and being bound, watching and being watched. If contact with the West heightened Japan's self-censorship regarding what might be deemed obscene, kinbaku or shibari appears to be a reaction to this.
The obscenity laws enacted in 1880 and the state regulation of "waisetsu" (obscenity in Japanese) by the 1907 penal code revealed that during the Meiji era, the state aimed to align itself with Western customs and norms as much as possible. One way to achieve this was to prohibit anything that might be considered obscene, even without a clear definition of such a concept.
When examining erotic imagery produced throughout the 20th century in Japan, we observe a shift in the parameters for representing sexual acts. According to the 1907 penal code, still in effect, the depiction of genitalia should be avoided. Consequently, a type of representation emerged in which sex is no longer explicit, but rather simulated. When it does occur, sexual organs must be obscured by black stripes or a similar process.
Youji Muku and Kinbaku
In the case of kinbaku, sexual intercourse is not the focus, as the dynamic revolves around the staging of sadomasochism in place of the sexual act. It is within this context that the work of Youji Muku, along with that of other artists dedicated to the representation of kinbaku or shibari, should be understood. Youji Muku was born in Osaka in 1928. Before becoming an artist, he worked as a railway laborer and a salesman. He served as an editor for the Japanese erotic magazine "Uramado," for which he also illustrated several comics related to S&M, earning recognition among enthusiasts of Japanese eroticism and bondage.
In the extended Premium edition of the article more on Muku's work for Uramado magazine, his use of photography, influence on erotic figurines and many additional images of his groundbreaking drawings.