Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tokyo's Plastic Food

Not that this is particularly specific to Tokyo, but that was the title of a video over at the BBC on the topic. Thinking back to when I first got here I guess it was rather amusing at first, but of course this is just one of those things that loses its shock value after a while and becomes just another mundane detail of life lost in the noise. Oh and by the way, they were originally all made of wax, but production was mostly changed over to resins such as plastic due to the models getting soft when left out in the sun. Apparently some of the more difficult things to model are still made of wax.

As the video points out, a lot of effort goes into making food samples for restaurants here in Japan: they first make molds from the actual food itself, then pour resin into it, and finally hand paint it to look delicious. Each one is hand made to order with everything from steaks and beer to soup and pasta available, all painstakingly crafted to whet your appetite.

The origins of this industry are a tad iffy, but a few possibilities place the first of these food samples (食品サンプル), as they're known in Japanese, as somewhere between 1917 and 1932, possibly first offered at either the Shirokiya department store or by the Shimadzu Corporation, which does have some history with chemicals.

I think that this is definitely one of those little things that does have merit, especially for those that may not be able to read the menu, like tourists. Of course there wouldn't be a market for this if it was only for foreigners - the thought behind these food samples is that a simple menu with words doesn't fully convey what the meal will look like, so this helps to draw customers in. I also find that many menus here tend to have a lot more pictures as well, which I also think is a good thing.

Will you ever see anything like this anytime soon at a restaurant near you? Unfortunately, unless you're living in Japan I think it's doubtful. There is an entire multi-billion yen industry behind food samples, but with each one being hand crafted, their reach is limited almost exclusively to Japan with some getting out into other parts of Asia, such as China.

Fortunately though, for those interested in learning more about what goes into the making of this everyday art form, you can visit an area with plenty of sample producing shops in the city of Gujo in Gifu Prefecture, some of which have hands on tours that will let you try your hand at making some. Two such factories are Sample Village Iwazaki and Sample Kobo. (links are Japanese only!) Also, if you are in the Tokyo area then you can find a whole bunch of food artisans populating an area between Asakusa and Ueno known as Kappabashi.

And finally, here's a video of someone making a plastic piece of shrimp tempura.


Jamaipanese said...

many people (like me) wouldn't even realise that some of these would be plastic food -_-

Anonymous said...

There is a Japanese market place called Mitsuwa north of Chicago. They use this plactic food in some of the displays at the food court there.

Note from Mike's Mom

darg said...

Mike's Mom: Really? Wow, interesting!