Chewing on Japan: consumption, diplomacy and Kenny Kunene’s nyotaimori scandal: Cobus van Staden
In 2010, the nightclub owner and goldmine executive, Kenny Kunene, celebrated his 40th birthday party at his club ZAR in Sandton, Johannesburg. Video of the event, which soon circulated, caused a controversy that continued for months. In these images a young black woman in a bikini is lying on a table. Leaves cover her thighs
and stomach, and on the leaves rest a few pieces of rolled sushi. Kunene awkwardly leans over the woman, directly taking a whole piece of sushi into his mouth. A few weeks later, at a second party in Cape Town, a white model acted as a human platter lying on the hood of a white Maserati. Kunene was clearly performing for the cameras, and the reaction was swift. For the next few months, he was condemned and defended from many different quarters. Sushi became shorthand for the excess of the ruling class, similar to gravy before. Eating sushi off the prone body of a woman – called nyotaimori – came in for particular scorn. In Japanese, nyotaimori literally means ‘presented on a female body’, and nyotaimori parties were marketed as Japanese tradition in certain Western cities during the late 2000s, from where it made its way to Kunene’s party.