Historically Japan was a relatively resource scare country, using metals only in higher value items. As a result Japan has a rich tradition of using rope. Even today rope use is common, from trees being protected from snow in winter through the use of rope, to sake barrels wrapped in rope for shipping.

But beyond practical daily uses, rope is an important item in both the Shinto and Buddhist religions. Similarly for the Samurai rope played an important role, with rope and the tying of prisoners (hojojutsu) being one of their 18 essential fighting arts. This tying of prisoners ultimately lead to rope appearing in Kabuki theatre and shunga wood prints.

From these historic beginnings, the practice of shibari entered the 20th century through the "Grandfather" of Shibari, the famous artist Ito Seiyu (1882-1961). He went on to influence the next generation of shibari practitioners, with Shibari entering the Japanese mainstream with the publication in 1952 in the magazine Kitan Club of Kita Reiko's Ten Positions of a Tied Naked Woman.

Since the 1950's, shibari has continued to appear in the Japanese mainstream in a variety of guises, including photographic exhibitions by the photographer Araki, and in mainstream blockbuster movies including Hana to Heibei (Flower and Snake), and Ikeniie Fujin (Wife to be Sacrificed).