Whenever we go out to a Japanese restaurant, we love to gawk at the display window out front that’s full of soups, pastas, drinks, desserts, sushi… you name it. You may be thinking, “What’s so fun about that?” or simply “why?” Well, all of the display food is fake! Yet every bit of the food, down to the seaweed, sauces, and even toppings, look horrifyingly real! And the way it’s all displayed is truly an art form!
In Japan, fake food is a multi-billion yen business and an almost century-old tradition of proud craftsmanship. Food replicas are extremely common sights found in and outside of bars, high-end restaurants, cafes, and supermarkets. Essentially almost anywhere you can get food or drinks throughout the country, there is a replica display. It’s basically based on the assumption that their presence increases revenue, largely created due to tourists and foreigners. And as a foreigner, I can see why!
I frequently like to leave my comfort zone when eating out, pointing to a random thing on the menu to order (I cannot read Japanese yet) or ask the wait staff for their recommendation. However, as a non-native it is beyond helpful to have a photo of what you are about to eat! Especially if you are a picky eater, unwillingly to try new foods, or looking for something specific. These food replicas really are a “what you see is what you get” kind of deal. Of course, the only difference is you’re served edible food 😉
Here are some examples of food replicas that can be seen here around Sasebo:
It’s really a bizarre thing to see. When taking a peek at the different replica windows, I’ve always wondered how the process goes into making them and how the replicas come to look so life-like and delicious!! At first glance, some things may look relatively easy to make but it’s definitely not so simple. These replica pieces, known as sampuru (derived from the English word “sample”) are pieces of art previously made from wax and currently with non-biodegradable polyvinyl chloride. Nothing is mass-produced, and most are still skillfully handmade by trained artists. The dish displays are “made-to-order” so that they’ll match the exact visual style of the restaurants real food.
Situated along some of the city’s back roads in Fukuoka, Japan, there is a small shop on a hill known as Sample Riki. Sample Riki is a manufacturer of plastic food replicas that can be seen in the windows of restaurants throughout Japan. The tour runs on Saturdays and Sundays only and you can make your own macaron, parfait, or tempura replicas. It was here that I got creative and tried my hands at making my own replica parfait! The initial price of building just the parfait starts at 1575Y, with additional costs for each individual topping if you choose to add. While you don’t get to actually make the individual pieces of candy toppings, you do get to make the parfait itself. I may have been the only adult there getting artsy but who cares!? It was a fun and unique experience!
When you first walk into the building, there is a small area in the front entrance that is full of food replicas. There is anything from burgers, noodles, desserts, drinks, pastries, etc. You are allowed to touch these replicas and many take photos with them.
The first thing you do in making a parfait is to pick out your toppings or decoration pieces to put on your final parfait. There is a small table in the middle of the shop that has all of these pieces with their individual prices. SO many to choose from! But be warned, the prices can add up quickly, so be careful on how many you choose! (They did offer me a calculator to calculate the price as I went along if needed).
The next step is choosing which kind of plastic cup you want for your parfait and the syrup (blueberry, strawberry, and chocolate are among the few and most popular). Then, with the guidance of a worker, they pour in your syrup and help you to put the fake ice cream in. Somewhere in the middle, you pause to add a little bit of crunchy corn flakes.
Finally, after finishing with the making of the parfait, you take the completed piece to a nearby table to decorate with the mini candy replicas that you picked out earlier. Then you top with sprinkles to put on the final touches!
While you wait for your finished product to be sprayed, put in a box, and your total cost calculated, another worker puts on a demonstration for the group. In my case, he showed us how they make tempura replicas (not sure if this is the same demonstration every time). A very neat process to watch! It’s also impressive to note the insane attention to detail that the Japanese put into creating food replicas. Not just with the demonstration do they show how important it is to make every angle look life-like, but even in creating the parfait, they made sure to show how to leave a little swirl at the tippy top of the cream (not just leaving it at a point).
And after all is said and done, voila! You have a parfait! Looks good enough to eat, huh!? I don’t think I did half bad!
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!