Imagine the scene: you’re at an opulent evening gathering in ancient Kyoto. Giggling geishas ply you with sake whilst their erstwhile companions perform for your personal pleasure. And the decadent highlight of the night? Why of course the naked lady sushi platter, the deriguer centre piece for any epicurean gathering in the Japan of yesteryear.
Actually, not quite. The concept of nyotaimori, where sushi or sashimi is served up strategically stacked upon the prostrate body of an willing female (or sometimes male) model, is more of a fevered Orientalist fantasy than a historical reality. The first written accounts of nyotaimori date back to Japan’s Edo period, where one writer mentions eating sashimi from the most intimate areas of a prostitute. Writers and artists latched onto this lurid idea, and it has become a popular pornographic trope ever since, much like that of the excited octopus or the sexy photocopier repair man in the west. If it happens in Japan at all now, it’s usually in sad sex clubs or gangster events- and even the participants usually find it as about as erotic as a low-rent lapdance club.
Needless to say, once the nyotaimori myth crossed paths with Orientalism, a whole new degrading urban legend was born, which both reenforced the idea of the supplicant, sexually available Asian female, and the bestial nature of their male counterparts. Flash forward a few decades, and we see Samantha Jones, the most promiscuous protagonist of Sex and the City, slapping a sushi feast over her boobs to titillate her man, accompanied by a pseudo Japanese soundtrack. Luckily her lover never actually gets round to eating it, or the second half of the film could have easily turned into a full on gross out fest (well, grosser that the horror of the full on degrading, overly materialistic slap in the face to the show’s fans the movie turned out to be anyway- but I digress). When chilled raw fish comes into contact with human body heat, it inevtiable starts to warm, waking up all that lovely bacteria nesting inside those ripe pink fillets. Sexy salmonella anyone?
‘Nyotaimori’ events have sprung up in the west- and for a meagre couple of hundred quid, you too could experience this ‘fun’ craze in London! There are a couple of companies around, all of whom market the experience as a ‘traditonally Japanese’ and ‘sophisticated’ treat. Just don’t expect to find its like in Japan. Oh, and watch where you put the wasabi…