That’s not a question I had ever envisaged contemplating, despite philosophers’ well-known penchant for pondering strange topics such as the number of angels that can fit onto the head of a pin, and so forth. But I was recently prompted to consider that very issue (people as plates, not angels on pins) when I came across the practice of Nyotaimori – eating sushi/sashimi off a naked woman. As one might guess from the sushi reference, the practice originated in Japan. A brief trawl of the net revealed that it wasn’t (isn’t?) widely popular in Japan, and was (is?) instead the preserve of the Japanese elite, and according to one site, Japanese gangsters. But enterprising restaurant owners in other parts of the world are now offering Nyotaimori for those who can pay the typically high fees.
So, what’s one to think? Is it ok to treat a person like a plate? I must confess that the thought of taking a dainty morsel only to reveal a nipple, belly button, or even a knee-cap is enough to put me off my porridge. But personal tastes aside, one sort of answer to the question is ‘no’, it’s never ok to use people for one’s own purposes – nefarious or otherwise – so using a lady as a platter is definitely out. It’s what goes by the name ‘objectification’, and plenty of folk think that’s a bad thing. But that seems a bit hasty. For one thing, I use people for my own purposes all the time as I go about my day – the grocer to supply me with fruit and veg, the bus driver to transport me round the city, the teacher to help me learn French, and so forth. Providing these people have voluntarily taken on these roles, and in using them this way, I respect the fact that they are persons, with desires, aims, feelings, etc. of their own, my use of them seems perfectly innocuous. If a lady voluntarily consents to my using her as a sushi platter, and in so using her, I respect the fact that she is a person, then surely that’s ok?
Moreover, one might argue that Nyotaimori belongs in the realm of fetish, and divining the meaning or significance of fetish practices is a subtle and complex matter. Dominance and submission take place after a process of frank negotiation, and only if all parties have given their explicit consent. Who’s working hardest to please whom, and who’s really driving the show is not quite as it might at first seem. People often take on roles that contrast starkly with those they perform in their day to day lives, which further muddies the water.
These observations bring me to the crux of the matter. Whether or not it’s ok to treat a person like a plate is surely a matter of context. In some situations, it seems unproblematic. If, e.g., Linda, successful CEO by day, fetish scene-ster by night, trains up as a platter and spends her weekend having sushi eaten off her bosom in underground fetish restaurants, I have no problem with that. However, the establishments offering Nyotaimori in the UK, the US, Canada, and elsewhere are not fetish clubs, but exclusive eateries, aiming to attract rich business men hoping to impress their wealthy clients. And that seems like an altogether different kettle of fish (ahem). Women do work in business. But the upper echelons of the business world are still dominated by males, and a ‘masculinist’ culture prevails. There is still a lingering attitude that women are incapable of doing the Really Important Stuff, and are best off in lower positions with less responsibility, where their little fluffy brains won’t explode with the pressure, and they won’t get pregnant and ruin the next Big Deal, yada, yada yada. It’s against the backdrop of this Boys’ Club that we should consider Nyotaimori, and now we might see it as the ultimate expression of a certain objectionable attitude to women. Unconvinced? Well, here’s an old trick. Imagine that instead of eating sushi off naked women, the predominantly white, Western elite were going to expensive restaurants and using black people as platters to impress their rich clients. Now that’s an objectionable image.
There’s lots more to say, but I seemed to have waffled on for almost an entire page. So on to the links…
Here’s the wiki article on Nyotaimori. The practice of eating sushi/sashimi off a naked man is called Nantaimori. As one might expect, this is less popular. Well, men do Deals and Run Things, etc., they don’t lie around looking decorative and being passively used. Harumph.
Here’s an article from the Telegraph about the London establishment that has recently started offering Nyotaimori to those who can afford it.
Thanks to reader JT for sending us some links on naked sushi. Apparently a show called The Doctors, which claims to give health advice, brought out a naked woman covered in sushi on the pretext of discussing strange eating habits. The mind boggles.