Fake food Japanese style that looks good enough to eat

CAN’T read or speak Japanese and don’t know what to eat? Enter fake plastic food replicas, or shokuhin sampuru, that make dealing with Japanese menus a piece of cake, or sushi. They may even look good enough to eat.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald anything from beer complete with suds, tasty looking sushi or deep-fried pork cutlets can be displayed in life sized pieces, helping visitors make informed choices about what they want to eat:

“You’re calculating lots of things – what kind of side dishes are there, how big is the meal, and is it economical?” he said [Yasunobu Nose, a senior editor at the Nikkei business daily].

“But for foreign tourists who don’t have this literacy, food samples are just something that closely resemble real dishes.”

The modern-day alchemy involves making a plastic mold of the real-life food and then adorning it with just the right colours to tantalise the taste buds of passing customers.

The plastic food is made more realistic by actually using ingredients that are chopped and combined like they are in cooking. Here are some images of what these look like:

A plastic bowl of spaghetti in Tokyo. Pic: AFP


Fake Tempura made of wax at a workshop in Tokyo. Pic: AFP.


Pic: Getty.

Food samples made from plastic in Tokyo. Pic: AFP.


Fake food in a restaurant window in Japan. Pic: James Heilman, Creative Commons.

If any of the images tricked you, you’ll understand why this has become such a competitive industry. It’s even starting to expand to other markets such as China and South Korea.

Iwasaki Be-I and Maiduru (Maizuru) are some of the biggest plastic food manufacturers in Japan.  A glance at their websites suggests food art is starting to cross with technology with smartphone stands in iceberg fruit, icecream cones, seafood pizzas and rice dishes some of the popular new models available.

The strawberry pancake smartphone stand from Maiduru.


Strawberry icecream stand from Maiduru.

Way back in 1984 The Evening Times commented on the emerging trend towards fake food, quoting Harry Fujita, the preisdent of Iwasaki Images of America, who predicted plastic food would take America by storm.

“Why should eating in a restaurant be different than buying a pair of boots?” he asks, apparently not referring to road-side steaks that taste like shoe leather. “Consumers want to examine, touch, and weigh the merchandise,” he comments. “Why should food be different?”

Iwasaki’s customers have included Baskin Robbins, McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut and Subway so chances are you’ll have seen the benefits of Japanese food art well beyond Japanese borders. Today Iwasaki Images of America produce 1000 generic food replicas that cover beverages, bread, seafood, cake, raw and cooked meats and many other things that can be custom ordered on the Internet.

The AFP show some footage of how fake food is made in this video and explain the history behind the practice that started back in the 1920s.

Whatever you might think of the replica food industry, next time you’re in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagasaki or anywhere else in Japan, rest assured you won’t go hungry. Simply point at something that looks good enough to eat, and hopefully you’ll get what you’re looking for.