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Food & Drinks

Hong Kong ‘naked sushi’ event cancelled after online backlash

Organisers of a controversial brunch featuring a half naked woman in a food-based cabaret have cancelled the performance after complaints about sexism and the objectification of women. The brunch will still be going on

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 October, 2017, 2:04pm

Organisers of an upcoming Hong Kong brunch that was going to feature food presented on the partially clothed body of a female model have cancelled the event due to online accusations of objectification of women and sexism.

The three-hour buffet was going to feature entertainment from Nyotaimori Tokyo, a Japanese performance group founded by photographer Myu Chan that specialises in nyotaimori, or “female body arrangement”, a practice which is said to date back hundreds of years and involves sushi or sashimi being served on a woman’s body.

Fang Fang, the Central restaurant due to host the event, confirmed that the nyotaimori performance would no longer feature in Saturday’s event, organised in partnership with wine importer Vines and Terroirs. “Based on the feedback from our customers we have reconsidered this event,” the restaurant said in a statement. “We are a venue which wanted to host the show and … women being objectified is clearly not what we want to do.”

Valentin Maurel, co-founder of French wine importer Vines and Terroirs, had earlier defended Saturday’s planned Japanese Cabaret Brunch Party, arguing it was about “reviving old traditions in a modern way”.

Critics accused the organisers of sexism under the pretence of art, saying that serving food on the body of a female model promoted the objectification of women. Since Monday morning, there has been a growing number of angry comments on Facebook posts about the event. Organisers argued that the event channelled a “traditional experience” and was going to be performed by artists who “specialised in this specific art”.

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Posting as Vines and Terroirs, Maurel insisted that it was an artistic event. “We are in 2017 and one should understand that art is controversial,” he wrote. “Would you be attacked [sic] any artist, photograph, sculptor or painter who take a nude or half nude human as subject?”

Commenter Elaine To wrote that defining a practice as artistic didn’t mean it wasn’t also objectifying. “The two are not mutually exclusive,” she wrote, adding: “There’s a distinction between nudity and sexual objectification. What’s being called out here is the latter … Just because it’s traditional doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to revive it.”

“This is egregiously sexist. You are objectifying women,” wrote Facebook user Sai Pradhan on another thread. “You are planning to commodify women’s bodies under the guise of presenting a Japanese tradition without questioning the so-called tradition and in fact, promoting nothing but sexism. This needs to be shut down.”

Yesterday Fang Fang’s managing director Imran Khaleel said the restaurant had fielded several concerned inquiries, but he believed angry commentators had misunderstood the event. “There’s no nudity – she’ll be wearing a bikini and performing away from clients alongside a violinist and a DJ,” he said adding that while food was going to be arranged on the model, it wasn’t intended for consumption and that diners would eat from separate buffet tables.

Earlier promotional materials played up the alleged history and exoticism of the practice, without saying that performers and diners would be kept separate. Organisers later added a disclaimer which said: The nyotaimori will be for the show, buffet will be served as usual on regular tables.”

Photos provided by Nyotaimori Tokyo show models in suggestive poses adorned with non-traditional foods, such as fried eggs and slices of toast.

Vines and Terroirs has worked with Nyotaimori Tokyo before, hosting a smaller event last month at Mahka, a clothing shop in Sheung Wan, for about 20 people.

Maurel told the Post before the cancellation he was confused as to why his company’s nyotaimori event was gaining so much attention. “I can understand why people might be shocked,” he said. “Many people are overreacting right now … The woman is used as a subject for an artistic photograph.

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It’s not a random model being hired to do something sketchy.”

The practice of displaying sushi on a woman’s body (nantaimori refers to the same practice with a male model) originated in Japan hundreds of years ago. It allegedly began as a celebration for samurai after victory in battle, but later became associated with organised crime in Japan, gaining attention in the West after being featured in films and on television shows, such as Sex and the City.

Founded in 2015, Nyotaimori Tokyo describes itself as “an exclusive service provider … [that] has taken this old Japanese practice one step further”, clarifying that “sexual services is not included at all [sic]”.

A video from a previous Nyotaimori Tokyo event shows a cloaked Asian model with geisha make-up entering a candlelit room filled with seated guests. She throws off her robe and lies on a table wearing only nipple covers and thong underwear. Waiters begin placing large leaves, foliage and pieces of sushi upon her, before bowing and allowing the buffet to commence.

In Hong Kong, nyotaimori events are unusual, although not unheard of. Local business Hong Kong Stag offers a “naked sushi dinner”, where groups head to a private room in an undisclosed venue for one hour. “Naked sushi (kinky dining) includes a private room, semi-nude model for one hour, plus sushi for your entire group,” the website’s blurb reads. “The centre piece of this event is a semi-nude model with sushi draped across her (or his) body. Take turns eating sushi directly off of them! Add sake and a “Kill Bill” film to the backdrop and you have yourself one of Hong Kong’s sexiest dining options.”

Chinese woman with sushi displayed on her body says customer molested her

In 2005, the Chinese government banned restaurants from serving food from the bodies of naked women, condemning it as unhygienic and a violation of common decency. However, restaurants have found ways around the law by using partially clothed models instead – as was the case in May this year when a woman employed to have sushi served from her body accused a customer of molesting her.

The unnamed woman, who was pictured covered in raw fish and rice rolls while wearing a crop top and shorts, said the male customer did “unspeakable” things to her while removing food from her body with chopsticks.