The rope used for Hojojutsu was very important during the Tokugawa period. It had distinct colors that were linked to the beliefs of various religions of the area. The most important would be that of the four guardians. (Gods)
Note: The colours were originally based on Chinese Taoism, relating to the five elements Earth, Metal, Water, Wood and Fire.
The colours were as follow:
Blue: Seiryū, the Blue Dragon - Related to the spring season, the direction left and heading east. (Water element = Japanese)
Red: Suzaku, the Red phoenix - Related to the season summer, the direction straight and the heading south. (Fire element = Japanese)
White: Byakko, the White Tiger - Related to the season autumn, the direction right and heading west. (Wind element = Japanese)
Black: Genbu, the Turtle-Snake - Related to the season winter, direction backwards and heading north. (Earth element = Japanese)
Yellow: Kōryū, the Yellow Dragon - Related to the mid summer season, Direction and heading is center. (The ‘yellow dragon of the center’ is not common in Japan and is usually left out of descriptions.)
When captives were tied and presented in different colors of rope, specific guidelines were followed in accord with the guardians cosmic rules. Tying was seen as a sign of sealing evil or evil spirits. This normally involved a ritual where different rules were followed with relics and talismans used to ward off or seal the evil.
In the Edo period the rules for the color of ropes used in Hojojutsu were changed to indicate the police or law enforcement division involved in arresting suspects. Techniques became modern and little attention was given to the cosmic laws, unless clear evil was visible.
During the Meiji period the color of rope used was changed again. This time it would be relevant to the level of criminal that was bound using Hojojutsu.
White rope was used for petty crime.
Blue rope was used for large crimes that had a big impact on the community.
Purple rope was used for prisoners with a high rank.
Black and red rope was used for low ranking criminals.
Hojojutsu has a mysterious history with many of the older more intricate knot designs holding religious and spiritual meaning lost to time.