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It is the feudal martial skill of restraining a prisoner with rope. It was practiced by the warrior class and in particular the samurai, who acted as police officers. The word hojo is made up of the character 'ho', which is also pronounced 'tori' and means to catch, seize or arrest someone, the character 'jo', which is also pronounced 'nawa' and means rope, and of course the word 'jutsu', meaning art or skill. The actual characters can then be read in English as either 'torinawa jutsu' or 'hojo jutsu'. However, both meanings remain the same. The main reason for tying someone up is because a need has arisen to keep them alive and take them captive, or prevent their escape. This was often the case during Japan's feudal period, particularly when the captured enemy was thought to be able to be persuaded to part with vital information, or be used in an ex-change deal for someone of importance who had been captured by the other side. There were various other reasons why rope tying was employed in Japan. One further purpose was to secure prisoners who were to be brought before a magistrate and tried for crimes they had committed.

Securing prisoners

In practically every country throughout the world the feudal era was littered with various means of securing prisoners. The techniques ranged from rope, to shackles or ball and chain. It would seem, however, that no other nation developed such a sophisticated system of rope tying as the Japanese. Hojojutsu was incorporated into the samurai's knowledge of fighting skills and used during the sanguineous era of the 'Sengoku Jidai' in particular. The lower class police officers, called 'okapiki', were taught very basic forms of Hojojutsu under the guidance of senior police officials from samurai stock. However, with the Meiji restoration (1887), the art of Hojojutsu began to fall into decline. When prisoners were held captive, they were tied in a specific manner, according to their rank and social status. Each method of tying denoted what class of society the prisoner came from, each was tied in a recognizable way. If a person had been found guilty of a particular offence he was tied in a manner denoting the offence he had committed. There were special techniques for people with strong arms or people capable of slipping out of the knots, even mad and extremely violent people were tied using special knots. Because the style of tying varied with both the crime and status of a prisoner, the length of rope used varied considerably. Some ropes were only a foot in length, while others reached well over 30 feet. Most of the Hojojutsu ropes were made of tightly twined linen that had been beaten until soft. Silk rope was not very popular because it was easy to slip the bonds. However, hemp rope did play a part in various styles of Hojojutsu. During the Edo period the use of colored rope to denote particular crimes and status became popular. White rope denoted someone who had only committed a minor crime, while a blue rope was used to secure offenders who had committed serious crimes. If a person was of high rank then a violet rope was sometimes used, bu t if they were of low rank then a black rope was used.


The knots used for making the rope secure were many and varied. Some were employed to tighten as the prisoner struggled, while others simply held fast. When a number of prisoners were being conveyed somewhere together a long length of rope with hand loops secured each prisoner to the other. When the prisoner was conveyed alone the length of rope usually measured seven meters Even the retaining cord on the sword scabbard was used to secure the unexpected prisoner. There were many classical ryu (martial art schools) who employed the technique of rope tying in their repertoire. These included Fujiwara ryu, Chokuji Goden ryu, Sekieuchi Shin Shin ryu and many others. Apart from the actual tying skills, the ryu employed various techniques of throwing and restraining that complemented the art of Hojojutsu.


There were many subtle appendages to the rope used in capturing an escaping prisoner. One included a barbed hook. This special hook was thrown as the criminal ran away. However, as soon as it ensnared the clothing the criminal was brought to the ground and secured before he could free himself. The prisoner would then be subjected to an intricate web of rope which would make him completely immobile. In modern Japan there are very few masters of the martial arts who are skilled in the traditional art of Hojojutsu. The art of Hojojutsu has not yet died out in Japan. The modern police force still carry special rope with which to secure their prisoners (of course handcuffs are also carried). The rope is also used by the police in Japan to cordon off areas and keep the public back during times of disaster, so its use is not restricted simply to the tying of prisoners.


Hojojutsu is an obscure but interesting part of the cultural history of martial arts. It reflects the ingenuity of the samurai class and the manner in which the essence of this martial skill has been passed down, even to today's modern Japanese police force.

Takagi Yoshin Ryu is a Jujutsu school which began in the 17th century. It was regarded as a 'Body Guard' school. Most of the formal techniques in the school end with the attacker being held in a position to facilitate the art of Hojojutsu. The way you were tied depended very much upon your social position as well as that of the social position of the person tying you.

Hojojutsu was hardly ever practiced as an art by itself but was seen as a complement to arts such as Jujutsu. It was used by Japanese 'policemen' after the Meiji restoration along with the Jutte, Bo and Kusarifundo as an arresting device for the Samurai who resisted the disarming of them.

The JNP (Japanese National Police) use the 2 meter rope on the most violent (drunk or drugged) or in situations where there are multiple suspects---riots especially---and yes, these do occur even in the mostly law abiding Japan. Take it one step beyond the single suspect. Suspects can be tied up as well as to one another making it difficult to escape. Imagine trying to escape while dragging one or more people with you. Even if you got your legs free (which is possible but not likely) you would have to make a series of additional movements to free yourself from the other people.


Hayanawa: "fast rope" a shorter rope used for the initial restraint hiro; a unit of traditional measure for lengths roughly equivalent to the old English fathom, that is, the distance between a man's two outstretched hands (roughly 1.8 m). Units of traditional measure were not standardized in old Japan, but varied from province to province; the lengths given in the text below seem to be based on a somewhat shorter hiro.

Hojojutsu: the art of using a rope to capture, restrain and transport suspects and criminals in Japan during the Middle Ages and Early Modern periods; practiced by torimono.

Hon-nawa: "main rope" the long rope used for restraining and transporting a suspect securely.

Jakuguchi: a small loop worked into one end of a torinawa.

Kaginawa: "hooked rope;" a rope with a metal hook or barb fastened to one end, used to capture a fleeing suspect.

Torimono: specially-trained constables attached to various shogunal or domain offices and holding various ranks, usually just below samurai status.

Torinawa: any rope used in hojojutsu.

Traditions and techniques of hojojutsu

The following information is summarized from Nawa (1964).
We don't ordinarily think of the Edo period (1600 - 1868) in Japan as one in which human rights were accorded much respect. Nevertheless, during this period binding a person was regarded as a grave matter, not to be undertaken lightly. People felt that the shame of having a rope around their necks and knots on their person was disgraceful in the extreme. Some considered it worse than death itself. If the proper forms of restraining suspects were not followed, the person who applied the restraints could be impeached. If, however, the restraints contained no knots, they were not considered "bondage" and thus were not disgraceful. In these cases, euphemisms like "wrapping" were used. Samurai regarded this work as beneath them and never applied restraints themselves, leaving it to their servants or to constables whose job it was. Even within the police, higher ranks, which were filled by men of full samurai class, left this task to the lower ranks, which were not. The hon-nawa came in lengths of 13, 11, 9, 7, and 5 fathoms. The hayanawa was 2 and a half fathoms. The length of the kaginawa was not fixed (Nawa 1964 - 101)." The length of one kaginawa in Nawa's collection is given as 13 shaku; a shaku is almost exactly one English foot. The ropes came in four colors, the significance of which changed over time. According to the earliest tradition, which lasted into the Edo period, the four colors were associated with a well-established set of correspondences between seasons, directions, and the four Chinese guardian creatures of the four directions. [Trans. note: These were also used in the layout of houses, gardens, and cities in China, Japan and Korea.]
The color of the rope changed with the season, and the prisoner was restrained facing the direction appropriate to the color and season. The correspondences are as follows:

























During the dog days of late July and early August, a yellow rope was used. By the end of the Edo period, the colors had been reduced to two, white and indigo, and their use corresponded not to seasons or directions but to the branch of the constabulary using the ropes. Hemp was used for the real ropes, but silk was used for practice, which was done with dummies made of straw or heavy Japanese paper. The kaginawa was used to apprehend suspects by hooking the barb in the person's sash, collar, or if need be in the topknot, and then wrapping it around and around the body. The hayanawa was also used to prevent escape. Unlike the kaginawa, it had a small loop at one end, or sometimes a small metal ring. The plain end could be passed through this loop. For proper use it required the constable to be behind the suspect, or on horseback.
There were four rules of hojojutsu:
1. Not to allow the prisoner to slip his bonds.
2. Not to cause any physical or mental injury.
3. Not to allow others to see the techniques.
4. To make the result beautiful to look at.
The aim of Rule 3 was not so much secrecy for its own sake as it was preventing criminals from learning the techniques and figuring out ways to defeat them. However, the schools and techniques varied from one feudal domain to another. When a person was being transported cross-country, the binding would be allowed to come loose a bit just before turning him over to the next domain's officers, so the latter would not be able to learn the techniques either. Each set of officers numbered at least four, and the new team would stand around the prisoner while one of their number bound him, not only to prevent escape but to foil prying eyes. In addition to the three ropes named above, there was a short rope about 14 inches long (one shaku, two sun). This was used in the following way: the suspect was made to sit in seiza (the formal sitting position, kneeling and with the weight on the heels) while both arms were pulled behind. Then the two thumbs and two big toes were tied together in a bundle. Alternatively, the two thumbs alone could be tied to the topknot or to a hole made in the collar.

The following information is summarized from Nawa 1985. There were over 150 different ryu, or schools, of hojojutsu, each with its own techniques for using the hon-nawa and other torinawa. (The illustration at the top shows the variety used by one ryu alone.) The earliest dates from the middle 1500s, and the latest from the late nineteenth century.

Use of the hayanawa

The ideal for the hayanawa was to apply it within 10 seconds, skillfully, beautifully, and without risk of injury to the suspect. This rope was used only for apprehending suspects; because the person was not a convicted criminal prior to trial, no knots were used to avoid causing disgrace. [Trans. note: Of course this also meant it took less time to apply.] In place of knots, the end of the rope was only looped under itself or cast on a couple of times, and the constable kept the free end in hand.

Three "wrappings" with the hayanawa

These are not "bindings" because no knots are used. The "loop" mentioned is the jakuguchi (see glossary). These instructions ar e translated from Nawa (1985: 197-199) from which the sketches are also taken.

The Cross

With the loop end of the rope at L of the back of the neck, bring the plain end through the loop and down, then around the R upper arm, under the arm and across the back to L arm; do the same there. Then bring the rope across the top of the horizontal to hold it in place, and through the part coming down from the neck (again on top of the horizontal). Pull down. Then wrap the wrists (R over L) from top to bottom, from L to R and R again, wrapping them 2 or 3 times. Then bring the free end under these wrappings, L to R. Hold the end, don't tie it off.

The Girdle or Diamond (from its shape)

Double the rope and note the halfway point-place this at the Adam's apple. Wrap the free ends around the back, crossing L over R, and wrap over the upper arms, R and L. Bring free ends around front and then pull through under the arms. Bring the two ends together at the lower back and pull taut. Wrap the wrists, R over L, as in the previous, keeping both ends together. Pass the ends under the L side and pull through to R to tighten. [Trans. note: The number of triangles may be multiplied for visual effect.]

The Well-curb

Pass the rope around the neck with the loop to the R and pull taut. Bring the rope down diagonally to L under the arm and wrap it over the L upper arm. Pass the free end under the diagonal and pull it down to the R, diagonally, under R arm, over R upper arm and under the second diagonal. Bring free end to small of back and wrap the wrists as in previous, 2 or 3 times. Pass the free end through from L to R. For all three of these, the back is the side for display. The front shows very little rope: only a single loop each at the neck and around each upper arm.

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