Update: no naked sushi
Naked sushi, a practice known as nyotaimori in Japan, has been taken off the table at new Honolulu restaurant RaKuen, after letters of protest by the Department of Labor and Kathryn Xian, executive director of Safe Zone Foundation, an organization aimed at preventing violence against women and girls.
"There is a difference between having the freedom to express oneself sexually and sexual objectification of the female," Xian wrote us in an email. "If you want to eat sushi off your lover behind closed doors in your own home, that's your choice. When it becomes a public display of objectification within the historical context of Nyotaimori and who has traditionally practiced it (e.g. the Yakuza and their sex-slaves), there's a CLEAR boundary crossing.
"Some may complain that this is about free speech. Free speech didn't do African slaves any good in the mid 1800s. Why?- because it was only the free speech of whites that was heard.
"In this situation, it's about free speech and respect/equality. Human plates don't have respect or equality in the eyes of the beholder."
Excerpt from the Department of Labor letter:
"This is the Twenty-First Century, and—as you must know—exploitation of women has been severely criticized by civilized governments and international organizations for decades … While you might state that Nyotaimori is "relatively harmless," because it does not involve physical injury and because—presumably—the women who are scheduled to participate in your events are "willing," the event is not harmless … Nyotaimori conveys the inescapable message that such exploitation is not only allowable, but that it is actually praiseworthy."
The naked sushi event at RaKuen was originally the Cherry Blossom Cabaret's idea. In an open letter written in response to the criticism, they argue that the origins of Nyotaimori are unclear, whether or not it was actually invented by the Yakuza. They also write:
As artists and cultural feminists (those that praise the positive aspects of female nature), we feel that self-appointed guardians of morality and taste are threatening our freedom of expression. Why do we oppose the view that our event is an objectification of women? The answer is simple; a free society is based on the principle that individuals have the right to decide what art or entertainment they want—or do not want, to receive or to create.
CBC has always promoted self-expression, body-confidence and respect and honoring all sexes—women, men, transgendered and everyone in-between. We embrace the art of burlesque or strip tease as an empowering art form and through art, things that may have been negative can be transformed into something positive, empowering and be used to educate. Our Naked Sushi night is an artistic-minded event created by women celebrating the art of sushi, body art and performance art with our willing models as live canvases for that art. Our intent was to take this often misunderstood practice and transform it into an art form that empowers and changes perception and protests negative behavior associated with those perceptions.