Based in Saitama prefecture, Hatanaka is a manufacturer who has been creating real-as-life food samples since 1965. They also decided to get into the fashion and accessories business as well, turning their food models into necklaces, earrings and belts.
Among the company’s offerings: a delicious soba noodle necklace, a bacon belt, and a spaghetti and sauce hairband. Hatanaka has English language ordering instructions on their website.
About Fake Food
Fake food dates back to the time of the Pharaohs of Egypt and perhaps before. When a King or Pharaoh died, they were often buried with everything they needed for their journey to the next world. Foods were preserved and laid to rest with them in their tomb. Modern times saw increased use of fake food. During the early Shōwa period, following Japan’s surrender ending World War II, Americans and Europeans traveled to Japan to help with the rebuilding efforts. Foreign travelers had difficulties reading Japanese menus, so Japanese artisans quickly developed plates of fake foods for restaurants that made it easy for foreigners to order something that looked good.
Fake foods are used in many ways, such as props for backgrounds in movies, television shows, theatrical plays, television commercials, print ads and trade shows. Fake foods are also used to display lifelike replicas of real foods for restaurants, grocery chains, museums, banquet halls, casino buffets, cruise ships and in many other instances in which real foods can not be displayed. The plastic replicas are much more expensive than the food they imitate, but can last indefinitely.
Today’s manufacturing technologies and high quality materials and approximately 95% of all fake food is still handcrafted. Artisans and highly trained craftsmen make realistic fake food, often painting them by hand to create a realistic look and feel.
How hyper-realistic plastic food became a $90 million industry in Japan
Walking the streets of Japan, you’ll notice that almost every restaurant has glistening, perfectly plated food tempting you from their window. It looks mouthwatering, but you can’t actually eat it. It’s all fake. These deceptive dishes are called sampuru, from the word “sample.” The fake foods are made of plastic, and to this day each one is crafted by hand.
Food samples give a 3D picture of what the foods look like. This, along with the historical background of artificial food samples, has allowed them to become widespread.
Sampuru is so lucrative, the industry is estimated to be worth $90 million in Japan alone. But let’s take a step back and see how they make plastic look good enough to eat. At the Morino Sample Workshop in Osaka, artisans have been making sampuru for 45 years. Fourteen artisans make all of the food samples shipped worldwide for the company Fake Food Japan. They specialize in sushi, tempura, and ramen, but they can custom-make just about anything you can dream up. Beer, ice cream, pizza, burgers. To craft sample food, first the artisans have to get a mold of the real thing. Usually, that means a restaurant will have to freeze the real food and ship it to the workshop.
Casting molds from real foods allows us to copy the fine bumps and depressions along the food’s surface. We then color the molds in order to bring out realistic food textures.
Once they’ve got a mold, it’s filled with liquid PVC plastic and baked up to 338 degrees. The sample is brought to life with airbrushing and paint, and finally it’s plated. Some smaller models can take a day to make, while entire entrees can take up to a week.
Because of the detail in each food sample, artisans say it takes up to 10 years to perfect the craft. But don’t be fooled, while they might look like affordable eats, sampuru will set you back a pretty penny. These imitations can cost up to 10 times the real food they represent. This mug of beer costs $74, a bowl of ramen costs 109, and an intricate tray of sushi will set you back a whopping $511.
The level of difficulty in reproducing it, that is solely the cost. Just based on the fact that the ingredients and the way it’s presented just creates so much more and a level of difficulty for the artist to reproduce it.
It’s said that fake food production began in the 1930s with Takizo Iwasaki, an artisan from Gujo Hachiman. Story goes, he made an omelet out of wax that was so realistic his wife couldn’t tell it apart from the real thing. He would go on to start one of the biggest plastic food manufacturers in Japan that now controls an estimated 60% of the fake food market. By the 1950s, fake food had caught a wave of popularity.
However, what really boosted the business was during World War II, from what I’ve been told, when a lot of the American servicemen were stationed here and they couldn’t obviously read the Japanese menus and there weren’t any photos on the menus, so then let’s have a visual representation to show people what we actually have on our menu.
Today, even in an era of online menus, food blogs, and Yelp reviews, these plastic food samples aren’t going anywhere. Sampuru has landed on the big screen, in classrooms, and souvenir shops, and, of course, in restaurant windows. As mass tourism has exploded in Japan, sampuru has served as an invaluable tool for foreigners across language barriers. Even if they don’t know any Japanese, they can just point at what they want to eat.